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Drug arrest explainer: Misdemeanors vs felonies

BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon Police Chief Matt Gregory said the city has seen an increase in felony drug arrests in recent years. But many may wonder what separates a felony charge from a less serious misdemeanor offense.

Gregory said the elements of the crime determine its severity, not the drug itself nor the quantity of drug found.

“For the felony level, it’s unlawful for any person to manufacture, deliver or possess with intent to deliver a controlled substance — and that’s any drug that’s defined by the controlled substance act, if it is used for those purposes,” the police chief explained to My Buckhannon.

The type of drug does not determine whether someone is charged with a misdemeanor or felony, and there is no defined amount of drugs that equates to a more serious charge. When someone is found with drugs, officers look for other elements to determine if their intent was to distribute the drug. The quantity of drug is one element, but police also look for individually packaged drugs, large sums of money and ledgers describing transactions.

“You would have to show that there is an intent to distribute that substance,” Gregory said. “Oftentimes, you will see larger quantities, but these examples I’m giving aren’t cookie cutter. It’s a case-by-case basis, and the more elements you tend to show, the more you establish the intent to deliver.”

A misdemeanor drug possession charge is punishable by not less than 90 days nor more than 6 months in jail with a fine of not more than $1,000. A felony distribution conviction can be punished by not less than 1 year nor more than 5 years imprisonment and a fine of not more than $15,000.

There are no graduated offenses for possession, and the punishment does not change based on the type of drug.

“We’re beginning to see more charges for possession with intent to deliver,” Gregory said. “Just given the various circumstances that we have encountered through our investigations, certainly there have been a number of delivery charges that we we’ve seen and the task force has seen over the last year.”

Gregory also said they have seen an increase in narcotic DUIs.

“Historically speaking, just things I’ve seen throughout my career, it used to almost exclusively be alcohol,” Gregory said. “Now we’re seeing a lot more individuals who are under the influence of just drugs.”

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