Will I Go to Jail for a Drug Possession Charge in West Virginia?
The state and federal criminal charges you could face in a West Virginia drug possession case
on September 29, 2017
Updated on January 19, 2023
Federal and state laws classify certain chemical compounds as “controlled substances.” This includes many commonly used hallucinogens like marijuana and LSD, as well as much stronger opiates. West Virginia prohibits anyone from possessing a classified controlled substance without a “valid prescription” from a licensed medical provider. Criminal charges often follow.
In some states you could face more serious charges for possessing opiates than hallucinogens. Not in West Virginia. It treats all simple possession the same regardless of the type of illegal drugs. Many first-time offenders can avoid jail time altogether.
West Virginia law classifies possession of any amount of a controlled substance as a misdemeanor. If convicted, an offender faces between 90 days and six months in jail, as well as a fine of up to $1,000.
Conditional Discharge of Drug Possession Conviction
State law also provides that if a person has no prior convictions for any drug crime anywhere in the U.S., he or she may seek a “conditional discharge” of their first offense. A conditional discharge means that the defendant agrees to a term of probation prior to trial. If the defendant completes the probation without incident, the judge will dismiss the original drug possession charge. Six months after that, the defendant can ask the court to expunge the public record of the arrest itself, provided there have been no further violations during that time. Law enforcement will still retain a confidential record of the arrest, so the person does not receive another conditional discharge in the future.
Subsequent Possession Offenses
If you have a criminal record of a previous drug offense, West Virginia doubles the maximum sentence for any subsequent conviction, meaning you face more jail time. In other words, if you are convicted a second or third time for possession, you may face a one year jail sentence and be ordered to pay a $2,000 fine. Keep in mind, West Virginia counts any prior drug possession conviction as a prior offense, even if it happened in another state.
Drug Possession Charge vs. Distribution Charge
With drug possession laws, there is also a critical distinction between simple possession and “possession with intent to distribute or deliver.” The latter refers to cases where the prosecution believes that the drugs in the defendant’s possession were not for their exclusive personal use. These cases are tried as felonies. A drug possession conviction with intent to distribute or deliver can lead to a prison sentence of up to 15 years in West Virginia.
State vs. Federal Federal Drug Possession Cases
Simple possession of a controlled substance is also a crime under federal law. A federal first offense for simple possession is a misdemeanor, like it is under West Virginia law. But the maximum jail time is one year rather than six months and there is no provision for a conditional discharge. The overwhelming majority of federal arrests for simple possession—more than 93 percent, according to U.S. Sentencing Commission statistics—are for marijuana. These occur primarily near the U.S.-Mexican border, not in West Virginia.
But the federal government also takes distribution of drugs far more seriously. Given how easy it is for prosecutors to elevate simple possession into an intent-to-distribute charge, it is important to contact an experienced West Virginia criminal defense attorney if you have been charged with any type of drug crime.