Missouri Drug Possession Overview

Drug possession, or possession of a controlled substance, is one of the more serious crimes that we handle at Combs Law Group. Missouri, like many other states, has some very serious penalties for drug possession. Unfortunately, drug possession is also one of the most common crimes we handle as St. Louis criminal defense lawyers. When someone is arrested for drug possession there is a multitude of factors that go into their cases. Under Missouri drug possession laws, not all drug possession charges are the same and some are much more serious than others. Whatever the case may be, the first thing you need to do is get informed and begin your search for a highly qualified criminal defense lawyer. We want our clients, or prospective clients, to be fully informed, so in this article, we will try to provide you with all the information you need to know as it relates to a drug possession charge.

What is drug possession?

Let’s start with a clear understanding of how the law in Missouri defines drug possession. You might be thinking that drug possession is when you have drugs in your hand or on you. The fact is that the law goes beyond that in most cases and considers “possession” anytime you have the ability to control and handle the drugs. So when you’re pulled over and the cops find drugs in your car that happens to be there because your friend put them there, you’re still considered “in possession”. Which is a very common scenario with drug possession cases, so always be aware of what others are carrying in your vehicle.

Obviously, the common factor in any drug possession case is drugs. There’s a wide range of drug types that can trigger an arrest and drug possession charge. They can be illegal drugs or prescription drugs, so if your buddy gave you a couple of Xanax to help you sleep, be aware. If you’re caught with legally prescribed drugs without a prescription you could be facing a drug possession charge. A very serious one for that matter.

Drug Schedules In The United States

To understand drug possession laws in Missouri we have to take a closer look at the DEA guidelines that determine how serious an illegal drug is under the law. In the United States, the Controlled Substances Act specifies and regulates all legal and illegal drugs on the market. The guidelines set forth in the Act specify that there are 5 Schedules for drugs under the law. Here are the five schedules under the US law:

  • Schedule I – Drugs under this schedule have been determined to have no medical utility and are considered to have a very high risk of abuse. Heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine or crank, crack, and ecstasy are all primary examples of a Schedule I drug.
  • Schedule II – These drugs have been determined to have a high rate of abuse and dependence. However, they have a specific medical purpose and can be prescribed by a Doctor. Fentanyl and other opiates, Adderall, and Methadone are just some examples of Schedule II drugs.
    Schedule III – Drugs from this category are similar to Schedule II drugs, but they are considered to have a lower risk of abuse and misuse. For example, codeine with Tylenol is a painkiller like morphine, but it’s not as strong, so it’s in a higher classification.
  • Schedule IV – Drugs in this category are considered the low risk for abuse and dependence under the DEA guidelines, but can still cause considerable issues for someone if they become addicted. Examples of drugs in this category include Xanax, Tramadol, Valium, and Darvon.
  • Schedule V – The least serious of drug categories under the DEA guidelines due to the fact that they have very limited quantities of narcotics in their chemical makeup. Drugs like Robitussin AC and Lyrica are Schedule V.

The DEA drug schedules are a critical component to any drug possession charges. Every drug (legal and illegal) is placed into one of the Schedules, and the lower the drug schedule the higher the penalty. Unfortunately, some of the rationales around which drugs are considered a high potential risk for abuse is very questionable. For instance, cocaine is considered a higher risk of abuse versus Fentanyl, which is a leading cause of drug overdoses right now.

Why are these drug schedules so important? Well, the penalty guidelines under the law utilize these Schedules to create tiers of fines and prison time for each particular drug schedule. In Missouri, the legal statute Mo. Stat. Ann. § 195.017 dictates which drugs fit into which category. So if you’re trying to figure out which Schedule a drug is, we’ve published that list of drugs here so that you can easily search through them.

Penalties for Drug Possession in Missouri

Under Missouri law (statute 579.015), possession of a controlled substance (aka drug possession) is defined as follows:

Possession or control of a controlled substance — penalty. —

  • A person commits the offense of possession of a controlled substance if he or she knowingly possesses a controlled substance, except as authorized by this chapter or chapter 195.
  • The offense of possession of any controlled substance except thirty-five grams or less of marijuana or any synthetic cannabinoid is a class D felony.
  • The offense of possession of more than ten grams but thirty-five grams or less of marijuana or any synthetic cannabinoid is a class A misdemeanor.
  • The offense of possession of not more than ten grams of marijuana or any synthetic cannabinoid is a class D misdemeanor. If the defendant has previously been found guilty of any offense of the laws related to controlled substances of this state, or of the United States, or any state, territory, or district, the offense is a class A misdemeanor. Prior findings of guilt shall be pleaded and proven in the same manner as required by section 558.021.
  • In any complaint, information, or indictment, and in any action or proceeding brought for the enforcement of any provision of this chapter or chapter 195, it shall not be necessary to include any exception, excuse, proviso, or exemption contained in this chapter or chapter 195, and the burden of proof of any such exception, excuse, proviso or exemption shall be upon the defendant.

