Facing a drug-related charge in Pennsylvania can be a very serious matter. Depending on the substance and the amount in possession, even a first offense can land you in jail for a year and cost you over $5,000 in fines.

Though many states have legalized recreational use of marijuana, Pennsylvania has not - although some municipalities such as Philadelphia have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana possession, making it punishable by a $25 fine. The state did also decide to legalize Medical marijuana in 2016.

If you're facing drug charges in Philadelphia, or in the counties of Delaware, Montgomery, Bucks, or Chester, call me at The Law Office of John Della Rocca. I will fight vigorously to defend your rights and develop an effective defense strategy that can maximize your chances of receiving a favorable outcome.

Federal Versus State Drug Charges

One of the biggest components that a judge will consider when reviewing drug-related charges is whether or not the charges are federal or state. Most local cases of mere possession will be handled by the police, but the federal government - whose statutes carry more severe penalties - can become involved in one of several ways. Your charges may be elevated to federal if any of the following occur:

  • You cross state lines in possession of a controlled substance: Depending on the substance and quantity, you can be charged with the federal crime of drug trafficking.
  • You are arrested by the DEA: If you are arrested by a federal agent, such as an officer from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
  • You are caught possessing or distributing a controlled substance on government property: Government property includes courthouses, jails, federal office buildings, and national parks.
  • You are caught selling and/or transporting a controlled substance through the U.S. mail: This includes using the United States Postal Service or even a private parcel carrier.
  • You are caught importing a controlled substance into the United States: Even if you have a valid prescription, if you are caught importing a controlled substance of any kind, you could be facing federal drug charges.
State laws generally focus on possession and distribution of a controlled substance. Federal charges start with mere possession and rise from there. Federal prosecutors will pursue various charges including possession with the intent to distribute, drug manufacturing, drug trafficking, importing controlled substances, and conspiracy to commit a federal drug offense.

Understanding Pennsylvania's Drug Schedules

Both Pennsylvania and the federal government classify drugs according to the Controlled Substances Act of 1971. Drugs are classified by a set of five "Schedules," depending on whether the drug (at the time) had any medical use value and its potential for abuse and likelihood of addiction. Substances in Schedule I, including marijuana, were deemed to have no medical value.

Examples of drugs on each Schedule include:

  • Schedule I: Heroin, LSD, Marijuana, Methaqualone
  • Schedule II: Morphine, PCP, Cocaine
  • Schedule III: Anabolic Steroids, Codeine, Hydrocodone, and some Barbiturates
  • Schedule IV: Most Benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax
  • Schedule V: Over-the-counter cough medicines with Codeine
Marijuana is still considered a Schedule I federally controlled substance, though recreational and medical use of marijuana has been legalized in many states. Pennsylvania municipalities have moved to decriminalize minor possession of marijuana, and there is a statewide push to legalize marijuana for recreational use. In the meantime, depending on where you're arrested, you can still face up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine for merely possessing a joint.

Pennsylvania Laws on Controlled Substances

Marijuana Possession

Possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana typically varies from county to county, but possessing more than 30 grams carries a maximum state penalty of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

THC and Hashish Possession

THC concentrates and hashish are treated similarly to marijuana, though the limits are smaller. If you possess up to 8 grams, you can face up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Anything above that limit, you're looking at up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Felony Drug Possession

Possession of cocaine, PCP, isomers, or more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana can result in felony charges. If you're charged with possession with intent to distribute, you can face up to 25 years in jail and $250,000 in fines.

Possession of Drug Paraphernalia

If you are caught with any drug paraphernalia in your possession, you can face up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. The charge is usually made along with a drug possession charge. These penalties can rise if other factors are involved, such as prior convictions or the possession of a weapon or firearm when arrested.

Don't Face Your Drug Charges Alone

Even if your drug charge seems small and "manageable," you don't want to go to court alone. If you attempt to plead guilty with profuse apologies, you can still get the maximum punishment. Don't risk your future attempting to defend these charges on your own. You deserve an experienced and knowledgeable defense attorney on your side who understands the ins and outs of the criminal justice system. For over 25 years I have been working with individuals across Philadelphia and New Jersey to protect their rights and fight their drug charges. If you've been arrested or charged with a drug crime, call or reach out to my office today to schedule a free case consultation.


I have more than two decades of experience defending clients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey against criminal charges. I can investigate your charge and outline an effective defense strategy to increase your chances of receiving a favorable outcome. If you live in Philadelphia, or in the counties of Delaware, Montgomery, Bucks, or Chester, and you're facing a drug charge, call me immediately at The Law Office of John Della Rocca and put my experience on your side today.


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