Virginia Drug Crime Lawyer

In Virginia, it is against the law to possess, transport, sell, manufacture, or distribute a controlled substance. The Commonwealth takes a harsh stance against drug crimes. Upon conviction, you could be facing substantial fines, years in prison, and a permanent criminal record.

If you have been accused of a drug crime, your future and your freedom are at risk. Contact a Virginia drug crime lawyer for help. Michael A. Pignone has more than a decade of experience as a criminal defense lawyer in Virginia. We will fight to protect your legal rights and help achieve the best possible outcome in your case. If you need a Manassas drug crime lawyer, a Fairfax drug crime lawyer, or a Prince William County drug crime lawyer, contact us today.

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Types of Virginia Drug Offense Cases We Handle

Drug related offenses that our firm can assist you with include the following.

  • Distribution,
  • Manufacturing and cultivation,
  • Trafficking, and
  • Possession.

We can also assist with prescription drug cases and federal drug charges. Whether you were arrested for possession of marijuana in Virginia or any other type of drug offense, contact us to learn more about your options.

Photo of Drugs and Handcuffs


Drug crimes are taken extremely seriously in Virginia, including possession. Though possession carries lesser punishments than distribution or manufacturing, possession can lead to strict penalties and lengthy jail sentences. The Virginia Code § 18.2-250 makes it illegal for any person to knowingly or intentionally possess a controlled substance without a prescription.

Even if the police find drugs on your property, a prosecutor must prove that you knowingly possessed the drugs. Proving knowledge is usually easier when the controlled substance is found on your person. It becomes more complicated when the drugs are located on your property or in your car.

Possession of a controlled substance with a valid prescription is not a crime. However, the prescription must be valid and prescribed specifically for you. If a friend or family member with a prescription gives you a controlled substance, the substance is illegal for you to possess. 

There is another way it might be legal for you to possess a controlled substance outside of having a valid prescription. It is legal to possess a controlled substance with a valid order in the course of professional practice. For example, researchers can have certain controlled substances while conducting their research. Possession of the same substance outside of the professional setting is still prohibited.

Depending on specific circumstances, sometimes the punishment for the first instance of possession can be probation and a diversionary program. However, possession can lead to jail time as well.

Possession with Intent to Distribute

Possession with the intent to distribute is a much more serious charge than simple possession. Virginia Code § 18.2-248 makes it a crime to possess a controlled substance with the intent to manufacture, sell, give, or distribute that substance.

Factors that prosecutors can use to prove an intent to distribute include the following:

  • Possession of large quantities of controlled substances,
  • Possession of manufacturing equipment, 
  • The presence of large amounts of cash,
  • Possession of packaging materials, and
  • The presence of a customer list.

Even the intent to distribute a Schedule VI drug can lead to serious jail time. If you have been charged with possession with the intent to distribute, it is essential to contact a Virginia drug offense attorney. 


Distribution is defined broadly in Virginia and includes any transfer, sale, or gift involving a controlled substance. The same statute that makes possession with intent to distribute illegal also covers actual distribution.

Like possession with the intent to distribute, actually distributing a Schedule I or II drug can carry a sentence of 40 years. The distribution of large quantities or a second conviction can lead to life in prison.


Virginia Code § 54.2-3401 defines the manufacturing of drugs as “the production, preparation, propagation, conversion, or processing” of a controlled substance. This definition explicitly includes the packaging and labeling of controlled substances.

Manufacturing is another severe drug offense in VA. Like with other drug crimes, the penalties you would face typically depend on the type of drug and the amount manufactured. For example, a first offense for manufacturing more than 100 grams of methamphetamine or 200 grams of a substance containing methamphetamine carries a sentence of 20 years to life. If you are facing a manufacturing charge, you should consult a drug crime lawyer in Virginia.


According to Virginia Code § 18.2-256, the punishment for a conspiracy to commit any drug crime is equal to the sentence for the drug crime itself. Any agreement to violate the Drug Control Act is punishable under Virginia law. Further, the government will not have to prove the crime was actually carried out. Prosecutors must only prove that you had an agreement to commit the crime. The punishments for conspiracy depend primarily on the type of drug and the amount. A Virginia drug offense attorney can help you aggressively defend against conspiracy charges.