So unless it’s a Marijuana charge, the illegal possession of a controlled substance in Missouri, will typically result in a Felony charge. For instance, if you are pulled over and the cop searches your car and finds a small bag of cocaine, he will likely test it on the side of the road and if he determines it’s cocaine, you’ll be charged with a Class C Felony. The good news is that a Class C Felony one the least serious of the Felony classes. The bad news is that a felony is a very serious legal problem and you will need to hire a highly skilled criminal defense lawyer right away. A felony drug charge in Missouri can result in high fines and extensive prison or jail time. A Class C felony drug charge in Missouri can carry up to 7 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. More importantly, a felony of any kind can have a long-lasting impact on your life, career, and your family. So becoming a convicted felon is something you’ll want to avoid if at all possible.

What about diversion and probation programs? Well, with drug possession cases there is the potential for working something out with the prosecutor so the defendant can avoid jail time. Typically this happens when the defendant is a drug addict or has become addicted to the drug and the best option long term is for them to get help for their drug problem. Drug addiction is a disease and the social stigma around drug addiction is changing. However, the laws have been slow to recognize that drug addiction is a mental health disorder. Good people are getting caught up in the legal system due to their mental health issues and instead of treating them with health solutions, we are locking them up and in some cases throwing away the keys. It’s just not the right thing to do, and the truth is that it doesn’t alleviate the problem. The good news is that Prosecutors and Judges are becoming more aware of the fact that most drug possession cases involve drug addicts. Especially with the recent wave of heroin and fentanyl addicts, who are typically victims of Doctors over-prescribing pain pills. They get hooked on the pain pills and then their Doctor cuts them off and next thing you know they are buying illegal drugs off of the street. This is a very common scenario that we come across with our clients facing drug possession charges. With these cases, we look to formulate a legal strategy that puts diversion or probation options front and center. For the client who is willing to seek help for their addiction problems, the Prosecutors are usually open to alternative programs instead of jail. For instance, St. Louis County offers first-time nonviolent offenders who have a substance abuse problem the option of going into drug court. With drug court you are required to meet certain guidelines:

  • Offenders take accountability for their actions.
  • Offender must report to judge in court on a regular basis
  • Regular payment of court and program fees
  • Mandatory participation in substance abuse treatment as designated by Drug Court Team
  • Regular drug testing
  • Mandatory community service
  • Referral and participation with other community resources as required
  • Regular home visits
  • Face to face contacts with a probation officer, court personnel and treatment providers as needed

Meeting all of these requirements can be very difficult for someone who is dealing with a drug addiction. And unfortunately, the success rates for offenders going into drug court aren’t that great. However, if you’re facing a felony conviction for drug possession and you are able and willing to complete a drug court program, it can be a great solution to your legal problems. We typically work with our clients to assess the likelihood of a successful completion before seeking this option with the Prosecutor.

SIS and SES Programs are also alternatives to a felony drug conviction. Typically, if you’re a first time offender of felony drug possession, the Prosecutor could be open to what they call an SIS, or Sentence In Suspension. An SIS is essentially where you take a plea of guilty and you’re put on probation for a specific time period. During that probation period, you’ll have to meet certain requirements to be in good standing with the probation courts. If you successfully complete your probation, your guilty plea will be removed from your criminal record. It’s not removed entirely though, but anyone who is looking into your criminal background won’t see the felony conviction. Only Prosecutors and Judges will be able to see the SIS conviction on your record in the event that you’re arrested again. SIS is a very common outcome to drug possession cases, and if you’re serious about getting clean, it can be a very effective legal option to your case.

So the bottom line is that a felony drug conviction can bring on some serious criminal penalties in Missouri. Under no circumstances should you try and go it alone without a drug possession attorney by your side. You’ll end up with a felony on your record and you will be paying the price for the rest of your life.

