Under federal law, drug crime can mean serious consequences and heavy penalties. Not only that, drug crimes can also affect you for the rest of your life, making it difficult to get some types of jobs or leaving you struggling to move forward with your life. After an accusation of drug use or trafficking, you need an attorney dedicated to protecting your freedoms. Contact The Zeiger Firm today at 215-546-0340 or by filling out our online contact form.

Types of Drug Crimes

Many times, law enforcement chooses to prosecute drug crimes at the federal level. When considering what penalties you will face for your drug crime, however, you must consider the type of crime.


If the police catch you with drugs on your person or stowed away in your property—in your room or your vehicle, for example—you may face possession charges. Federal law prohibits the possession of controlled substances, including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana. While some states have legalized recreational or medical marijuana use, Pennsylvania law still prohibits recreational use of marijuana, which means you can still face possession charges for having or using it.

Possession of Paraphernalia

Possessing drugs can land you with a possession charge in Philadelphia. Many people, however, fail to realize that possession of drug paraphernalia can also carry a heavy penalty. Possession of paraphernalia includes any items used to create or use these controlled substances: crack pipes, bongs, rolling papers, and syringes, for example, depending on the type of drug and how the user takes it in. Possession of paraphernalia may also give police officers just cause to look into possession of illegal drugs.


Drug manufacturing charges can include any step in the process of creating or manufacturing an illegal drug. In some cases, like meth, simply creating the drug poses a substantial danger both to the creators and to anyone else in the area. Often, drug creation creates highly hazardous or flammable substances as a byproduct, leading to substantial charges.


If you share the drugs in your possession with others, whether you sell them or not, you may face distribution charges. Distribution charges may increase in severity when your customers include minors.


When you move drugs across state lines, especially in high quantities, you may face drug trafficking charges. Drug trafficking typically carries some of the highest penalties offered to drug crimes. If you possess large quantities of an illegal drug, especially if you possess more than can be reasonably used by one individual, the police may suspect you of drug trafficking and move to investigate and, ultimately, convict you on those counts.

Penalties for Drug Crimes

Penalties for drug crimes vary significantly, even at the federal level. In many cases, drug crime penalties depend on the type of drug involved, how much of it, and whether you attempted to sell or distribute to minors.

Prison Time

Many drug crimes carry mandatory prison time as part of the penalty. In the case of minor possession charges, especially of drugs like marijuana, which many states have legalized, you may face only 1-2 years in prison. More severe charges, however, may lead to a lifetime sentence.

Prison time does not just restrict your freedoms during the period of your incarceration. It also leads to a range of problems upon release, many of which you might not consider before your trial.

  • Prison time means a break in your employment. When potential employers look at your record, they will see years that you have spent in prison instead of working. You may miss training opportunities or fall behind in your industry, rather than keeping up and remaining competitive.
  • Prison time means missing out on memories with loved ones. During your incarceration, you will miss out on holidays, birthdays, and special events. You may miss the chance to build relationships or discover that relationships fade during your prison time.


Many expenses add up fast after a drug conviction. Not only will you need to pay legal fees associated with your trial and defense, you will face serious penalties—between around $10,000 and $250,000—for your crimes. These fines can add up fast, creating significant restrictions that make it difficult for many people to retain control of their personal property after conviction. In some cases, your family may bear the brunt of this loss as they sell your home or vehicle to cover these fines.


Even after you do the time for a drug crime, you may still face ongoing probation. During a period of probation, you will face significant limitations on your daily activities, including who you can associate with, where you can go, and even what activities you can enjoy. You may need to complete community service hours or check in regularly with a probation officer. In many cases, your probation can prevent you from moving forward with your career, including restricting your movement between states or requiring you to stay in a set geographic area.

Factors That Influence Drug Crime Sentences

Under federal law, a variety of factors contribute to the length and severity of drug crime sentences. When considering what penalties you may face if convicted of drug crimes, consider:

  • The type of drugThe Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) assigns “schedules,” or rating levels, to drugs. Schedule I drugs carry the highest risk for users and, therefore, the highest penalties. Schedule V drugs, on the other hand, carry relatively low risks to their users and, therefore, more minor penalties.
  • The quantity of the drug involved. Possession of a small amount—less than 1 gram of most drugs—leads to relatively minor penalties. As the quantity of the drug increases, however, so does the penalty associated with the crime. For 4000 or more grams of a Schedule I drug, for example, you may face life in prison, rather than the two years or so often served by those caught with just a few grams.
  • Whether the charge is possession or trafficking. Selling drugs often carries higher penalties than merely possessing them, especially if you planned to distribute those drugs to minors.
  • How many offenses you have. Your second drug crime conviction may carry significantly higher penalties than the first. Subsequent drug crimes may lead to longer periods of incarceration and higher fines.