Criminal Defense Lawyer Signing Documents

Virginia Drug Offense Penalties and Charges

Because Virginia takes drug crimes so seriously, almost every potential charge carries the threat of jail or prison in addition to substantial fines.

In Virginia, controlled substances are grouped into six “Schedules” based on the potential for abuse and known medical uses. The consequences of an offense are greatly determined by the classification of the drug(s) in question.

Schedule I and II drugs are associated with the most severe punishments. Examples of Schedule I and II controlled substances commonly charged in Virginia include the following:

  • Heroin,
  • LSD,
  • Fentanyl,
  • PCP,
  • Cocaine,
  • Methadone,
  • Methamphetamine, and
  • Codeine.

People possessing Schedule I or II substances can face up to 10 years in jail. If you are found guilty of having the intent to distribute or actually distributing or manufacturing a Schedule I or II substance, you can end up in prison for life

Schedule III, IV, V, and VI drugs are associated with less severe punishments. These drugs include the following:

  • Anabolic steroids,
  • Valium,
  • Xanax,
  • Other sedatives,
  • Prescription cough medicines with codeine,
  • Inhalants like toluene, and
  • Poppers.

Punishments for possession of these drugs range from a $250 fine to 12 months in jail for the first offense. Distribution or manufacturing can carry a jail sentence of up to 10 years without aggravating factors.

Punishments can depend on factors including the location of the alleged event, a defendant’s past criminal history (particularly for other drug crimes), and the amount of a drug in question.

Drug crimes can be charged as both felonies and misdemeanors, and without an aggressive defense, charges can often overlap. For example, an individual accused of possession may also be facing charges for distribution. Depending on the amount of drug in question, a defendant may also be charged with trafficking.

In addition to fines and time behind bars, a drug crime conviction will leave you with a permanent criminal record. This can affect your ability to get a job or rent an apartment. You may also become ineligible for student loans and other federal benefits. You won’t be able to obtain or hold a professional license or work in certain fields. You could face supervised probation or be required to perform community service. You will be responsible for court costs and fees, and you may have to attend (and pay for) court-mandated substance abuse classes.

Every case will contain unique factors, and to learn more about the specific penalties you may face, contact the firm to discuss the details of your case.

Potential Defense Strategies for Drug Offenses in Virginia

The best approach to your case will depend on the circumstances of your arrest. However, VA drug offense lawyers can use a variety of strategies to help get your charges dismissed or reduced to a lesser offense.

We will begin by investigating the circumstances of your arrest and gathering the available evidence. We will carefully evaluate the actions of the responding officers. We identify any potential violations of your legal rights and look for any mistakes the police may have made at any time before, during, and after your arrest. We can use any potential errors as the basis of your criminal defense.

Some of the most common defense strategies in drug cases include the following.

Lack of Reasonable Suspicion

To pull you over or enter your property, the police must have a reasonable suspicion that you committed a crime. If officers did not have reasonable suspicion but proceeded to search you anyway, they may not have a valid case.

Lack of Probable Cause

If the police did not have probable cause for an arrest, we may be able to use this as the basis for your defense.

Illegal Search and Seizure

Police officers must follow the law when searching your person, your home, your car, etc. If they violated your legal rights in any way, we can move to have any evidence they obtained thrown out.

Chain of Custody Errors

The police must follow established protocols for securing and storing evidence in your case. If any of these protocols were violated, it could provide grounds for disallowing the evidence and, ultimately, having your charges dismissed.

We can also look at how the police assert that you were in possession of an illegal substance. Unless you had actual possession—meaning the drugs were in your pocket, handbag, backpack, etc.—the prosecutor may have a harder time proving their case.

Our primary objective is to get the charges against you dismissed or reduced to a lesser offense. In some cases, we may suggest that you agree to participate in a drug diversion program or deferred adjudication. As a last resort, we may recommend going to trial and making the strongest possible case for you in court.

Drug Diversion Programs

If a defendant meets specific criteria, they may qualify for a deferment program in place of formal charges. Eligibility requires that an offender enters a guilty plea and that it is the first such offense. Careful consideration must be given to this option, and before accepting, the firm can work with you to explore your possible defenses.

