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Drug Possession Charges in South Carolina

man slipping cocaine into his pocket

Simple possession, possession with intent to distribute, and trafficking are the three main drug possession-related charges in South Carolina. Multiple factors often determine drug possession charges at the time of arrest, the most common being the amount of the drug present. It helps you to understand the different charges and potential penalties for each.

Simple Possession

The individual is given a simple possession charge when they have drugs in their possession, but there is no evidence to indicate that additional crimes will be committed, such as trafficking or distributing.
Simple possession is usually determined based on the amount of the drug present. If it is a relatively small amount, it can infer that the drug was only intended for personal use.
Penalties vary greatly under the umbrella of simple possession.


Having less than one ounce of marijuana is considered simple possession.
A first offense for possession of marijuana may result in either:

  • Up to one month in jail
  • A fine of up to $200


Simple possession of cocaine penalties are significantly more severe than those for marijuana possession. Simple possession of cocaine means having one gram or less.
A first offense could result in both:

  • Up to 3 years in jail
  • A fine of up to $5,000

A second charge for simple possession of cocaine becomes a felony offense.

Possession With Intent to Distribute (PWID)

When the amount of drug present at the time of arrest is higher than the threshold allowed for a simple possession charge, you could get a possession with intent to distribute charge.
The amount that implies intent to distribute varies by drug.

  • Marijuana: over one ounce
  • Powder or Crack Cocaine: over one gram
  • Heroin: two grains (.0046 of an ounce)

Though the weight of the drug present is typically the main factor in determining intent to distribute, surrounding factors may also imply intent. For example, if the marijuana found is less than one ounce but is packaged in small bags, this can warrant a possession with intent to distribute charge.

The presence of drug paraphernalia may also be grounds for a PWID charge.

First Offense Penalties

Possession with intent to distribute penalties are significantly higher than simple possession. PWID is always a felony charge in South Carolina.

Potential penalties for each drug are:

  • Up to 5 years in prison
  • Up to $5,000 in fines


  • Up to 15 years in prison
  • Up to $25,000 in fines


  • Up to 15 years in prison
  • Up to $25,000 in fines

Drug Trafficking

Trafficking is the most severe of all drug charges. Similarly, drug trafficking charges are determined by the amount of drug present. Therefore, you do not need to be involved in drug smuggling or transporting to receive a trafficking charge. If you are in possession of a large amount of a substance, offers will assume that you plan to distribute it.

Trafficking charges may result if the individual is in possession of over:

  • 10 pounds of marijuana
  • 10 grams of cocaine
  • 4 grams of heroin

Depending on which drug was in your possession, you could be facing up to 25 years in prison for a first offense trafficking charge.

Actual vs. Constructive Possession

There are two main circumstances surrounding possession charges.

Actual possession means that the drugs were found on the body of the individual (i.e., pocket, purse, jacket). There is no question that the individual was aware of the drugs on their person.

Constructive possession means that, even if the drugs were not directly in the individual’s possession, there is reason to believe they knew about the drugs.
For example, if you are driving your car and one of your passengers is found in possession of marijuana, you may be held responsible.

Potential Defenses for Drug Possession Charges

If you are facing possession-related charges, you will need a strong defense.

You may argue that:

  • The drugs belong to someone else
  • Law enforcement violated your rights during the search
  • You were unaware of the presence of the drugs
    • This is a solid defense for constructive possession charges
  • Challenging evidence

South Carolina Drug Defense Attorney

Due to the many factors used to determine drug possession charges, these cases quickly become complicated. At The Law Offices of Marion M. Moses, LLC, we can help guide you through your drug possession case. We will thoroughly investigate all of the circumstances surrounding your drug possession arrest. Call us today at (803) 770-4483 to schedule a free consultation with our Columbia criminal defense attorney.