When Drug Possession Becomes a Felony in Utah

Salt Lake City criminal lawyer

While one might expect that dealing drugs has a higher penalty than possessing them, there are many situations where drug possession can become a serious offense as well. A felony in Utah is any crime that carries a potential prison sentence of over a year. If you have been charged with a drug possession crime, it is important to understand how this crime is classified, and what potential sentences you may be facing. Salt Lake City drug possession lawyer Darwin Overson explains when drug possession crimes are felonies, and when they carry lower, misdemeanor penalties under Utah Law.

Which Drug Possession Crimes are Felonies in UT?

Under Utah law, drug possession crimes vary based on a few factors. First, the drug you have changes the seriousness of the offense for some crimes. More dangerous drugs carry higher penalties, whereas marijuana may not be punished as severely. Second, the amount of drug you possess greatly affect the charges. Lastly, you could face other penalties for how you possessed the drug – such as where you were or what you were planning on doing with the drugs.

Utah’s drug possession statutes were amended significantly in 2015, then faced more amendments in August 2017. The following rules are up to date as of those changes.

Utah’s drug crimes are found in Utah Code § 58-37-8. The general structure of the statute is to list specific offenses with upgraded penalties, then generally punish the other crimes the same, general way. This gives us plenty of insight into which specific issues turn a drug possession crime into a felony.

Drugs are classified by “Schedule” in the United States as a whole, and in the State of Utah. These classifications put drugs that have higher chance of addiction, less safeguards, and less medical use into Schedules I and II, but other drugs that have more medical use, safeguards with drug registries, and prescription rules are in lower-tiers, such as Schedules III, IV, or V. Possession of Schedule I or II drugs is a felony, but possession of other drugs (and sometimes marijuana) is a misdemeanor.

With marijuana, the important factor is the amount of drug possessed. Since the growing push for legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes, states have responded by lowering the penalties for marijuana possession. Even though the federal government considers marijuana a Schedule I drug, it is only a felony to possess marijuana if you have 100 pounds of marijuana or more. Previous laws put possession of over a pound as a felony, but now any amount under 100 pounds of marijuana is a misdemeanor.

How you possess a drug is one of the biggest factors. There is a big difference between possessing drugs for your own, personal use and having them with the intent to sell them. For all drugs except Schedule V drugs, it is a felony to possess them with the intent to sell.

Drug Possession Penalties in Utah

Where you possess drugs also has an effect. Many crimes are upgraded to a felony if you have them in certain locations. If they are already a felony, their punishments may be upgraded. This includes drugs possessed:

  • On public or private school grounds (during the hours of 6am-10pm);
  • On preschool or daycare grounds
  • “[I]n a public park, amusement park, arcade, or recreation center” while they are open;
  • In a church or other “house of worship”;
  • In a library while it is open; or
  • Around someone under 18.

There are a few other conditions that make it illegal to commit drug possession or drug use crimes with prisoners or within 100 feet of schools, churches, and the other places listed above.

Simple Drug Possession vs. Possession with Intent to Deliver

Possession with intent to deliver a drug is always a felony, unless the drug is a Schedule V drug. Simple possession – i.e. possession for your own personal use – is only a felony for over 100 pounds of marijuana, for Schedule I or II substances, or for certain drugs that are specially controlled by the government. This means that many prescription drug charges, charges for small amounts of marijuana, and other drug possession charges are misdemeanors if the drugs are for personal use. However, Schedule I and II drugs like heroin and cocaine are always felonies, whether the drugs are for your own use or for sale.

If police can prove that the drugs you possessed were intended for sale or that you intended to give them to someone else (with or without money changing hands), many simple possession misdemeanors are upgraded to felonies for possession with intent to deliver. Police and prosecutors usually prove your intent to deliver by showing evidence that you had:

  • Large quantities of drugs;
  • Individual doses in packages, ready for sale;
  • Large quantities of cash alongside the drugs;
  • Guns alongside the drugs;
  • Multiple pagers or cell phones;
  • Scales or other tools for weighing and dividing drugs; and
  • Other evidence showing the drugs were not just your own, personal stash.

Salt Lake City Drug Possession Lawyer

If you or your child was charged with drug possession crimes, it is important to understand what level of offense you face. Different levels of crime are tried in different courts with different rules and procedures. Talk to a Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer today to understand your case. Darwin Overson of Overson Law offers free consultations. Call (801) 733-1308 today for your free consultation.