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Drug Possession Attorneys Madison office just off the Beltline

Drug possession penalties in Madison, Wisconsin, vary based on the type drug, the amount of drug and number of previous offenses. Marijuana possession could mean 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine, and cocaine possession could mean 1 year in prison and a $5,000 fine.

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If this is your first offense, you will likely be charged with a misdemeanor crime in Wisconsin. Any other offenses beyond your first is a felony charge and come with longer prison sentences and higher fines.

  • Jail or prison time from 6 months to 6 years or longer
  • Hefty fines starting at $500 and reaching $10,000
  • Property forfeiture
  • Drug treatment programs
  • Probation
  • Being disqualified for federal loans for college.

The penalties for possessing a controlled substance in Wisconsin vary depending on a number of factors including: 

  • Age 
  • Type of Drug
  • If they are repeat offenders, or have a criminal record
  • If they are carrying a firearm
  • If they were close to a school, park or church

Possession of Marijuana (THC) 

First Offense:

  • Misdemeanor
  • Max 6 months in prison
  • And/or a $1,000 fine
  • Possible loss of driver’s license

Second and Subsequent Offenses

  • Class I Felony
  • Maximum 3.5 years in prison
  • And/or a $10,000 fine
  • Possible loss of driver’s license
  • Mandatory Drug Abuse Program (with $5,000 fee)

Possession of Cocaine, Methamphetamine, or LSD

First Offense

  • Misdemeanor
  • Maximum 1 year in prison
  • And/or a $5,000 fine
  • Possible loss of driver’s license

Second and Subsequent Offenses

  • Class I Felony
  • Maximum 3 years in prison
  • And/or a $10,000 fine
  • Possible loss of driver’s license
  • Mandatory Drug Abuse Program (with $5,000 fee)

Possession of Heroin, or Any Schedule V drug:

First and Subsequent Offenses

  • Class I felony
  • Maximum 3.5 years in prison
  • And/or a $10,000 fine
  • Possible loss of driver’s license
  • Mandatory Drug Abuse Program (with $5,000 fee)

Possession of Schedule III and IV drugs:

  • Class H felony
  • Maximum of 6 years in prison
  • And/or a $10,000 fine
  • Possible loss of driver’s license
  • Mandatory Drug Abuse Program (with $5,000 fee)

Madison drug possession attorney

Possession with Intent to Distribute in Madison 

If you are found with a large amount of drugs, the police will assume that you are planning to sell them on the street. This adds Wisconsin possession with intent to distribute to your list of charges. The penalties for this vary depending on the type of drug, amount in possession, and other circumstances surrounding your arrest. If the defendant has already completed the sale of these drugs, then they would be charged with delivery of a controlled substance.

The penalties for intent increase depending on the amount of drug in possession. These penalties are also handed down regardless of whether this was a first offense or not. Here are just a sample of the penalties that come from selling or distributing controlled substances in Wisconsin.

Possession of Marijuana (THC) with Intent:

  • 200 grams or less: Class I felony; maximum $10,000 fine and/or 3.5 years in prison
  • 200-1,000 grams: Class H felony; maximum $10,000 fine and/or 6 years in prison
  • 1,000-2500 grams: Class G felony; maximum $25,000 fine and/or 10 years of prison
  • 2,500-10,000 grams: Class F felony; maximum $25,000 fine and/or 12 years prison
  • More than 10,000 grams: Class E felony; maximum $50,000 fine and/or 15 years in prison

Possession of Cocaine with Intent:

  • 1-5 grams: Class F felony; maximum $25,000 fine and/or a 12.5 years in prison
  • 5-15 grams: Class E felony; maximum $50,000 fine and/or 15 years’ in prison
  • 15-40 grams: Class D felony; maximum $100,000 fine and/or 25 years in prison
  • 40 grams and above: Class C felony; maximum $100,000 fine and/or 40 years in prison

Possession of Heroin or Methamphetamine with Intent:

Possession of Methamphetamemes in Wisconsin is considered a felony.

