How Much Drugs is Intent to Sell?

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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When Does Drug Possession Cross the Line to Intent to Sell?

In the eyes of the criminal justice system, there is a significant difference between people who only use illegal drugs and those who plan to sell them. Someone convicted of intent to sell can be incarcerated for far longer than someone who simply uses a substance. Understanding how the authorities define intent to sell and what it means to a person facing this charge can help you determine what course of legal action is best for you or someone you know.

What Is Intent to Sell?

Typically, intent to sell is defined as the intention to distribute various substances that are illegal to own or obtained illegally. Intent to sell charges are based primarily on the amount of a controlled substance found in an individual’s possession. Drug paraphernalia may also be considered. If the amount of a substance discovered is deemed too large for personal use, the individual may be charged with intent to distribute or sell. Other factors are involved as well.

How Does Possession Differ From Intent to Sell or Distribute?

There are major differences between charges of possession and intent to sell or distribute. When an individual receives a charge of possession, they are being accused of knowingly obtaining and owning an illegal substance. This means that the individual was not coerced into taking, using, or even purchasing the substance. When someone is charged with intent to sell or distribute, other evidence may be present that demonstrates this or provides a motive for the crime. 

Factors Considered for Charges of Intent to Sell

Many factors may be considered when an individual is charged with intent to sell various substances. Not all cases are the same. While some defendants may face thousands of dollars in fines, others may be required to spend time behind bars. This can run as high as 40 years for drug traffickers.


The quantity of any substance found on an individual or within their home or vehicle will determine whether that person is charged with possession or intent to sell. If an individual has an excessive number of substances or an excessive amount of a particular illegal substance, there is an increased risk of being charged with intent to sell and distribute.

Marijuana Charges

Not all states operate the same in terms of illegal substances. For instance, many of the 50 United States have decriminalized marijuana on a state level. However, cannabis has not been decriminalized on a federal level. Those who plan to sell marijuana where it is not legally or medically permitted risk being charged with intent to sell or distribute. 

While states have established clear limits regarding felony drug possession, threshold amounts don’t seem to exist for intent to sell. This leaves it to police in various states to decide how much cannabis exceeds a reasonable amount for personal use. 

Federal penalties for possessing any amount of marijuana with the intent to sell or distribute can be up to five years in prison along with a $250,000 fine. The stiffest penalties, for 1,000 kilograms or more, can include life in prison and a $1 million fine.

Cocaine Intent to Distribute Charges

Under federal law, those who are caught with 500 grams of cocaine face a mandatory minimum prison sentence of five years; this rises to a minimum of 10 years for 5 kilograms or more.

Methamphetamine Charges

Under federal statutes for intent to sell methamphetamine, 5 grams is the threshold for a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. Possession of 50 grams or more with intent to sell triggers a 10-year minimum sentence.

Heroin Intent to Sell Charges

For heroin possession with intent to sell, federal statutes mandate a minimum five-year prison sentence for 100 grams or more means a minimum five-year prison sentence. Those caught with 1 kilogram or more face 10 years in prison.

Supplies and Equipment

An individual may be charged with intent to sell based on any drug paraphernalia they have around them or in their possession at the time of their arrest. Distribution supplies may include tools and equipment to prepare substances, bags to distribute them, or even evidence to prove that sales and transactions involving the substances have taken place.

Criminal History

The criminal history of an individual who receives a charge for possession will likely also be taken into account before it is determined whether they will also receive a charge for distribution with the intent to sell. If an individual has never been charged with a crime in the past or has no history of drug use, the judge may be more lenient with them than with a repeat offender. However, it is important to keep in mind that this is not always the case and may also depend on the substance(s) that were found in the possession of the charged individual. 


In rare cases, age may also factor into the charges that an individual receives when they are found guilty of possession of an illegal substance. If an adolescent is underage when arrested, they are less likely to spend time behind bars. The focus in the juvenile justice system is on rehabilitation rather than punishment


The circumstances in which an individual is involved in a crime will also likely matter. For instance, if someone is found to have substances in their own home, they may face lesser charges than if an individual is attempting to sell or distribute near a school, college, or university. If an individual has no criminal history or history of substance abuse, the judge may be more lenient than when dealing with a repeat offender.

Understanding Drug Schedules

Understanding drug schedules in your state and throughout the United States on a federal level is also imperative for those facing possession or intention to distribute charges. Drug scheduling is extremely important to help determine the potential for abuse of a substance and the risk of dependency and death. It is important to note that while some substances are listed as Schedule I, II, II, and IV drugs federally, they may be permitted for recreational and/or medical usage on a state level, depending on where you live. 

Schedule I

Schedule I drugs are substances that are classified as highly addictive and potentially abusive. They are not known on a federal level to have any widely accepted usage medicinally. The most known substances that fall within the Schedule I class of drugs in the United States include cannabis (marijuana), heroin, LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, peyote, methaqualone, and ecstasy, or 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine. Those found in possession of these substances face a much greater chance of being held liable for intention to sell or distribute, depending on the quantity of the drug they have in their possessions when arrested and/or detained. 

Schedule II

Schedule II drugs, while not considered as serious or severe as Schedule I drugs, are also considered substances with a high potential for abuse. In some cases, these substances were also discovered to lead to serious physical dependence and in some cases, even irreversible psychological harm and damage. Some of the most common Schedule II drugs include cocaine, methamphetamine, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), fentanyl, Ritalin, Adderal, Dexedrine, oxycodone, Vicodin, and methadone. In some cases, mixed or combination substances that include less than 15 milligrams of hydrocodone may also be considered a class Schedule II drug.

Schedule III

Schedule III substances may be permitted on the market in medical scenarios or under extreme circumstances. While Schedule III substances have a much-lowered risk of causing instantaneous addiction or high dependency, they still carry a potential risk for adverse reactions and addiction over time. A few popular examples of Schedule III drugs include testosterone, ketamine, steroids (anabolic), and in some cases, Tylenol with codeine. Products that also contain less than 90 milligrams of codeine (per serving or unit), may also be classified a Schedule III drug.

Schedule IV

Schedule IV drugs or substances are typically considered those with low potential for addiction, dependency, and abuse. However, it is important to note that this may vary from one individual to another. Individuals who are genetically predisposed to addiction may have a greater risk of becoming dependent on any substance, regardless of its schedule class. Common prescription medications, drugs, and substances that are classified as Schedule IV include Soma, Talwin, Tramadol, Ambien, Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Darvocet. Because there are always new prescription medications and substances being released in the medical field and even on the black market, it’s important to remain aware of changes as they occur with the federal drug schedule. 

Schedule V

Substances that are classified as Schedule V have the lowest risk of all. These substances may also be prescribed to individuals who are not at risk of dependency or developing a serious addiction. Some Schedule V drugs may include traditional cough medicine that contains codeine, such as Robitussin AC, as well as Motofen, Lyrica, Lomotil, and in some cases, even Parepectolin. Other Schedule V medications that are typically provided in a medical setting include additional antitussive prescriptions as well as medications used for both analgesic and antidiarrheal purposes. 

Understanding the definition and penalties of intent to sell and distribute is essential if you or someone you know has been charged with possession. If you’re illegally using a controlled substance but have never been arrested for it, keep these consequences in mind, and don’t let drug use land you in trouble with the law. At Defining Wellness Centers, we offer a variety of inpatient, outpatient, and aftercare programs for anyone who wants to quit using drugs and enjoy the benefits of the sober lifestyle. Contact us today to learn more.

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