Quantity and Quality in Criminal Drug Charges

Quantity & Quality

As with many commodities, quantity and quality are the two standard areas to determine value, and drugs are no different. Cocaine that is nearly pure is much more valuable than the average gram of cocaine sold at the street level where it is typically only 17% pure. The more pure the form of a drug, the more expensive that it is, and there is typically a greater demand. But how does this effect charging of someone who is caught with a controlled substance? The answer is complicated.


When the government charges someone for possession, or possession with intent to distribute, it does so by a set of guidelines set forth in the jurisdictional statues, federal or state. These guidelines are relatively similar, in that they both focus on the weight, or the quantity, of the controlled substance involved. In Wisconsin the levels of charging look like this:

Cocaine Possession W/Intent                         Heroin Possession W/Intent

1 Gram or less Class G Felony                       3 Grams or less Class F Felony
1-5 Grams Class F Felony                              3-10 Grams Class E Felony
5-15 Grams Class E Felony                           10-50 Grams Class D Felony
15-40 grams Class D Felony                          Over 50 Grams Class C Felony
Over 40 Grams Class C Felony

The way the charging is structured is similar for THC with intent to distribute, as well as other drugs such as crack, methamphetamine, and other drugs. At this point in time, the purity level of the drug has little bearing on how it is charged by the government.

Argument By Your Attorney

Once you are charged with a crime, it is time to hurry up and wait; the legal process has been started, and while it will continue forward, it will do so over the next six months or more. The earlier on in this process that you can hire a defense attorney, the greater chance you have at getting a more favorable outcome. One of the first things that a defense attorney might argue is whether or not the facts of the case truly constitute distribution, or if the controlled substance could be argued as personal use. There are certain limitations to this defense, for example, marijuana is typically divided into three categories on the street: Schwag , middies, and dro/headies. The difference between the different types of weed is partly in appearance, but largely in the THC levels. While there is no differentiating the types of most controlled substances, these differences are typically known to both law enforcement officers and prosecutors. An individual who has an ounce of schwag, or ditch weed, may have an argument that the amount was for personal use, rather than distribution. Similarly, having a gram of heroin, or a few grams of cocaine, may constitute as a personal use amount, and thus a charge could be amended to a possession rather than a distribution charge.

Plea Negotiation & Sentencing

The quality of the controlled substance can come into play during the negotiation of a plea agreement as well as at sentencing. During a plea negotiation, the quality of the drugs, heroin, cocaine, etc., can potentially something that can hurt a defendant or help. A case during which a defendant had, for example, very pure heroin that was being sold at a street level to individuals who later overdosed, the purity level of the heroin could be used against the defendant, the argument by the government being that it would be reasonable to assume that it would be more likely to induce an overdose. One way that a high purity level of a drug may benefit a defendant would be to serve as credibility. If a defendant is willing to cooperate with the government and asserts that he is a high level distributor, having controlled substances that are largely pure, would serve to reinforce this statement, possibly making the defendant a more valuable asset to have cooperate.

In general, the quantity of the controlled substance will have more of an effect on your case than the quality of it, however there are exceptions. If you have been charged with possession, or possession with intent, you should immediately contact a criminal defense attorney to discuss the charges against you, as well as options that you have available to you.