Program requirements may include some or all of the following:

  • Completion of a substance abuse program;
  • Payment of all related program costs and fees;
  • Remaining free of alcohol and drugs (subject to random testing);
  • Maintaining employment or making an effort to seek employment;
  • Community service (for felony charges); and
  • License suspension.

Upon completion of the program, the case against you may be dismissed. However, your record may show that you were charged and enrolled in the deferment program. If at any point, a defendant violates the program terms, the charges may be reinstated for which a guilty plea was previously submitted.

Pills, a spoon, a syringe and money laying in the ground

What Are the Drug Laws in Virginia?

Virginia’s Drug Control Act classifies controlled substances into six drug schedules. Alcohol and tobacco are not considered controlled substances in Virginia, they have their own separate laws.

Schedule I drugs:

  • Heroin
  • LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide)
  • MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly)
  • Methaqualone (Quaaludes)
  • Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms)
  • Mescaline (found in peyote cactus)
  • GHB (Gamma hydroxybutyrate)

Schedule II drugs:

  • Fentanyl
  • PCP (Phencyclidine)
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Hydrocodone
  • Synthetic cannabinoids (like Spice or K2)
  • Bath salts (Synthetic cathinones)

Schedule III drugs include:

  • Ketamine
  • Codeine
  • Hydrocodone with aspirin (Vicodin) acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Barbiturates (and other central nervous depressants)
  • Anabolic steroids

Schedule IV drugs include prescription drugs such as:

  • Valium (Diazepam)
  • Xanax, Xanax XR, or Niravam (Alprazolam)
  • Darvocet-N or Di-Gesic (Dextropropoxyphene)
  • Rohypnol (Flunitrazepam)

*The list of substances mentioned above is not an exhaustive one.

Schedule V drugs have a low potential for abuse and mainly include prescription drugs for cough that contain Codeine. Schedule VI is for substances that are not really drugs in the traditional sense, but they are used (or abused) recreationally, such as toluene, which is found in many types of paint.

As you can imagine, Schedule I and Schedule II controlled substances have a much higher potential for abuse, so penalties for possession are also more serious. It’s considered a Class 5 felony and can result in one to 10 years of imprisonment or up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.

Possession of Schedule III illegal drugs is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500. If you are found with Schedule IV drugs, you can be sentenced to up to six months in jail and/or receive a fine of up to $1,000. Possession of Schedule V drugs under Virginia law is punishable by a fine of up to $500. Being caught with Schedule VI substances can mean a fine of up to $250.

Blue background with pills, syringe and white powder

How Our Drug Crime Lawyer Virginia Can Help

When it comes to state or federal drug crime charges, getting us on board early can make a world of difference in protecting your rights. The sooner we are involved, the stronger your chances of fighting off those drug charges within Virginia’s stringent criminal justice system.

Here is what we can do for you:

Secure Your Release

In Virginia, after an arrest for state or federal drug crimes, there is usually a set bail amount that you need to pay to be released from custody. We will negotiate with the court system to either reduce this amount to something more affordable or argue for your release without needing to pay any bail at all.

Investigate Your Case

We don’t just take the prosecution’s word for it; we will conduct our own investigation into the allegations against you. This means gathering all available evidence, not just what the police or prosecution presents. Our team will gather surveillance footage, speak to potential witnesses, and consult with forensic scientists or drug recognition specialists to challenge the prosecution’s claims.

If there are any inconsistencies or inaccuracies that might raise a question about the validity of any piece of evidence or about the drugs involved, we will find them. If we find that evidence was collected without a proper warrant or in violation of your rights, we will push to have it excluded from the case.

Identify the Weak Spots in the Prosecution’s Case

Did the cops follow all the proper procedures during your arrest? Did they have a valid reason to stop you? Was the search conducted legally? We will go over your case with a fine-toothed comb to look for any flaws. We will examine how evidence was collected, stored, and analyzed. If there were any chances of contamination or if the evidence was not handled correctly, it could be deemed unreliable.

Keep in mind that just because someone says something does not make it true. Our next step will be to check the reliability of all witnesses. Do they have a reason to lie? Are their statements consistent? If there are discrepancies, it could weaken the prosecution’s argument.

