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What is "drug paraphernalia"? What is "possession of drug paraphernalia"?

Every Day Drug Paraphernalia

A frequent charge we see is possession of drug paraphernalia, especially in conjunction with other drug charges or arising out of traffic stops. In Wisconsin, a conviction for possession of drug paraphernalia, or PDP as it is sometimes calls, commonly carries a maximum punishment of 30 days in jail and/or a $500 fine. Possession of drug paraphernalia related to methamphetamine has more severe consequences: it's a Class H felony, carrying a maximum punishment of 6 years of imprisonment and/or a $10,000 fine.

The term drug paraphernalia may bring specific images to mind: glass pot pipes with swirls of color, marijuana grinders, or dirty needles for intravenous-use drugs like heroin or meth. What people don't often realize is that everyday items--items that you might normally have in your pocket or your car--can also be charged as drug paraphernalia. Examples include straws, credit cards/ID cards, razor blades, spoons, cotton balls, and even an apple.

How Can They Do That?

The first step to answering that question is to define drug paraphernalia in the context of a potential criminal charge. The Wisconsin Statues define the crime of "Possession of drug paraphernalia" this way: "No person may use, or possess with the primary intent to use, drug paraphernalia to plant, propagate, cultivate, grow, harvest, manufacture, compound, convert, produce, process, prepare, test, analyze, pack, repack, store, contain, conceal, inject, ingest, inhale or otherwise introduce into the human body a controlled substance or controlled substance analog," which is a long-winded, legalistic way of saying that the object has something to do with a controlled substance of some sort.

"Intent" is an important word in that definition. Unless a person is actually caught using the alleged paraphernalia to (most commonly) inject, ingest, or inhale a controlled substance, the government has to prove that you intended to use the object in one of those specific ways. Circumstances may provide defenses to a possession of drug paraphernalia charge. For example, if you are arrested with a gram of cocaine, and next to it, or in the same pocket, was a driver's license with cocaine residue on it, it is easy to infer or conclude that you used the license to cut lines of cocaine. However, if the driver's license was elsewhere in your home or car, or in a different pocket, the inference is more difficult to make, and the likelihood of successfully defending the charge is greater.

These days, drug paraphernalia is perhaps most commonly seen with drugs such as marijuana/THC, cocaine and heroin. One case that we have seen involved an individual who was found smoking marijuana outside. He had taken an apple and through a series of quick cuts, was able to use it to smoke his marijuana, and in doing so he had turned a normal piece of fruit into drug paraphernalia. Instances of homemade devices are less common with smokers of THC: the typical types of possession of paraphernalia charges are from grinders, devices used to break down buds of marijuana, and glass or metal pipes.

The process of using cocaine or heroin can be labor intensive and may provide the potential for additional criminal exposure. For example, someone who injects heroin is often found to be in possession of the "works" or "gear," which often includes cotton balls, a syringe, and a spoon. The heroin is placed on the spoon with a tiny amount of water to cook the heroin before injecting it. A prosecutor might charge each individual item as drug paraphernalia, instead of just one count for all of it. Items typically associated with cocaine use, such as razor blades, straws, or tiny measuring spoons can be charged together or individually.

A Sign Of Something Bigger

In many cases, drug paraphernalia is a sign of drug use, however this is not always the case. Some items that can be charged as drug paraphernalia are indicative of the manufacture or sale of drugs, and these counts are used to increase the number of charges against alleged drug dealers. Some examples of this type of paraphernalia include digital or beam scales, packaging materials (quantities of baggies or vials), razor blades, mortar & pestles, and blenders. While many of these items may be normal household objects, the likelihood of their being considered as drug paraphernalia increases with how close the objects are to the actual drugs, the circumstances of the discovery, and whether or not there is any drug residue in, on, or around the object.

How It Effects You

Being convicted of a possession of paraphernalia charge carries potentially significant consequences, including incarceration. If convicted, this will be available for the world to see, including potential employers and landlords. If you have been charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, you need to speak with an attorney to discuss potential defenses to your case. If you or someone you know has been charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, call our office for a free consultation and find out what options are open to you.

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