What Happens to Repeat Drug Offenders in Virginia?

In Virginia, repeat drug offenses are a serious issue that carry increasingly harsh penalties for every conviction, especially in cases of trafficking.

The Virginia Code criminalizes the possession of certain illicit drugs and other controlled substances.

The penalties for these crimes, however, can vary widely based on whether or not the police find evidence of an intent to distribute.

This fact is especially true for repeat offenders, who will often face harsher sentences for each subsequent offense.

In this article, we’ll quickly explain the basics of how the Virginia Code treats repeat offenders of certain drug crimes.

Simple Possession in Virginia

assorted cannabis bud strains and glass jars isolated on black background.

As specifically noted in the Virginia Code:

“It is unlawful for any person to knowingly or intentionally possess a controlled substance unless the substance was obtained directly from, or pursuant to, a valid prescription or order of a practitioner while acting in the course of his professional practice, or except as otherwise authorized by the Drug Control Act.”

Virginia Code § 18.2-250

In this fashion, “simple possession” generally refers to the crime of possessing a controlled substance without the intention to distribute it.

For most cases, Virginia courts will penalize simple possession based on the type of drug you were arrested with, rather than the amount.

However, courts will often accept proof of a large quantity of drugs as evidence for distribution charges.

For this reason, individuals who are caught with excessive quantities of drugs often end up with multiple charges for both possession and distribution.

Penalties for Drug Possession by Schedule Class

Normally, the maximum penalties for simple possession do not increase on subsequent convictions.

This is because the Virginia Code simply states an associated misdemeanor (or felony) class for each “Schedule” of controlled substance.

However, the court may take your criminal history into account when determining your sentence.

For this reason, repeat drug offenders will often face harsher penalties upon subsequent convictions, even if they are charged under the exact same statute.

The only exception to this rule pertains to marijuana, as described below.

The Virginia Code divides the maximum penalties for drug offenses into several different criminal classes based on the type of drug found in your possession.

For example:

  • Possession of either a Schedule 1 or a Schedule 2 substance is a Class 5 felony. The maximum penalty for either one is a fine of up to $2,500 and a prison sentence of ten years.
  • The possession of a Schedule 3 drug is a Class 1 misdemeanor. It has a maximum penalty of a $2,500 fine and a jail sentence of one year.
  • The possession a Schedule 4 drug is a Class 2 misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for this crime is a fine of $1,000 and a jail term of six months.
  • The possession of a Schedule 5 drug is a Class 3 misdemeanor. Its maximum penalty is a fine of up to $500.
  • The possession of a Schedule 6 drug is a Class 4 misdemeanor. Its maximum penalty is a fine of up to $250.

Simple Possession of Marijuana

As of July 1st, 2020, marijuana is largely decriminalized in Virginia.

Specifically, the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is punishable as a civil infraction, meaning that you’ll only have to pay a fine of around $25.

Note, however, that possession of more than an ounce may lead to more serious charges, such as charges for distribution, as described below.

Manufacturing and Distributing Controlled Substances

stash of heroin drugs on table in transparent bags with money in piles

Virginia criminalizes a broad range of acts under several possession with intent to distribute laws.

However, most defendants will end up facing the penalties described below.

Exceptions include individuals leading large-scale distributing operations and individuals caught distributing drugs to minors, who face much harsher penalties.

  • The first distribution conviction entails a fine of up to $500,000 and a prison sentence of between 5 and 40 years. In some cases involving large amounts of opiates, cocaine derivatives, or amphetamines, the maximum fine will go up to $1,000,000. In addition, the maximum prison term will become life in prison.
  • For a second distribution conviction, the maximum penalty is life in prison.
  • Following the third distribution conviction, the minimum prison sentence is ten years. The maximum penalty remains a life term.

Each of these crimes is a felony, which means you will permanently lose many of your rights if convicted.

In particular, you will lose your right to own a firearm, vote, serve on a jury, become a Notary, and run for public office.

However, you may be able to petition the governor’s office to restore these rights after several years.

Manufacturing of Methamphetamine

The same law also specifically criminalizes the production of methamphetamine. The following penalties apply to the production of less than 200 grams of methamphetamine:

  • The first offense is a felony with a maximum penalty of $500,000 and a prison sentence of between 10 and 40 years.
  • After the second conviction, the fine and minimum prison term remain the same. However, the maximum penalty becomes life in prison.

Additionally, you may have to pay a fee to the Virginia Methamphetamine Cleanup Fund.

Distribution of Marijuana

As with simple possession, the laws regarding the distribution of marijuana are slightly different.

Specifically, the Virginia Code allows for “a rebuttable presumption that a person who possesses no more than one ounce of marijuana possesses it for personal use.”

Note, however, that distributing less than an ounce of marijuana is still a crime in Virginia.

Notably, the penalties for distributing marijuana in Virginia are as follows:

  • Distributing less than an ounce of marijuana is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Its maximum penalty is a $2,500 fine and up to one year in jail.
  • Distributing more than an ounce of marijuana is a Class 5 felony. Its maximum penalty is a fine of $2,500 and between one and five years in prison.
  • Distributing more than five pounds of marijuana is a felony punishable by imprisonment for five to thirty years.
  • In addition to the penalties described above, the court may charge you with growing marijuana with the intent to distribute it. The maximum penalty for this felony is a fine of $10,000 and prison sentence of five to thirty years.

However, Virginia has a “three strike policy” in regards to marijuana distribution and production.

Upon the third conviction for any of the crimes described above, the state may sentence you to a prison term of five years to life.

Alternative Sentencing

Many individuals who are charged with possession of a controlled substance also struggle with substance abuse.

The Virginia court system provides an alternate option to traditional sentencing for individuals who meet certain criteria.

Drug treatment courts have become increasingly prevalent throughout the state.

These specialty courts allow decreased sentences for defendants willing to participate in and stick with rehabilitation programs.


two men discussing legal papers.

In Virginia, drug distribution charges tend to mount up quickly. Currently, there are over 2,000 prisoners serving life sentences in Virginia.

While repeated simple possession charges generally carry the same penalties, the actual sentence placed against you will vary depending on your previous convictions.

Distribution and manufacturing charges, however, carry increasing penalties for every charge.

To avoid becoming another drug-related statistic, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as you are arrested for any drug-related crime.

While it won’t necessarily result in the state dropping your charges, a good legal defense will reduce your chance of receiving the maximum possible sentence.

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