DC Drug Laws
In the District of Columbia, drug-related offenses are treated a bit differently than in many other jurisdictions. In most circumstances, rather than calculating penalties based on the “amount” of the controlled substance, under DC Code Section 48-904, the Code takes the location where the drugs were found (e.g., school), the intended use of the drugs (e.g., possession, manufacture, distribution), and the substance itself (e.g., marijuana versus cocaine) into account.
It is possible that the court may use its discretion to seek higher prison sentences and fines for larger amounts of drugs, but the amount of controlled substances do not correspond to mandatory minimum sentences, unlike many state and federal laws.
The information outlined below, though helpful, is by no means a substitute for a trained and qualified DC drug lawyer who can explain the nuances of the law, how they work in practice, interpretation of the law, and how the laws may apply to your case. To learn more about how a DC drug lawyer can help, visit this page.
- What Is A Controlled Substance
- Prohibited Acts A: Manufacturing, Distributing, and Possessing Drugs
- Fraudulently Acquiring Drugs
- Distribution to Minors
- Drug-Free Zones
- Second and Subsequent Convictions
- Attempts and Conspiracy
What Is A Controlled Substance?
Before outlining the different drug offenses covered in the DC Code, it is necessary to clarify what constitutes a controlled substance.
Controlled substances are defined in Section 48-901.02(4) as a drug or substance enumerated in Schedule I through Schedule V of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). In short, Schedule I controlled substances are the most strictly regulated because they are deemed unsafe and have a high potential of abuse, whereas Schedule V controlled substances are the least regulated because of a low potential of abuse.
Further explanation of controlled substance schedules can be found here. A list of controlled substances organized by schedule can be found here, and a list of controlled substances organized alphabetically can be found here. In Washington, DC, drug offenses are generally broken down into different levels of prohibited acts known as prohibited acts A, prohibited acts B, prohibited acts C, and prohibited acts D.
Prohibited Acts A: Section 48-904.01
There are several different drug offenses that fall under this provision. The major offenses deal with the manufacture and distribution of controlled substances. Section 48-904.01(a)-(b). This provision also covers offenses that are less serious, like mere possession of a controlled substance. Section 48-904.01(d).
Manufacturing, Distributing, & Possession with Intent
DC Code Section 48-904.01(a) states that it is illegal for an individual to knowingly make or sell controlled substances. Furthermore, it is just as illegal for an individual to possess controlled substances for the purpose of making or selling controlled substances.
If an individual is guilty of the crime of manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to make or sell a Schedule I or II narcotic or abusive drug, then the individual faces up to 30 years in prison and/or up to $75,000 in fines. Section 48-904.01(a)(2)(A).
Narcotic and abusive drugs that fall within Schedule I and II include, but are not limited to: PCP, heroin, ecstasy, cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamines, opium, and some opiates like oxycodone. Section 48-901.02(15); Section 48-901.02(26).
If an individual is guilty of manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to make or sell a Schedule I, II, or III substance that is not a narcotic or abusive drug, then the individual faces up to five years in prison and/or up to $12,500 in fines. Section 48-904.01(a)(2)(B).
However, if the controlled substance in question is half a pound or less of marijuana and the individual has no prior offenses under this provision, then the individual only faces up to 180 days in jail and/or up to $25,000 in fines. Section 48-904.01(a)(2)(B).
If an individual is guilty of manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to make or sell a Schedule IV controlled substance, then the individual faces up to three years in prison and/or up to $12,500 in fines. Section 48-904.01(a)(2)(C).
If an individual is guilty of manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to make or sell a Schedule V controlled substance, then the individual faces up to one year in jail and/or up to $2,500 in fines. Section 48-904.01(a)(2)(D).
Knowingly Possessing Controlled Substances
If an individual knowingly possesses a controlled substance (without having obtained the substance through a legal prescription) then the individual is guilty of a misdemeanor and faces up to 180 days in jail and/or up to $2,500 in fines. Section 48-904.01(d)(1). If the individual was in possession of phencyclidine (PCP) then the individual is guilty of a felony and faces up to three years in prison and/or up to $12,500 in fines. Section 48-904.01(d)(2).
Notably, the District of Columbia included a provision in Section 48-904.01 that provides leniency for first-time offenders possessing drugs. If an individual is guilty of knowingly possessing a controlled substance and has no prior drug-related convictions, then the court has the discretion to defer the proceedings and place the individual on probation for up to one year.
The court decides the conditions of the probation. If the individual violates the terms of the probation, then the court will proceed with prosecution as normal. If the individual successfully fulfills the terms of the probation, then the court will dismiss the charges against the individual.
