The phrase “drug paraphernalia” is a broad term that can be used to refer to any type of accessory, equipment, or product that helps a person either to make, hide, take, or transport illegal drugs.
For example, one common item that people typically associate with drug use (specifically marijuana) is a bong. Another product that is often thought of in connection with drugs are tiny plastic bags or “baggies.”
The main issue with drug paraphernalia is that not all of it is illegal. Drug paraphernalia usually only becomes illegal once it is used for an illegal purpose.
For instance, many head shops or convenience stores sell “rolling papers.” Traditionally, the point of rolling papers was to make it easier for a person to roll their own cigarettes. Over time, however, their purpose has been transformed into a way to roll joints; hence, the phrase “marijuana cigarettes.”
Thus, if a person is found to be in possession of some type of drug paraphernalia, it does not necessarily mean that they are violating any laws. So long as they are not doing anything illegal with it, they will most likely not be in any legal trouble.
However, there are some kinds of drug paraphernalia that are considered to be illegal based on the equipment itself. For example, possession of heroin needles immediately violates the law regardless of whether any traces of the drug can be found in it or not.
In addition, there are also some states that ban all drug paraphernalia products. For instance, if you are found in possession of a pipe or a bong in the state of Wisconsin, then you can face legal penalties, such as fines of up to $500 and a jail sentence; even if it was never used. Furthermore, if the charges lead to a conviction, it will appear as part of your criminal record.
What is Considered Drug Paraphernalia?
As previously mentioned, drug paraphernalia can be problematic because some items are not immediately illegal without additional evidence of a drug crime.
For instance, an innocent kitchen scale can be turned into a helpful tool for a drug dealer. Thus, context will play a big role in whether or not the person can be charged for owning or possessing a kitchen scale. If it contains drug residue or law enforcement has other evidence that proves the person deals drugs, then they can take it away as evidence and charge the person with a crime.
Another situation where the police may be able to confiscate the drug paraphernalia and bring charges against a suspect is when they are in possession of a lighter. Most people would not think of a lighter as an illegal object. However, if a lighter is found on a person who is also carrying illegal drugs on them, then it offers further proof that the person is committing or has committed a drug crime.
In addition, along with federal drug laws there are also varying state laws that may treat drug paraphernalia differently than their sister states. For instance, many states have recently started to legalize marijuana (up to a certain percentage and for medicinal purposes). Therefore, while marijuana may still be illegal under federal law, it is legal in those states that have passed legislation.
Also, in the states that have legalized marijuana, there seems to be a general trend in those states to repeal any laws relating to drug paraphernalia for marijuana as well.
As a final example, if a person is caught in Colorado state with rolling papers and the legal amount of marijuana, they will not be in trouble for having either item on them. On the other hand, in the state of Wyoming where no drugs have been legalized yet, a person can face very serious legal consequences if they are found with any drug paraphernalia.
Similar to the law in Wisconsin, Wyoming also makes it a crime to be in possession of drug paraphernalia. A person in possession of drug paraphernalia can face a fine of up to $750 and 6 months of imprisonment. Also, the punishments associated with having drug paraphernalia can change quickly from a misdemeanor to a felony, depending on both the type and quantity of the drug used in connection with the drug paraphernalia.
Is It a Crime to Possess Drug Paraphernalia?
As mentioned, whether or not it is a crime to possess certain drug paraphernalia will depend on a particular state’s laws. This is because the laws concerning drug paraphernalia vary widely from state to state.
So, while it may be a crime to be in possession of any kind of drug paraphernalia in Wisconsin or Wyoming, it might be possible to own or have items, such as grinders, bowls, or bongs, in states that have legalized marijuana (e.g., Colorado and California).
It is also important to pay attention to federal laws. Some federal laws make it a crime to be in possession of a specific type of drug paraphernalia like heroin needles. Crack pipes, meth pipes, cocaine spoons, and any other product that can be used as drug paraphernalia and has drugs or drug residue on it are inherently illegal; except in cases where the drug is marijuana and it is in a state that has legalized it.
What is the Penalty for Possessing Drug Paraphernalia?
Again, the penalties for possessing drug paraphernalia will change according to a state’s laws. Whether or not drugs were found on the drug paraphernalia, what type of drug it was, and how the product was used can also have an effect on the punishment that a person receives for a conviction.
It also will matter whether the crime is being charged as a federal or state drug crime, or both; the location where the crime occurred; and if the individual is a repeat offender.
In most cases, possession of drug paraphernalia is considered to be a misdemeanor, meaning that fines will typically not exceed $2,500 and the jail sentence imposed will not be longer than a year.
As for cases where there are other issues at hand, such as the crime took place near a school or playground, or if the defendant was a repeat offender, then they will face higher penalties, such as a greater amount of fines (could be in the millions if it is a federal drug crime that involves distribution) and longer prison sentences (5 to life).
In those situations, the misdemeanor will rise to the level of a felony, which is a much more serious offense to have on a criminal record.
Regardless, of whether a person is charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense, both can result in serious legal consequences and they both will appear as part of a person’s criminal record.
Are There Any Defenses to Possessing Drug Paraphernalia?
There are several defenses that a person may be able to use against a charge for possession of drug paraphernalia. These include:
- Illegal search and seizure;
- Lack of knowledge;
- Legal possession (e.g., insulin needles for diabetes);
- Medical exceptions (can only be used in states that have legalized marijuana for medical purpose);
- Lack of controlled or illegal substance; and
- Various other defenses depending on the facts of the case.
As discussed, whether a defense is successful or not will depend on the laws, the nature of the drug crime committed, and the circumstances of the case. Thus, with so many variables involved, it may be best to hire a lawyer for assistance with drug paraphernalia charges.
Do I Need a Lawyer If I Have Been Charged with Possessing Drug Paraphernalia?
If you are facing charges for possession of drug paraphernalia and any other related drug charges, then you should contact a local drug lawyer immediately.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can research which laws apply to your case, whether there are any defenses available for you to use, how serious the penalties might be, and if there is anything further you can do to reduce those penalties.
A lawyer can also provide representation in court for your case and can help ensure that your legal rights are being protected.