marijuana joint and marijuana behind it

Understanding Utah Drug Possession Laws

Since 1992, the number of drug possession arrests has increased each year. In fact, nearly 80% of all drug-related arrests are possession offenses.

Each state has its own laws for drug possession offenses, and they are ever-changing as individual states continue to legalize marijuana for medicinal and/or recreational purposes.

Utah Drug Possession Laws

In Utah, drug possession offenses are usually categorized under simple possession or possession with intent to distribute.

Simple Possession

Simple possession occurs when you are found to be in possession of an individual amount of a drug. For example, if you are found with a marijuana joint in your pocket. It can be inferred that the drug was for personal use, and therefore, you wouldn’t be charged with an elevated crime such as intent to sell.

Possession With Intent To Distribute

This possession offense is significantly more serious than simple possession. If the amount of the drug found in your possession is considered more than what would be reasonable for one person to have, you could face possession with intent to distribute charges. This is because it would be inferred that the only reason to have a high quantity of the drug is to sell it.

It is important to note that even if you did not sell the drug or have any intent to sell the drug, the prosecution will try to prove your intent to distribute based on the surrounding circumstances.

Besides a large amount of the drug being present at the time of arrest, other factors that prosecutors may use to prove intent to distribute include:

  • Communication with potential customers
  • If there were small bags or a scale at the scene of the arrest
  • If you have a substantial amount of cash

Drug Possession Penalties

Simple possession is a class C misdemeanor offense and is the least severe of all drug-related offenses.
If convicted, you could be facing:

  • Up to six months in jail
  • Up to $1,000 in fines
  • Probation that includes consistent drug testing

Possession with intent to distribute is a second-degree felony offense.
It may be punishable by:

  • Up to 15 years in prison
  • Up to $10,000 in fines

Marijuana Exception

If you are being charged for possession with intent to distribute marijuana, the charge will be decreased to a third-degree felony.
This brings potential penalties down to:

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

While marijuana remains illegal in Utah and at the federal level, recent legislation changes have pushed for less severe penalties for non-violent marijuana offenses.

Justice Reinvestment Initiative

In 2015, Utah joined numerous other states with an initiative to reduce incarceration and recidivism rates. The main goal of this initiative was to move low-level, non-violent drug offenders out of jails and prisons and back into their communities. After release, offenders would be provided with opportunities for drug and mental health treatment.

However, Utah has since been criticized for not fully implementing the initiative, specifically not putting enough resources into developing the necessary treatment programs.

Drug Possession Defense

You may believe that hiring an attorney isn’t necessary if you are facing simple drug possession charges. This is not the case. If you are facing charges for any drug offense, you should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

An attorney can help:

  • Evaluate all evidence against you
  • Create an effective defense strategy
  • Negotiate a plea deal for a lesser sentence
  • Argue for alternative sentencing options, like drug court
  • Prove your innocence

At Lokken & Putnam, P.C., we can help you fight for your rights after a drug possession charge. Give us a call today at (801) 829-9783 to get started on your defense with one of our Salt Lake City drug lawyers.