  • 3 grams or less: Class F felony; maximum $25,000 fine and/or 12.5 years in prison
  • 3-10 grams: Class E felony; maximum $50,000 fine and/or 15 years in prison
  • 10-50 grams: Class D felony; maximum $100,000 fine and/or 25 years in prison
  • More than 50 grams: Class C felony; maximum $100,000 fine and/or 40 years in prison

Possession of Drug Paraphernalia 

Paraphernalia also comes with its own set of penalties. Although getting caught with drug paraphernalia is a misdemeanor in Wisconsin, you’re still looking at steep fines.

Possessing paraphernalia with intent to use:

  • Misdemeanor
  • 30 Days in prison
  • And/or a $500 fine


Sale or distribution of paraphernalia:

  • Misdemeanor
  • 90 days in prison
  • And/or a $1000 fine

Selling paraphernalia to a minor:

  • Misdemeanor
  • 9 months in prison
  • And/or a $10,000 fine
 See also:

There are numerous reasons a person may be charged with possession in Middleton, Verona, Waunakee, Fitchburg, Sun Prairie or anywhere in Dane County. Regardless if you are found with an illegal firearm, drugs, or drug paraphernalia, you could be charged multiple different ways. These charges can lead to jail time, fines, or both. Drug possession charges also carry the risk of a driver's license suspension if convicted. 

The most straight forward form of possession in Madison is when the illegal item is on your person. On your person can mean in your pocket, hand, mouth, or any other way it can be on your physical person. However, this is not the only form of possession that can be charged in Madison. 

Possession can extend to having an illegal item in something which you have actual physical control over. There must be an element of knowledge of the item in order to possess it. An example of this would be holding drugs in your backpack or purse that is in your control. 

A charge of possession can come from an item that is in an area over which you exert physical control. An example of this is a traffic stop in which the police legally find drugs in your vehicle. You can be charged with possession because you exert physical control over your vehicle. Similarly, if a firearm is found in the dresser of your bedroom, the law sees that as possession as you exert physical control over it. Therefore, even if it is not on your person, and you are not actively manipulating it, you can still be charged with possession of the item. 

Multiple people can also be charged for possession at the same time. If drugs are found in a car with more than one person could reach the drug, it can be assigned to any one of those passengers. For example, if you are in a sedan with 4 people and drugs are found in the center console, all four passengers could be charged with the possession of drugs if no one person claims it. 

Ownership is not required for a possession charge. For example, if a firearm is found in your dresser, even though you may not own it, it is in an area which you exert physical control, so you can still be charged with possession of a firearm. Even if the owner were to contact the police and claim ownership of whatever was found, you could still be charged with possession if you meet the legal definition. If it's unclear which felony/misdemeanor class your charges fall under, they may be considered Class U misdemeanor charges

7 Attorney Considerations to Reduce or Drop Drug Charges

Every day across Dane County numerous people are arrested for drug charges. What will happen with their cases depends on a lot of different factors, including how knowledgeable, aggressive and experienced their defense attorney is. But no matter who you are or who you hire, there are seven important things you need to know about your drug case:

1. They are different by the drug 

This one may seem obvious, but it is extremely important to remember. Law enforcement and the courts are going to look at your case differently depending upon what you're charged with possessing.

While marijuana possession may be legal in some states, it is still illegal in Wisconsin. Although a marijuana charge is not nearly as bad as a heroin charge, having a large quantity in your possession would make the charge much worse. You might actually fare better if charged with possessing a smaller amount of a "more serious drug."

According to the state of Wisconsin, serious drugs are worse than marijuana but not as bad as hard narcotics. Examples include:

  • MDMA
  • Ecstasy
  • LSD
  • Hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Examples of hard drugs include:

  • Cocaine
  • Crack cocaine
  • Methamphetamines
  • Heroin

With the heroin epidemic sweeping Wisconsin, possession of opioid prescription pain killers without a valid prescription is a serious offense. Unfortunately, those addicted to opioids are on the path to heroin addiction because it is cheaper and easier to obtain. Prosecutors will do their best to get anyone caught with any amount of heroin, no matter how small, convicted of a felony. In northern Wisconsin where methamphetamine is more of a problem, prosecutors are equally zealous in getting convictions for possession and, of course, for intent to distribute. 

