In Washington, D.C., it is unlawful for any person to knowingly or intentionally manufacture, distribute, possess, or possess with intent to manufacture or distribute a controlled substance. If you are facing any of these charges, an experienced DC drug lawyer can help guide you through the Washington, DC legal system. Furthermore, we have provided a more detailed examination of the drug laws in DC for your convenience. Drug crime, however, can be a complicated intersection of irrational behavior and ineffective policies. En Español.
Possession of a Controlled Substance
A person cannot knowingly or intentionally possess a controlled substance in the District unless it was obtained directly from, or pursuant to, a valid prescription or order of a licensed medical practitioner acting in the professional course of his or her practice. Possession of a controlled substance is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. Depending on the amount and type of the controlled substance at issue, a Washington, DC conviction for possession with intent to distribute or for distribution of a controlled substance can be punished by up to 30 years in prison and/or a $75,000 fine.
Controlled Substance Definition
The term “controlled substance” means a drug or other substance, or immediate precursor, as detailed in specified statutory schedules. The term controlled substance, however, does not include distilled spirits, wine, malt beverages, or tobacco.
Actual or Constructive Possession
To convict a person for possession of a controlled substance in DC, the government has to establish two elements: the nature of the substance and possession by the defendant. Possession is defined in terms of personal custody and control. The government may establish that possession is either actual or constructive.
Actual possession means that the substance is in the physical custody of the person charged with possession, such as in the person’s hand, pocket, purse or backpack, while constructive possession means that the substance is not actually or physically possessed, but that the person charged has the intent and power to control the substance.
Update: Possession of Up to One Ounce of Marijuana
The District of Columbia has recently decriminalized the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana. If you are possessing one ounce or less of marijuana, the penalties are a $25 civil fine, and confiscation of the marijuana and any paraphernalia. In addition, this new legislation limits the extent to which police can infer intent to distribute from plastic baggies or amount of the drug. It also limits the extent to which law enforcement officers can use the smell of marijuana as reasonable articulable suspicion to justify warrantless searches. This change in policy and law, however, only applies to the Metropolitan Police Department, and does not extend to federal authorities or the Capitol Police.
With that said, the MPD policies in adhering to this new legislation may change over time. For a better understanding of the legality of certain substances in the District of Columbia, we recommend you consult with a DC drug lawyer.
For a greater explanation of the drug laws in Washington DC, please refer to the following section of the District of Columbia Official Code.