Drug Distribution

According to the D.C. Controlled Substances Act, it is illegal for a person in D.C. to (1) “knowingly” or “intentionally” (2) manufacture, distribute or possess with intent to distribute (3) a controlled substance.

Elements of the Offense

The first element the prosecution must prove in order to secure a conviction for drug distribution is the defendant’s criminal intent, or mens rea.  In this case, the required criminal intent is one of “knowing” or “intentional” distribution.  This means that the Drug Distribution Charges in Washington DCdefendant was not mistaken as to the composition of the substances. It is not a question whether he should have known the composition of the substances or that he consciously disregarded a good chance that the substances were illegal.

The second element the prosecution must prove is that the substances in question are in fact included on the list of substances that are proscribed by the D.C. Controlled Substances Act.  The Controlled Substances Act groups substances that a person is not allowed to possess without a valid prescription into five categories, or “schedules.”  Schedule I includes those substances (e.g., LSD and certain opiates) for which the legislature has determined there is a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use in treatment.  

Schedule II includes substances (e.g., oxycodone, amphetamines, PCP, and some opiates) for which there is a high potential for abuse and only severely restricted uses in medical treatment.  And so on to Schedule V, which includes controlled substances with a low potential for abuse, many uses in medical treatment, and low potential for physical or psychological dependence.

The third and final element the prosecution is required to prove in order to secure a conviction for this offense is that the defendant either manufactured, distributed, or possessed the controlled substance with intent to distribute.  Unlike courts in many states, the D.C. courts define “distribution” very broadly.  The term includes the type of street-corner transaction people normally associate with this offense.  However, it can also include the handing of an illegal substance from one person to another without any apparent type of compensation or exchange.

Drug Distribution Penalties

Drug distribution is a felony offense.  The penalty depends on the particular type of drug involved.  A first conviction for drug distribution of a Schedule I or II substance that qualifies as a “narcotic or abusive” drug carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000.  The maximum sentence for a conviction for a Schedule I, II, or III substance that is not a “narcotic or abusive drug” is 5 years along with a maximum fine of $50,000.  The maximum penalty for a Schedule IV substance is 3 years and $25,000 fine, and the maximum for a Schedule V substance is 1 year and a $10,000 fine.

Distributing a counterfeit substance or attempting or conspiring to distribute a controlled substance carries the same range of penalties as described above.  The maximum penalty is doubled for a second or subsequent conviction of illegal drug use.  The maximum penalty can also be doubled for distributing to minors or distributing in a drug free zone.  D.C. Code 48-904.01.