The charges you are facing depend upon the type of drug as well as whether you were in possession of the drug or were involved in making or distributing it. Regardless of what drug charges you face, a skilled defense attorney will be able to carefully assess all of the possible defenses and mitigating circumstances in your case to achieve the best possible outcome. 

2. Different by the County 

Law enforcement in Wisconsin is often organized at the county level. Every county has its own sheriff and district attorney, along with police departments and other forms of government that help make and enforce local policies on narcotics crimes. As a result, you can get arrested for the exact same thing in two different counties and have very different outcomes, simply because law enforcement handles these cases differently in different counties.

Some counties in Wisconsin are harsher on criminal defendants across the board, but every county usually has a few things they go extremely hard on and a few things they’re more lenient about than their neighboring counties. Familiarity with the “lay of the land” in the local justice system is essential. You need an attorney who understands how cases like yours are treated in the county where your case will be tried.

Jails and prisons are full of people who wanted to be a martyr for their cause or unknowingly became one because they were given bad advice by a defense attorney on what could be accomplished at trial and what couldn’t. What you need is an honest assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of your case and what can be done to defend against the charges. 

3. Selling vs. Buying vs. Possession 

Along with the type of drug you’ve been charged with possessing, it is important to take into account the circumstances. A simple possession charge is considered a lesser crime than a delivery or sale charge. Involvement in any drug dealing activity, regardless of the type of narcotic involved, is always a far more serious charge.

While the old saying “users get probation and dealers go to prison" isn’t always true (especially these days), there is still at least some truth in it. A simple possession charge is when law enforcement alleges you were found to be in possession of a substance. They do not believe you were involved with the sale or distribution of the drug, merely the possession. This is the least serious drug charge.

Possession with intent

A possession with intent charge is when law enforcement alleges you were intending to sell the drugs found in your possession. The court will consider the quantity of drugs/narcotics in your possession at the time of arrest, as well as how the drug was packaged and whether you also had cash and scales with you. There are obviously numerous other factors the court will consider, but these are the most common because they paint a picture of someone involved in dealing drugs.

There are numerous factual and legal issues that play into a possession with intent to distribute charge.  For instance, just because someone cashed a recent paycheck and had a digital scale in their car does not mean the person is a drug dealer. An experienced attorney will be able to look at all the evidence against you and build a case for refuting any evidence that can be considered circumstantial.

Delivering and Selling Drugs 

A sale or distribution of any drug automatically escalates the seriousness of the charge. It doesn’t matter what kind of drug it was, who it was sold to, or how much was alleged to have been sold. The courts take these cases very seriously. If convicted of delivery or selling drugs, regardless of the amount, you will likely be sentenced to jail.

There are numerous approaches law enforcement uses to catch people involved in the sale and distribution of drugs. Sometimes, law enforcement gets too aggressive and may violate the United States Constitution. A good defense attorney can often use this to have improperly attained evidence thrown out and to build a case for lesser charges.

4. To CI or not to CI? 

After an arrest, law enforcement will sometimes ask the person arrested if he/she would be willing to be a confidential informant (CI for short). Under Wisconsin’s confidential informant laws, the police can have you sell or purchase drugs from other individuals so they can catch other people involved in illegal narcotic activity.

Is it a good idea to become a CI?

It all depends. On the one hand, if you do a “good job” for the officers it may result in either a dismissal or reduction of all charges. On the other hand, if you are not able to deliver what the officers were expecting of you, it can backfire and end up hurting you.

The undercover narcotics officer who recruits you to be a CI is usually an extremely busy detective working a number of different cases. These officers don’t have time for handholding and answering a lot of questions, and they won’t put up with someone procrastinating in the hope they’ll forget about your case. If they think you are being dishonest with them or holding something back, there will be blowback.

