Sentencing Laws for Drug Crimes in Washington State

Behind bars for drug crimes in WA

If you’ve been charged with a drug crime in Washington, you’ve likely seen something called a VUCSA charge. VUCSA stands for Violation of the Uniform Controlled Substance Act and it covers laws involving drug crimes, from possession to buying and selling, and more. When facing a VUCSA charge, it’s imperative to know what factors may affect your case and severity of a potential sentence.

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What are the most common types of drug crimes in Washington?

Even with the legalization of marijuana, drug laws in Washington are among the strictest in the nation. Here’s a look at common types of drug charges in the state:

  • Drug possession: With the exception of marijuana (see below), having any controlled substance in your possession carries an automatic felony charge. For example, a drug possession charge involving heroin is considered a Class C felony, which carries penalties of $10,000 and up to 5 years in prison.
  • Delivery of a controlled substance: In Washington state, when a person gives a controlled substance to another, this is considered a delivery. The important thing to know here is that there is no financial amount that needs to be met for this charge to be leveled against someone. Meaning, someone can be charged with delivery of a controlled substance when they are sharing a drug with another, even if money never exchanges hands.

What factors affect drug charge sentences?

Amount of drug found: Whether for possession or delivery charges, the actual amount of the drug found can affect penalties and fines if found guilty. The quantity of drug found makes a big difference in particular for determining if charges apply for marijuana possession.

Criminal history: As with most crimes, a person’s criminal history plays a role in determining the severity of punishment and level of fines in a drug charge in Vancouver and throughout Washington state. A first-time drug offender can generally expect a lesser sentence than someone with a history of drug crimes.

Presence of a weapon: If a weapon is found on the accused during a search and seizure, this heightens the seriousness of the drug charge and can actually introduce new charges leveled against the defendant in certain situations.

What are some of the consequences for marijuana possession?

While marijuana is legal in Washington state, there are still legal limits constricting how much you can possess and transactions involving the drug. For example, it is a felony to carry more than 40 grams of marijuana. The legal consequences of being caught with this amount of marijuana carry a penalty of $10,000 and up for 5 years in prison.

Less serious drug charges involving marijuana can still leave a negative impact on your life. It’s illegal to be in possession of more than 1oz of marijuana, or for anyone under the age of 21 to be in possession of any amount of marijuana.

Are there different penalties for possession within school zones?

In Washington State, there are enhanced penalties for certain offenses like distribution, manufacturing, possession with intent to distribute, sale, and/or delivery, in drug free zones like schools. In Washington State, drug free zones extend an additional 1,000 feet surrounding schools, so even if the offense occurred across the street, it is likely still within the the drug free zone. In addition to schools, Washington also considers school buses and school bus stops as drug free zones.

In Washington, a violation in a drug-free zone can double the maximum penalty for the drug offense, but there are certain limitations and extenuating circumstances to this law,  which is why it’s always in your best interest to contact a lawyer in these situations.

Vancouver lawyer for VUCSA charges

Matthew Philbrook is a highly experienced drug crimes defense lawyer dedicated to providing sound legal guidance for fighting drug charges in Washington state. Call his office in Vancouver at 360-529-5607  or use the firm’s Contact page to learn more about how he can help you fight the charges you’re facing.

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