drugs and handcuffs

The difference between possession with intent to distribute, and illegal drug possession, is significant in the South Carolina justice system. If you face PWID charges, you are more likely to face severe charges, requiring a solid criminal defense strategy. You require a criminal lawyer with profound experience with the SC laws as soon as possible for legal advice and to advocate on your behalf.

The severity of the penalties and criminal charges depends on various factors, including the amount of the drug, other accompaniments such as firearms, DUI, and type of drug. This article explicitly discusses the conditions under which you can be convicted for possession with intent to distribute, the potential penalties, and the “threshold weight” for different drugs.

What is Possession with Intent to Distribute in SC?

The possession of controlled substance is considered a severe offense in South Carolina. The consequences even worsen if the offender is charged with the intent to distribute to others. Possession with intent to distribute, also known as PWID for short, is classified as a felony offense if the offender is on a subsequent offense. The charges will increase if the person is found in possession of more than one controlled substance.

Drug possession is a crime. The legal system assumes that an individual can be in possession for multiple reasons:

  • distribution/transportation
  • sale
  • personal use, or
  • general drug trafficking

If the conviction is possession for personal use, commonly known as simple possession charge, which is associated with personal injury, the offender may face less severe penalties.

Two major drug possession types: constructive and actual

Actual possession

Actual possession means the person being charged is found with the substances in their physical control or possession. For example, the drugs are found in one’s hands, or in their pocket.

Constructive possession

On the other hand, constructive possession means the person being charged is not in physical possession, but knowingly possesses the drugs in a particular place, like in the center console of a car. In this case, multiple individuals in that particular car can be charged, because they are believed to have the ability to control the possession, or are involved directly or indirectly in it.

Is the penalty the same if it’s before the sale or after the sale?

A person may face the same penalties if found with the intent to distribute, or if they have already delivered the controlled substances. But the facts making these two criminal cases are different. If it’s before the sale, various facts are considered in the prosecution to establish whether there is evidence of the intent to distribute.

Some evidence includes, the division of the substance in baggies, and the presence of scales for weighing. In most cases, the prosecutors rely on the arresting officer’s testimony to establish the likelihood that the person charged intended to distribute the drugs.

Possession with Intent to Distribute First Offense

As with most charges, the criminal background of the person charged will make a difference in the severity of the punishment. A PWID first offense usually gets lesser penalties than if it’s a second offense. Likewise, if there are other previous felonies in their background, that will increase the penalties. The specifics of the charges will depend on the type of drug the person is charged with distributing.

What Are the Penalties for PWID in SC by Drug Type?

The penalties for possession with intent to distribute vary, depending on various factors, such as:

  • The amount of the drug a person possessed during the arrest
  • The nature of the controlled substances. Dangerous and highly addictive substances, such as heroin, attracts harsher penalties than simple possession of marijuana.
  • Evidence supporting the intent to distribute, especially to persons below 18 years.
  • Possession of firearms alongside the drugs.
  • If the proximity of a PWID is within 1,500 feet off a public park, school or church.

In South Carolina, drug substances have a mandatory minimum weight, beyond which the possession becomes a felony trafficking charge. The most common controlled substances laid out in the SC Code of Law are:


Marijuana is one of the most common illicit drugs on the streets in almost every state. It is legal in some states, but SC weed laws are lagging behind other states. In South Carolina, Code Section 44-53-370 specifies the possession of marijuana as a misdemeanor offense. But the PWID marijuana charges remain a serious offense.

It is unlawful to manufacture, transport/distribute or possess marijuana for any unauthorized reason. The PWID penalties of this drug vary depending on the offender’s history.

  • A first offense of between 1 and 10 ounce of marijuana attracts a penalty of between 0-5 years of incarceration or a fine not exceeding $5,000.
  • The second offense attracts incarceration of 0-10 years or a fine not exceeding $10,000
  • Third offense or subsequent offense attracts between 5-20 years of imprisonment or fines up to $20,000

Crack and Powder Cocaine

Unlike most states, SC lacks different criminal penalties for cocaine base and powder cocaine, meaning the PWID of the two substances are considered the same. The possession of these two drugs attracts a felony charge under South Carolina law. Possession of more than one gram of cocaine result in:

  • The first offense attracts 0-15 years of imprisonment or a fine of up to $25,000
  • The second offense attracts 5-30 years of imprisonment or up to $50,000
  • Third offense or subsequent offenses attract 10-30 years’ incarceration or a monetary fine not exceeding $50,000


PWID methamphetamine carries similar potential penalties and threshold weight as powder cocaine or crack cocaine. Their penalties are specified in SC Code Section 44-53-375. The penalties for more than 1 gram of meth are:

  • The first offense attracts 0-15 years of imprisonment or up to $25,000
  • The second offense attracts 5-30 years of imprisonment or up to $50,000
  • Third or subsequent offenses attract 10-30 years’ incarceration or a monetary fine not exceeding $50,000


In Columbia and South Carolina in general, heroin is classified as a Schedule i narcotic drug. PWID heroin attracts similar penalties to PWID cocaine and methamphetamine.

Defending Yourself against PWID Charges in SC

PWID drugs in SC can be a severe offense that can attract a substantial monetary fine or prolonged jail time. However, you can have strong defenses and legal advice from an experienced criminal defense lawyer. The defenses may lead to dismissal of your drug crimes case, winning the trial, or reducing charges from PWID to simple possession.

Some potential defenses for PWID charges depending on the convictions are:

  • The drugs do not belong to you
  • Your rights were violated by the law enforcement during the search
  • You are not aware of the presence of the controlled drugs
  • Challenge evidence, among others.

Schedule a Free Consultation With a Drug Defense Attorney

Due to many factors employed to determine PWID charges, the cases often become complicated to defend. But at David Tarr Law, I have profound knowledge of how the SC criminal justice system works and can defend you against the charges effectively. Call me at 803-238-7967 or contact my offices today for free a consultation.

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