The difference between drug possession vs. intent to distribute

On Behalf of | Apr 15, 2024 | Drug Crimes

In Wisconsin, the key difference between drug possession and intent to distribute lies in what the state believes you intended to do with the drugs. Possession simply means you have control over the substance, whether it is on your person or somewhere you have access to. However, if the state thinks you plan to sell or give the drugs to others, you could face charges for intent to distribute. Below is a closer look into these common drug crimes.


Possession means you have a controlled substance on you or in an area you have control over, like your car or home. Under Wisconsin laws, the penalties for possession can range from a misdemeanor for smaller amounts to a felony for larger amounts or possession of certain substances. The law considers factors such as:

  • The type of drug
  • The amount you have
  • Your previous criminal history

Intent is not a factor if you find yourself charged with possession. The state only needs to prove that you had the drug.

Intent to distribute

Intent to distribute is a more serious charge and the penalties are typically more severe. It implies not only did you possess drugs, but you also planned to sell, deliver or distribute them. Law enforcement might infer intent to distribute from:

  • The quantity of the substance: Larger amounts could suggest distribution
  • Packaging: If the drugs are divided into smaller, individually wrapped portions
  • Paraphernalia: Items like scales, bags or large amounts of cash

If you had no intention to distribute the drugs, then you did not commit the crime.

Building a solid defense against drug charges

If you are facing charges of either possession or intent to distribute, you should know that you have rights and defenses available. For possession charges, you might question the legality of the search and seizure that led to the discovery of the drugs. For intent to distribute, the prosecution must prove you intended to sell or distribute the drugs, which is not always straightforward.

Make no mistake—any kind of drug charge is serious. However, you must know what the arresting officer is charging you with and fully understand the nature of the charges. You may be in trouble for something you did not even do.

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