Felony Drug Charges vs Misdemeanour Drug Charges

Missouri is one of the few states where the drug possession laws are so strict that any amount of a drug in your possession is a very serious charge and you probably need a felony drug lawyer at your side. The one exception to that is Marijuana. The law in Missouri specifies that if you are in possession of 35 grams of Marijuana or less, you’re charged with a Misdemeanor. If you’re in possession of under 10 grams of Marijuana you’re going to be facing a Class D Misdemeanour, while 10-35 grams will be a Class A Misdemeanor. Keep in mind, that states like Colorado and California have legalized Marijuana, so Missouri is one of the states where the drug laws are still very draconian in nature. For instance, if you’re caught with a speck of cocaine in your car, you’re going to face the same charges as someone with a gram of cocaine in their car. Amounts don’t matter under the law for Schedule I and Schedule II drugs.
However, if you happened to be caught with a small amount of Marijuana (<10 grams), then you could be facing up to $500 in fines. If you have a prior drug conviction, the Misdemeanor class D becomes a Misdemeanor class A. Furthermore, for possession of 10-35 grams of Marijuana, you will be facing a Class A Misdemeanour. Class A Misdemeanors convictions will typically result in up to 1 year in jail, and up to $2000 in fines. The thing to keep in mind is that the Marijuana laws across the country are changing each and every year. As more states make the drug legal, people are increasingly running into gray areas of the law. Just be aware that until Marijuana is legalized in Missouri, it is very risky to buy, use, or carry Marijuana. Your freedom could be at risk. Lastly, regardless of whether you’re facing a Misdemeanor or a Felony, you should carefully consider your options for hiring a criminal defense attorney. A big mistake some people make is understating the seriousness of a Misdemeanour drug charge. With the right attorney in your corner, you should be able to walk away from your case without long-lasting effects on your career and life. Call Combs Law Group today to discuss your drug case.

Proving A Substance is Actually An Illegal Substance

Drug possession charges require specific proof that the substance in your possession is, in fact, an illegal substance. In most cases, the evidence file will contain specifics around how the state identified the substance and its weight. Say for instance you’re partying with your friends on Friday night on Washington Ave. and you’re doing some club drugs, like powdered cocaine. On your way home, you get pulled over for speeding and the cop finds probable cause to search your vehicle. During the search, he finds a little bag with a white powder in it and he suspects it’s cocaine. He will probably ask you “What it is this?”, and you’re the best answer is to say nothing or “I don’t know”. He will then proceed to do a field test on the substance to see if it’s cocaine. These tests are very common in most jurisdictions, and under the law, they provide enough evidence to place you under arrest for drug possession. But the truth is that these tests are extremely unreliable and can be called into question in a court of law. A recent study showed that up to 70% of test results are actually false positives. Which really calls into question why they are used at all. The answer to that question is a complex one that we will defer to another blog post at another time. The reality is that the roadside drug tests provide the police a way to increase there arrest rates, which are typically tied to federal funding for drug enforcement.

But in a court of law the roadside tests won’t cut it, so after your arrest, the police will send a sample of the substance to a formal testing facility for scientific testing. This process can take months to complete due to the backlog of cases in the system. In some cases, you won’t even be charged with drug possession until the test results come back and are presented to the Prosecutor. So if you were arrested for drug possession or they found drugs on you during an arrest for another crime, but not charged right away, don’t be fooled into thinking you got away with it. It’s more than likely the charges are going to be filed.

The test results that come back from the testing facility are very hard to refute. The process itself is very well documented within the law and the testing standards are very high. It’s rare to find a case where the drug testing done by the state was in question or could be questioned by a criminal defense lawyer. Mistakes do happen though, and when those mistakes are made it can provide an opportunity to file a case dismissal.

If you’ve been charged with drug possession already then you know you need to call a lawyer right away. However, if you were arrested and not charged with drug possession immediately, you might be waiting it out to see if the charges get filed. That’s not a good idea. You’re better off contacting a criminal defense attorney right away because the sooner you have legal defense on your side, the better off you’ll be. For one, if you call us today we will work with you immediately to document exactly what happened during your arrest. If you wait 4 to 5 months and then contact an attorney you won’t have a great recollection of your arrest. That can be a problem for any lawyer.