In fact, the court may even end the probation early, dismissing charges against the individual. Section 48-904.01(e)(1). At this point, the individual may apply to have the records of the arrest, proceedings, and other information expunged (wiped clean) from official, public records. Section 48-904.01(e)(2).
It is important to emphasize that an individual can only have possession charges deferred once. It is also possible for the prosecutor to charge an individual who violated the distribution-related drug offense with a possession charge.
Fraudulently Acquiring Drugs: Section 48-904.03
Under DC Code Section 48-904.03(a)(3), it is illegal for an individual to acquire controlled substances by means of deception, fraud, forgery, or subterfuge. Thus, an individual may not use misrepresentation, fake IDs, forged prescriptions, or any other means to get controlled substances (presumably from a pharmacy). If the individual is guilty of this crime, the penalty is up to four years in prison and/or up to $12,500 in fines. Section 48-904.03(b).
Distribution to Minors: Section 48-904.06
According to §48-904.06, any person who is 21 years of age or over and distributes a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance that is a narcotic drug, phencyclidine, or a phencyclidine immediate precursor to a person who is under 18 years of age may be punished by fines up to $75,000 and up to 60 years in prison, or both.
If an individual over 21 gives a controlled substance that is neither a narcotic nor PCP to someone under 18, then the individual is guilty of distribution of controlled substances to a minor and faces twice the maximum penalty for distribution to someone over 18.
Enlisting Minors to Distribute Controlled Substances
If an individual over 21 gets a minor (under 18) to sell or distribute drugs for the individual’s profit, then the individual will be penalized as though the individual distributed the drugs him- or herself. Section 48-904.07(a).
Moreover, the individual will face penalties in addition to the penalties for distributing controlled substances.
If it is the first time an individual has been convicted of enlisting minors to distribute, the individual faces up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $25,000 in addition to penalties for distribution of controlled substances. Section 48-904.07(b)(1).
If the individual has at least one prior conviction of enlisting minors to distribute then the individual faces up to 20 years in prison and/or up to $50,000 in fines in addition to penalties for distribution of controlled substances. Section 48-904.07(b)(2).
Drug-Free Zones: Section 48-904.07a
In the District of Columbia, “drug-free zones” include all areas within 1,000 feet of schools, colleges, universities, day care centers, public swimming pools, playgrounds, youth centers, public libraries, public housing, or events sponsored by certain federal and DC government institutions. Section 48-904.07a(a).
If an individual commits a drug-related offense in a drug-free zone, then the individual will face twice the maximum prison sentence and twice the maximum fine for the respective offense.
Second and Subsequent Convictions: Section 48-904.08
According to the DC Code Section 48-904.08(a), every second and subsequent conviction of a drug-related offense causes the maximum penalties for the offenses to double for the individual. However, it is also specifically noted that the double penalties accrued from this provision and the double penalties from drug-related offenses involving minors do not stack. Section 48-904.08(b).
In short, an individual can only have the penalties for a drug-related offense double once.
Attempts and Conspiracy: Section 48-904.09
If an individual is convicted of attempting to commit or conspiring to commit any drug-related offense, then the individual faces the exact same penalties as though the individual had committed the crime the individual was attempting or conspiring about. Section 48-904.09.
All penalties prescribed by DC Code Section 48-904 (which includes all the sections discussed above) are in addition to other penalties and sanctions, whether civil or administrative. Section 48-904.04. On a similar note, the District of Columbia specifically states that federal convictions and/or acquittals for crimes that would fall under these provisions take precedence. Section 48-904.05.
Paraphernalia: Section 48-904.10
Anyone who, not being a doctor, nurse, EMT, or other person authorized to use controlled substances, is in possession of a hypodermic needle, hypodermic syringe, or other instrument with at least a trace of a controlled substance on it and the intent to use the needle/syringe/instrument is guilty of possessing drug paraphernalia. Section 48-904.10.
However, the instrument must be a tool with which one can inject a controlled substance under the skin. Furthermore, if the individual is a doctor or authorized person, the individual must be acting in his/her official duties while possessing the paraphernalia. The penalty for possession of paraphernalia is up to 180 days in jail and/or up to $1,000 in fines. Section 48-904.10.
How a DC Drug Lawyer Can Help
Being convicted of a drug crime is always serious. It can become part of your criminal record and harm your employability, security clearance, ability to get loans, and educational opportunities. Simply because you are charged with a crime does not mean it is hopeless. An experienced DC drug lawyer can walk you through your options and help mitigate the negative effects of a drug charge.