Drug Violations Law

What Is Possession of Drug Paraphernalia?

Key Takeaways:

  • Owning paraphernalia, or drug tools, can get you charged just like having drugs.
  • Each state has different rules about what counts as drug tools.
  • A good lawyer can defend you if you’re charged with possessing drug tools.

Being charged with a drug crime in the United States can feel overwhelming. People can face harsh penalties not only for possessing illegal drugs but for being found with drug paraphernalia as well. While “possession of drug paraphernalia” is a common drug charge at the state level, the laws that govern this topic can vary significantly between jurisdictions.

If you’ve been charged with a drug crime, hiring an experienced criminal attorney before your first court appearance is recommended. Enlisting the help of an experienced criminal drug lawyer in your area can make a huge difference in your legal outcome.

What Qualifies as Drug Paraphernalia?

State laws around drug paraphernalia have varied in the last few years. This is due to the legalization of marijuana in various states like CaliforniaColorado, and Illinois. Police in “legal” states might have a more relaxed view of someone having marijuana drug paraphernalia on their person.

While these charges often vary by jurisdiction, below is a list of devices and instruments that can be construed as drug paraphernalia. Often, what the item is used for can be just as crucial as the item itself. Items that police can construe as drug paraphernalia include but are not limited to the following:

  • Devices used for the creation of illegal drugs (such as carburetors, carburetion masks, vials, and blenders)
  • Baggies for storing illegal drugs
  • Instruments for marijuana use (such as water pipes, bongs, chillums, and rolling papers)
  • Instruments for heroin use (such as spoons, hypodermic needles, and hypodermic syringes)
  • Instruments for methamphetamine use (such as ice pipes, bongs, lighters, spoons, and straws)

Drug Paraphernalia Laws

Drug paraphernalia laws exist at both the state and federal levels. However, no federal law currently criminalizes the “possession” of drug paraphernalia.

Possession of drug paraphernalia is generally treated as a misdemeanor at the state level, with most penalties not exceeding 1 year. Under federal law, a drug paraphernalia charge is a felony punishable by up to 3 years in prison and a fine.

Possession of Drug Paraphernalia at the State Level

The penalties for simple drug paraphernalia possession charges vary from state to state, and there is often a sliding scale as to the severity of the charges. Additionally, many states differ as to what is considered drug paraphernalia.

For example, in Alabama, simple possession of paraphernalia is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in prison and a fine. However, if the accused is in possession near a school, the charges can become more severe. If the accused sold the paraphernalia, the misdemeanor becomes a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine.

Federal Drug Paraphernalia Charges

There is no “possession of drug paraphernalia” charge at the federal level. However, federal law dictates it is “unlawful for any person to sell or offer for sale drug paraphernalia; to use the mails or any other facility of interstate commerce to transport drug paraphernalia; or to import or export drug paraphernalia.” Essentially, this means that US citizens are prohibited from the following:

  • Giving away or selling drug paraphernalia
  • Shipping drug paraphernalia through the mail
  • Importing or exporting drug paraphernalia

In some cases, people can be charged with both state and federal drug paraphernalia violations. Given the severity of these charges, it is best to seek the advice of a dedicated criminal defense lawyer as early as possible in the legal proceedings.

Defenses to Possession of Drug Paraphernalia

Being charged with a crime is only the beginning of your legal proceedings. You will have the opportunity to plead your case in a court of law and mitigate your charges. An experienced attorney will have the skills necessary to help you fight your case. Legal defenses to this charge include:

  • The police search and seizure of your paraphernalia was unlawful
  • Your use of the paraphernalia was lawful
  • You were not aware that the paraphernalia was on your person or property
  • You only committed the crime at law enforcement’s behest (entrapment)
  • You have a legally-documented medical use exception

Having an Attorney on Your Side

A conviction for drug crimes can lead to severe consequences and potentially include fines, jail time, and probation. Drug crime convictions can also affect your current job and future hiring prospects.

The criminal justice system presents complex challenges that can upend your life. When mounting a capable legal defense, the best approach is to involve an experienced local criminal attorney. A local drug crime lawyer can capably explain your situation and help you navigate the jurisdiction where you’ve been charged.

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