Municipal vs State Court Filings

If you’re charged with felony drug possession in a local municipality the case will be transferred over to the nearest state court. In St. Louis this means that when you’re arrested in Chesterfield or Ladue you won’t actually be charged in those Municipal courts. Municipal courts don’t handle felony cases, so when the drug test results come back with a positive, the Municipal Prosecutor will referrer to the case to the St. Louis County court in Clayton, MO. This is important to know because fighting a case in state court has a higher degree of complexity. If it’s just Misdemeanour drug charges you’ll dealing with like Marijuana possession, then it’s likely the case will remain in the Municipal courts. But don’t underestimate the municipal courts because they can hand down jail time and heavy fines as well. Nonetheless, Combs Law Group can help you fight the charges in Municipal or State court, so contact us today.

So far we’ve really just focused on what’s known as “Simple Possession” in the legal community. However, drug possession charges can range from a “Simple Possession” to “Trafficking”. The drug sentencing guidelines for Missouri are very extreme in cases where someone is selling drugs. For instance, a Trafficking in the 1st-degree charge carries up to 15 years for a first-time offender and up to 30 years for a repeat offender. That’s no joke, and if you happen to be someone who is “allegedly” involved in Trafficking narcotics, you will need to call us right away. The range of drug crimes we can handle at Combs Law Group is extensive. So whether it’s a simple drug possession or any one of the following drug crimes, call us today to get a free consultation. We can help you navigate the legal system so that you get positive outcomes to your case. Check out our drug crimes page to learn more or fill out a contact form to the right and we’ll get in touch with you immediately.

How To Handle Drug Possession Charges

Hopefully, by now you’re convinced that any drug possession charge can be a real problem for you or anyone else. If it happens to be you that’s facing the drug possession charges you’re probably wondering what your options are in terms of fighting the case. As mentioned above, Missouri offers some good options for diversion programs for first-time offenders. For repeat offenders, the problem is exacerbated, and it’s likely you could be facing some jail time. If that’s the case, you’ll probably hear about something called a “120”. The “120” is the number of days you’ll spend in a Missouri correctional facility. For drug possession, it will likely double as a treatment facility where you can go and get “treated” for your drug addiction problem. In some scenarios, this is the best option, but for many, that’s the last option they want to take. If you decide you want to fight the case and go to trial your best bet is going to be challenging the evidence or the means by which the police collected the evidence. Did the police follow the law or was it an illegal search and seizure? Remember, under the constitution of the United States you have civil liberties that protect you from the police just stopping you in your car or on the street and searching for you. If we find there have been improprieties during the arrest we will use them for your legal defense. The key though is to get in touch with us right away. Don’t wait 3 months down the road and then try and claim illegal search and seizure. If you contact us right away you give yourself the best chance at building a successful criminal defense.

Conclusion – Drug Possession

So hopefully after reading this you now realize that getting caught with drugs is no laughing matter when you live in Missouri. Your freedom and the life you live today are at risk if you don’t do something about the charges. Getting convicted can have long-term negative consequences to your livelihood, your family, and your freedom. If you’re a first-time drug offender you’re probably going to get a slap on the wrist if you get a good drug possession lawyer in your corner. But the reality is that most drug possession offenders are drug addicts and the real problem is their addiction. We at Combs Law Group understand this better than most local criminal defense attorneys. We work with Recovery House St. Louis, a local sober living organization, to provide legal services to drug addicts in recovery. We see first hand how drugs like Heroin can destroy a person’s life. And the fact is that the drug epidemic has impacted a wide range of socio-economic people. But what we try to do with our clients is get them the help they need to deal with their addiction. If they are in recovery and doing the right thing we have found that the Prosecutors are much more willing to give them a break. However, we don’t judge our clients either, so if the recovery lifestyle isn’t for you don’t worry, we will still work diligently to get you the best criminal defense out there.

If you’re facing more serious charges like drug possession with intent to sell, then the penalties start to look very serious. The Missouri legal system doesn’t look kindly on those who are selling drugs, and if you get caught you’re going to get the book thrown at you unless you get a good lawyer to help ease the pain.

If you’re currently facing charges for any drug crimes in St. Louis, call Combs Law Group today to get a free case consultation. Lawyer up, so you don’t go down.  Here’s a list of drug cases we handle:

Marijuana Possession Charges

Heroin Possession Charges

Cocaine Possession Charges

Meth Possession Charges

Drug Paraphernalia Charges

Drug Trafficking Charges

Drug Manufacturing Charges

Drug Distribution Charges

Drug Sale Charges




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About Chris Combs

A St. Louis native and graduate of Saint Louis University Law School, Chris Combs has been recognized as one of St. Louis' top criminal defense and personal injury attorneys. He is passionate about getting positive results for all his clients and values personal communication above all.

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