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Possession vs. Intent to Distribute: What Is the Difference?

Depending on the drug in question and the amount one has, possession is a serious crime in and of itself. Drug possession can result in jail time, fines and other adverse consequences. Possession with the intent to distribute is another crime entirely, and a much more serious one. If you face charges of possession with the intent to distribute, it is important that you understand the differences between the two so you can get a better understanding of your rights.

According to FindLaw, possession refers to having drugs in one’s possession or in one’s control. The possession part is straightforward—a person either has drugs on in a pocket, knapsack or purse or he or she does not. The control part is slightly more ambiguous. For a person to have “control” of drugs, the drugs must be in his or her home or automobile.

For the courts to find a you guilty of possession, you must have been aware that the drugs were present. A strong defense to possession is lack of knowledge. For instance, if the cops found heroin or methamphetamine in your home and you did not know it was there, there is a very good chance the state will acquit you. However, many jurisdictions go by a “should have known” rule. Under this broad standard, the state may have an easier time prosecuting your case.

Proving intent to distribute is much more difficult than proving possession, as the state must show what you planned to do with the drugs. Because the prosecutor cannot read your mind, he or she must rely on circumstantial evidence. For instance, if you possessed a large amount of drugs, a scale and some baggies, the state may have an easier time proving its case.