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The Fair Sentencing Act

2010 saw the arrival of a new act intended to help create better, more equal sentences for crack cocaine versus powder cocaine: the Fair Sentencing Act, or FSA. Instead of a sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine of 100:1, the FSA changes the disparity to 18:1. This can mean a substantial reduction in sentence for individuals using or distributing crack cocaine. The FSA also offers protection to individuals who already received their sentence for crack cocaine use or distribution before 2010.

What does that mean for you? If you received prison time and other penalties for a crack cocaine conviction before 2010, you may need to go back to court to reduce your sentence. Working with an experienced, qualified attorney can help you seek the changes to your sentence that you deserve under the new laws.


The founding principles of the United States seek to allow as much freedom as possible for America’s citizens. Unfortunately, incarceration immediately removes those freedoms—and in many cases, drug crime convictions can leave people languishing in prison with no hope of a life outside, even if they no longer engage in drug use or have any desire to sell drugs outside. Worse, many people, even once they leave prison behind, have no plans for a future life: no job training, difficulty getting a job due to past drug convictions, and little to no support from family or friends outside. All too often, they end up right back in prison because they feel they have no other option but crime.

Enter the FIRST STEP Act. FIRST STEP, which stands for “Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed, Safely Transitioning Every Person,” aims to create a better transition for formerly incarcerated individuals. The act:

  • Offers reduced sentences for good behavior. Many people try to turn their lives around immediately when incarcerated. Others need a little incentive. The FIRST STEP Act seeks to reduce prison time for inmates who engage in good behavior and seek job training during their incarceration. As a result, many people have the incentive they need to choose a new profession, seek that training, and enter society ready for a positive professional change. Prisoners may reduce their sentence each year by up to 47 days, significantly decreasing the duration of incarceration over the length of a long prison stay.
  • Provides more freedom to federal judges. Under the FIRST STEP Act, judges can circumvent the minimum prison time requirements for drug abuse or trafficking. This simple step helps protect young offenders, in particular, giving them the means to move forward with their lives rather than dishing out a life sentence for a first offense. As a result, many offenders will have the ability to present evidence to the judge that could ultimately decrease prison sentences or give them the freedom to move forward with their lives after paying the penalty for their crimes.
  • Offers job training that will help inmates become more productive members of society on release. Many inmates turn to drug trafficking because they need an effective way to generate income to support themselves and their families. Once out of prison, they may still lack marketable job skills—and they have drug crimes listed on their records, which can make securing employment even more difficult. The FIRST STEP Act helps build job skills and offers more opportunities to inmates so that after prison, they can fulfill more productive roles in society.

Do You Need a Philadelphia Drug Defense Lawyer?

When you receive an accusation of drug crime in the Philadelphia area, contact The Zeiger Firm at (215) 546-0340 as soon as possible. Our team of attorneys is dedicated to protecting the freedom of our clients. We can work to reduce the severity of drug-related penalties, fight to prove your innocence, and help you deal with the repercussions of a drug crime accusation.

Brian Zeiger

How Can a Drug Defense Attorney Help?

If you face accusations of a drug crime, you need an attorney dedicated to fighting on your side. A Philadelphia drug defense attorney can:

  • Help prove extenuating circumstances to the judge. Thanks to the FIRST STEPS Act, lawyers can now help their clients circumvent mandatory minimum sentences. While you may, if convicted, still face prison time, you may face substantially less prison time thanks to this program. Working with an attorney can help you better prove your worth and argue the reasons why the judge should protect your freedoms. An experienced drug defense attorney knows how to best present you to put your best foot forward.
  • Help protect your freedoms. As an American citizen, you understand the importance of freedom. Drug crime can mean prison time, fines, and probation long after your prison time ends. You may struggle to obtain certain types of employment, to maintain relationships, or to move forward with your life. An attorney, on the other hand, can help minimize those penalties or even help prove your innocence.
  • Prepare you to deal with any potential consequences of these accusations. You may face many challenges related to drug crimes, including employers who give you a hard time before your conviction and returning to society after prison time for drug crimes. By working with an attorney, you will get a better idea of what challenges you may face along the way and create a plan for dealing with those challenges. If you do face prison time, your attorney can provide you with a better idea of what to expect while in prison and what programs to take advantage of to improve your chances, both while in prison and upon release.
  • Protect your family. You may not suffer the only penalties when you receive a drug crime conviction. An attorney will help protect your family, including protecting property and finances that might otherwise go to pay for your crimes.