Unlike what you may have seen in the movies, there is rarely a specific upfront deal made with confidential informants.. It usually goes like this: “We want you to go ahead and make two to four buys in the largest amount possible from any dealer you want over the next several weeks. If you do a good job, then we will see what we can do for you. If you don’t, we’ll send your charges to the District Attorney’s Office." Doesn’t sound too promising, does it? But this is the sort of deal people find themselves agreeing to with undercover officers.

On the plus side, officers know if they do not honor their end of the bargain it will hurt their ability to get future CIs to agree to help them. As a result, things often end well for people if they do a good job. The more specifics people get about what they're being asked to do, the timeline for getting it done, and what they’ll get in exchange for doing it, the better the chances of it being worthwhile. Sometimes, though, confidential informants feel cheated. They were able to turn over a few dealers but were still charged with their own case. There just aren’t any guarantees when you agree to CI work.

Every scenario involving CI work is different, with a complex range of factors to consider. Before agreeing to work as a CI for the police, it’s a good idea to get the input of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Grieve Law will give you honest, straight talk answers to the questions you have, as well as some you probably haven’t even thought to ask yet.

5. The Holy Trinity 

Drug cases are oftentimes decided by one of three different defense issues that come into play; police contact, the search, and confessions. 

Police Contact

The initial police contact, sometimes called “the stop," is an extremely important part of a narcotic case. Stops can be made on drivers in their cars or people out walking around. With any stop, the police are required to have a legitimate reason for making the stop.

If anything about the stop was done illegally, it can result in a suppression of all the evidence found in a search—including any drugs. As you can imagine, when there are no drugs involved in a case, the charges have to be dismissed.

The Search

Even if there were drugs in plain view on the dashboard, police officers still need a legal reason to search the car. The same holds true for searches on backpacks, purses, pants pockets and homes/apartments. Even if law enforcement made a legal stop, a search found to be illegal can result in all the evidence in the case being thrown out.

The Confession

Law enforcement always asks people to tell them “what is going on.” This is a common practice intended to draw out inculpatory statements, and it works. More often than not, the stopped person makes statements that end up being used in court to get a conviction.

While any attorney worth their law degree will advise you to never speak with the police, it may not be hopeless if you did. There are specific rules law enforcement must follow in order to make a confession stand up in court. For instance: Were you in legal custody? If so, were you Mirandized? Did you waive your rights, or did you assert your rights? There are a lot of complicated factors involved in determining whether or not someone is legally in custody and when law enforcement is required to read you your rights. Thanks to TV shows and movies, most people think the police must always read you your rights in order to make a confession stand up in court. This isn’t the case. You really need an experienced criminal defense attorney to contest the actions of the arresting officer. If you’re in a situation where you made a statement to the police that could be construed in any way as a confession, talk to an attorney at Grieve Law.

6. Entrapment 

Many people believe they were unfairly set up by law enforcement and are being unfairly prosecuted. In cases situations like this, it can be argued that the defendant was induced to commit a crime by police officers. This is known as entrapment.

As a legal defense to a criminal charge, entrapment applies to situations where someone is induced or coerced by police officers or government agents to commit a crime not contemplated by the person for the purpose of instituting a criminal prosecution against the person. In criminal cases, entrapment is known as an affirmative defense. An affirmative defense is when someone is not saying they didn’t do something, they're saying there are other facts that mitigate the charge against them.

A common example of an affirmative defense is a self-defense homicide. If someone attacks you with a crowbar, you have the right under law to defend yourself. If this results in a homicide charge against you, your defense is that you acted in self-defense. You’re not denying you killed the person, but you are presenting a new fact to defeat the charge against you. In many cases, entrapment is used to contest drug charges. The simple fact that somebody asked you to make a drug deal for them and you said “sure” isn’t enough to show entrapment. However, if they kept asking you day after day, calling you at home, telling you they really needed this deal to go down so they could get money for an operation their sick child desperately needs, this could be a case where entrapment occurred.

The central issue is not whether an undercover agent or the police gave someone the opportunity to commit a crime and they took it, but instead where did the intent to commit the crime come from in the first place. In the drug deal example above, it is clear the person facing drug charges did not have any intent to make a drug deal until an undercover police officer induced them into doing it. It is important to remember that entrapment is a defense that can only be used at a jury trial, and it essentially validates the charges against the defendant. The defense is simply saying that someone planted and grew the intent for the defendant to commit the crime.  