Explore All Legal Options

We will consider every possibility, which might include first-offender programs or other alternatives that could lead to the dismissal of your drug crime charges. Under Virginia criminal code § 18.2-251, the state offers programs for people who are facing their first drug charge; if you qualify and complete this program, your charges might be dismissed. If that’s not possible, we will push for options like community service, drug counseling, or rehabilitation programs instead of harsh penalties like jail time.

Virginia drug lawyer Michael A. Pignone might be able to get you a deferred prosecution agreement, i.e., the prosecution will hold off on trying the case to give you a chance to meet certain conditions, like attending drug education classes. If you meet these conditions, the charges could be dropped.

Negotiate a Plea Deal

A plea deal is where we negotiate with the prosecution to come to an agreement that is a middle ground instead of going through a jury trial. This not only saves you time and money but also gives us more control over the outcome.

If we think that it might be in your best interest to plead guilty to a lesser charge, we will sit down with the prosecution and discuss how strong their case against you is. If there are holes in their evidence or if they are unsure about winning at trial, they might agree to dismiss the charges. If not, they might be open to reducing the charges to something less severe. This will mean lighter penalties, smaller fines, or alternative programs instead of prison.

Prepare for the Trial

If your drug case ends up going to trial, we will be ready for the courtroom. With over 25 years of experience, we know how to stand before the jury and present the strongest possible defense on our client’s behalf. In addition to compiling evidence and preparing the witnesses for bulletproof testimonies, our team will actively participate in the jury selection process to ensure a fair, unbiased jury panel.

Throughout the trial, we will maintain direct communication with you so you are involved in every decision.

Photo of Lawyers Discussing and Signing

Frequently Asked Questions

Is drug possession a felony in Virginia?

Yes, possession of Schedule I and II drugs, like heroin and cocaine, is a Class 5 felony. If convicted, you can face ons to 10 years in prison or a fine of up to $2,500 and up to 12 months in jail.

How do you beat a possession charge in Virginia?

It really depends on the circumstances of your case. If you are a first-time offender charged with simple possession of marijuana or other controlled substances, you might be able to get the drug charges dismissed by completing a first-offender program, which may include community service or drug education.

Alternatively, your Virginia criminal defense lawyer might be able to convince the prosecutor to reduce your prison sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. We can challenge the evidence or the procedure of the prosecution and argue that they cannot prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

For example, we might argue there was police misconduct, i.e., the police officer did not have probable cause to search you or your motor vehicle. We could also aruge the substance was not yours or wasn’t a controlled substance or that you had a valid prescription.

What is the First Offenders’ Program in Virginia?

The First Offenders’ Program a special option for those who are charged with drug possession for the first time. It allows you to avoid a criminal record if you complete certain requirements, like probation, drug education, and drug testing. Please note that the first offenders’ program is not available to everyone. You can only qualify if:

  • You are only charged with possession of marijuana or a controlled substance, and not with distribution, manufacturing, or selling drugs.
  • You have not been convicted of any drug-related criminal offense before, either in Virginia or in any other state or country.
  • You have not had a drug charge dismissed before under this program or a similar program.
  • You consent to enter the program and agree to follow its terms and conditions.

How does Virginia handle marijuana offenses compared to harder drugs?

Virginia is more lenient with marijuana than with drugs like cocaine or heroin. As of July 1, 2021, possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is legal for adults 21 years and older in this state. If you are found with more than 1 oz. but less than one pound, you may face a civil penalty of $25. Possession of more than one pound is a felony punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and up to 10 years in prison. That said, distributing and manufacturing any amount of marijuana is still illegal in Virginia.

If you are convicted of possessing, distributing, or manufacturing harder drugs, you will face much harsher penalties—even if it’s your first time getting caught.

Secure Powerful Drug Crimes Defense

Drugs acquired from a man in Virginia.

Whether you have been charged with possession of marijuana or distribution of a Schedule I controlled substance, the Law Offices of Michael A. Pignone can help you overcome the legal hurdles that lie ahead. The firm’s Virginia drug offense lawyer is highly experienced with drug-related offenses and can fight tirelessly to defend your freedom. Did the arresting officer have probable cause? Was there an unlawful search conducted? If you face criminal charges, our Virginia drug crime attorney can help you explore the full range of your legal options.

Call our Virginia drug crime attorney and begin building a hard-hitting defense. Our firm is proud to serve clients throughout Prince William, Fauquier, and Fairfax Counties.