Drug possession penalties vary widely. This is in part due to the fact that possession can be charged at the misdemeanor or felony level. Wondering why you have been charged with a felony? Particularly for first time offenders, it can seem outlandish that they would be charged at such a severe level. If you've found yourself in this situation, it's helpful to understand just why you might be facing felony charges.

Amount and Type of Drug

The amount and type of drug found in your possession can escalate a charge. Drug quantity guidelines are decided at the state level, so the terms can vary from state to state. For example, possessing more than an ounce of marijuana is a felony in North Dakota; however, in Alabama you would need to be in possession of more than 35 ounces to be charged at this level.

In terms of drug type, its ranking on the substance scale will be a determinant. In most states, possession of a powerful narcotic like heroin is an automatic felony.  


Someone who is a marked addict that intended to use the drugs for personal use will generally not face as severe charges as someone who has intentions to sell the substance. The reason for this comes down to harm. Were you only harming yourself or were your intentions to sell to others and harm many?

However, it's important to understand that intent does not supersede the regulations in terms of amount of drugs and type. If you're still considered to be at the felony level based on this factor, you can still be charged with felony, even if the possession was for personal use.

Aggravating Circumstances

States also use aggravating circumstances to determine whether or not your charge will be upgraded to a felony. Generally, any person found to be in possession of drugs near a minor or even an area where minors frequent, such as a school, school bus or even school bus stop, will be charged with a felony.

Public areas controlled by the local municipality, such as a community park or community center, might also qualify for a felony charge. Lastly, if you have been convicted of any drug-related charge in the past, you could be charged with a felony.

If your charge has already been, or is at risk of being, upgraded to a felony, you need an attorney, preferably a felony lawyer. This type of charge can come along with harsh prison sentencing. An attorney can examine the facts of your case to ensure your rights are protected.