As with all complicated cases where there’s a lot on the line, you should have an attorney representing you. A good start is with a free initial legal consultation at Grieve Law. 

7. It is “only a ticket” 

Often, when the suspect is young or the charge is for a small, personal-use quantity of a lower-level drug like marijuana, the police may give the suspect a ticket for possession of a controlled substance or possession of paraphernalia. A ticket for such a charge may seem a minor infraction, but it’s not the same as a ticket for going 5 mph over the speed limit.

What is the difference between a ticket and a crime?

A crime is any offense punishable by a term of confinement. In other words, if you are found guilty and can be sentenced to jail, it is a crime. A ticket, on the other hand, is only punishable by a fine or forfeiture (Wisconsin forfeiture violations)—although you can be sentenced to jail if you fail to pay the fine and court costs. 

Should you be worried about “only a ticket”?

Absolutely, and young people especially should be concerned about having a ticket on their record. Many young people don't realize the severity of what happens if you get caught with a wax pen or other form of THC. A ticket for drug possession can make you ineligible for student loans and is grounds for having a scholarship terminated. You can also have your driver’s license suspended or revoked. 

Regardless of your age, the stigma of being ticketed for drug or narcotics possession will be with you forever. Does an OWI show up on a background check? Yes, prospective employers and anyone else doing a background check on you will see you were ticketed for drug possession. Suddenly, you’re no longer eligible for employment in many fields. Worse yet, you can be terminated from a company with a zero-tolerance policy for drug possession charges.  

Unless you look forward to answering questions about a drug charge for the rest of your life, the best thing you can do is to contact an experienced criminal defense firm. A good attorney can often get drug charges reduced, or even dismissed. Get in touch with Grieve Law today to set up a free initial consultation on your case.

Don't trust your life to some general practice lawyer. DUI’s and criminal cases are not something that we do: they are basically everything that we do! Free no-obligation consultation with our team of award-winning former state prosecutors for honest answers is just a call away.

The Drug Lawyers Madison & All of Dane County Trust for Impressive Results

Just minutes from Madison, drug possession lawyer Tom Grieve has achieved a remarkable record for getting possession charges dropped or reduced.

When you or someone you know is facing drug charges in Wisconsin you need a highly experienced Milwaukee criminal defense attorney who will produce a case-winning drug defense strategy.

Our Milwaukee lawyers perform a detailed case analysis to evaluate the evidence, protect your rights, and produce the best drug defense options.

As one of the most respected criminal defense law firms in Madison, our Wisconsin drug possession lawyers treat your case with the personal attention it deserves. The Grieve Law LLC Milwaukee drug lawyers are exceptionally skilled at defining case-winning defense strategies for drug charges.

 You are not guilty unless you are convicted™

Drug charges in Wisconsin include:

  • Arrested on Drug Charges Attorney
  • Possessing or manufacturing illegal drugs with intent to sell or distribute
  • Possessing narcotics
  • Distributing or selling illegal drugs
  • Conspiracy to drug crime
  • Maintaining a drug trafficking place
  • Possession of paraphernalia

Illegal Possession of Drugs in Wisconsin

If you're facing any of the allegations above, you need a Madison criminal defense attorney with a proven record of success. Grieve Law LLC has the experienced Madison drug lawyers who can get your state or federal Wisconsin drug charges reduced or dismissed.

In Madison, how long does a possession charge stay on your record?

Drug possession charges in Madison, even minor ones such as possessing less than 1/8 ounce of marijuana, could lead to a permanent mark on your record.

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We know
because we were prosecutors.

Tom Grieve, the firm's managing attorney and founder, is a former state prosecutor and is not the only ex-prosecutor at the firm. We love hiring attorneys from both sides of the wall to bring as many perspectives to fight your case as aggressively as possible. The State of Wisconsin likes it when you choose the run-of-the-mill fee to plea™ lawyers who don't even know how to analyze and defend cases instead of experienced criminal attorneys: