All states regulate the possession of controlled dangerous substances (CDS), though each differs in its exact definition of CDS and the penalties for illegal possession. Pennsylvania classifies not only well-known drugs like marijuana, heroin, and cocaine as CDS, but also the compounds used to manufacture them.
This article discusses the illegal possession of CDS for personal use only. Illegally making or selling CDS carries different penalties. For more information on illegal CDS manufacture and sale, see Sale of Controlled Substances in Pennsylvania.
Also, while marijuana is considered a CDS, this article does not cover Pennsylvania’s marijuana possession and sale laws. To learn more about that topic, see Pennsylvania Marijuana Laws.
Pennsylvania divides CDS into five “Schedules.” Schedule I lists the most dangerous drugs, which have a high probability of abuse and addiction, and no recognized medical value. Schedules II, III, IV, and V decrease in dangerousness and probability of abuse, and increase in recognized medical uses.
If you’ve been arrested for illegal CDS possession, you’ll need to consult the Pennsylvania Code that lists precisely which drugs fit into each group. Go to the statute (35 Penn. Stat. § 780-104) and find the substance you're charged with possessing -- it will be listed under one of the five schedules. (Finding the statute online is not straightforward, unfortunately. Start with the "unofficial" main page for PA statutes, then choose Title 35, then Chapter 6, then Section 780-104.)
It is illegal in Pennsylvania to possess CDS without a valid medical prescription. Penalties include a fine of up to $5,000, up to one year in jail, or both. Second and subsequent convictions incur a fine of up to $25,000, up to three years in prison, or both.
However possessing gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) incurs a fine of up to $250,000, up to 15 years in prison, or both. (35 Penn. Stat. §780-113.)
Possessing or transporting liquefied ammonia gas for anything other than legitimate agriculture purposes (as approved by the Department of Agriculture or by the Department of Transportation) incurs a fine of up to $10,000, up to five years in prison, or both.
Possessing or transporting liquefied ammonia gas, red phosphorous, ammonium sulfate, or other specified CDS precursors with the intent to manufacture CDS incurs a fine of up to $15,000, up to seven years in prison, or both. (35 Penn. Stat. §780-113.1.)
CDS possession convictions can incur harsh fines and long periods of incarceration. A local lawyer who practices CDS defense will review the facts of your case, explain your options, and advise you of the possible consequences.