Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Intent to Distribute Drugs


Individuals who are caught with illegal drugs may be accused of possession with intent to distribute. If convicted of this offense, the individual faces penalties more severe than if he or she were convicted for mere possession. As a result, determining the reason an individual possessed illegal drugs is critical when drug possession is alleged.

What is Intent to Distribute?

Under Massachusetts law, distribution is simply defined as delivering a controlled substance. The definition specifically excludes the acts of administering or dispensing. A controlled substance is a drug or substance that is contained within the schedule or class list as defined by Massachusetts law. Drugs are placed into different classes in order to determine how severe the punishments associated with them are.

It is important to note that there is not a threshold amount of drugs that a person must have before they are guilty of possession with intent to distribute. However, possessing very large quantities does give an indication that the possession is not merely for personal use. As a result, the quantity of drugs possessed is a factor to be considered, along with several others, including, but not limited to:

  • How the drugs are packaged

  • The number of individual packages; or

  • The presence of small bags, twist ties, a scale, or other materials that indicate the drugs will be individually packaged.

Proving intent to distribute can be difficult because the person accused of the offense may not have done anything other than have drugs with them when stopped by the police.


There are five classes of drugs, ranging from Class E to Class A. Intent to distribute a drug in Class E is punishable by a jail sentence of up to nine months and/or a fine of between $250 and $2,500. An example of a Class E drug is a compound with limited quantities of codeine. The most severely punished drugs are found in Class A, which, for example, includes heroin. The punishment for intent to distribute includes up to two and a half years in jail, up to ten years in state prison, and/or a fine of between $1,000 and $10,000.

It is worth discussing marijuana because of its unique treatment in Massachusetts. Possession of one ounce or less of marijuana is no longer considered a criminal offense. Instead, a person over 18 years of age who is caught with such a quantity only has to pay a $100 fine. However, if an individual has more than one ounce, the offense is more serious, particularly if he or she is charged with possession with intent to distribute. Marijuana is considered a Class D substance, so near the bottom of the drug classes. But, possession with intent to distribute still carries serious penalties, including a jail sentence of up to two years and/or a fine of not less than $500, up to a maximum of $5,000.

Defend Your Rights

All drug possession charges are serious and should be met with the aid of an experienced attorney. To schedule a free case evaluation with Boston criminal defense attorney Edward R. Molari, call our office today at 617-942-1532.