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Drug Paraphernalia Charges in SC: Everything You Need To Know


In the South Carolina Criminal Justice System you can be charged with drug charges like simple possession and possession with intent to distribute in addition to possessing certain accessories that they may be using to handle or consume the drug.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • How drug paraphernalia is defined by SC law
  • The situations in which certain items and devices can be considered paraphernalia in different cases
  • Charges that may arise due to the possession of paraphernalia, either along with drug possession or not

What Is Drug Paraphernalia in SC?

Drug paraphernalia, addressed in SC Code Section 44-53-110 part (33) is any device or piece of equipment used in manufacturing, preparing, handling, or consuming any illicit controlled substance.

This (non-exhaustive) list includes:

  • Pipes and bowls made of glass and ceramic used for the smoking and consumption of cocaine, crack cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamines, heroin, etc.
  • Vials, bags, and other means of storing illicit substances
  • Bongs, Carberators, and other means of smoking controlled substances
  • Drug cooking or portioning equipment
  • Syringes
  • Pill bottles
  • Scales

Because the term “paraphernalia” applies only to illicit/illegal substances, the definition can be confusing. While papers used for rolling tobacco are legal, papers used to roll marijuana cigarettes are not, even though the same product is often used for both.

South Carolina law hesitates to name every item that could be considered paraphernalia because the range is so wide when it comes to the types of items people are using in conjunction with illegal drugs.

Take, for example, an everyday household item, like a spoon. Under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t be arrested for being found with a spoon in your possession, right? But now, imagine you have a spoon and a bag of heroin was found in your vehicle. Because normal spoons are used to prepare heroin injections, that spoon may then be treated as paraphernalia in the eyes of SC law.

Because the definition of paraphernalia can be so open to interpretation, it often comes down to the specific factors of your drug-related charge to determine if an items is in fact paraphernalia.

What Is Possession of Paraphernalia in SC?

Under SC Code Section 44-53-391, it is illegal to possess or distribute anything proven to be paraphernalia in the court of law. The leverage point for this charge is whether or not the court can prove that the items in your possession are paraphernalia or not, since most items used in handling illicit substances have legal uses as well.

Here are a few ways that a court in South Carolina may attempt to make the case that an item is illegal paraphernalia:

  • Toxicology tests or field tests come back positive for traces of a drug on the item in question. For example, if you had a kitchen scale in your house it wouldn’t be considered paraphernalia, but if traces of marijuana were found on the scale, it could be.
  • You were found to be in possession of drugs along with the suspected paraphernalia. A household spoon would not normally be considered paraphernalia by itself, but it likely would be if you were also found to be in possession of heroin.

Expert or witness testimony may also be used to support the case that the item in question was being used to consume or handle illegal drugs.

The possession of paraphernalia in some cases can be the reason for bumping a simple possession charge up to a charge for possession with intent to distribute (PWID)? One of the factors law enforcement uses to determine intent for a PWID charge is packaging, the presence of scales, and others.

This issue isn’t just pertinent for individuals facing charges of possession, but business owners, specifically those who market and sell devices used to consume tobacco.

Pipes, bowls, rolling papers, blunt wraps, etc. are all used to smoke tobacco (albeit much less often than to smoke other substances) so it technically isn’t illegal in the State of South Carolina to sell these and similar items in legally operating businesses. This has caused business owners to violate the good faith of this leeway and sell things like bongs and marijuana bowls as “tobacco pipes” and other ways to keep up a guise of compliance.

While SC law doesn’t have a hard and fast way to detect business owners who may be acting in bad faith, they do leave the definition and methods to prove what “paraphernalia” is up to interpretation. For example, Section 44-53-391 says that a person is in violation of the laws concerning “possession of paraphernalia” if they continue to sell items, regardless of the label, that they know to be used in consuming or handling controlled substances.

What Are the Penalties?

Because many people are charged with possession of paraphernalia at the same time as possession of illegal drugs or something more severe, it usually comes with a jail sentence of some kind. With that in mind, it’s important to note that possession of paraphernalia by itself does not.

In fact, it’s not even considered a criminal charge in SC. Possession of paraphernalia alone is treated as a civil matter, for which you’ll receive a fine of up to $500. If a corporation is found guilty of the charge — for example, a store owner knowingly selling “tobacco pipes” for drug use — the maximum civil fine is $50,000.

It is also very important to mention that there may be a municipal ordinance in effect that can bring a more severe penalty than the one set out in the S.C. Code of Laws.

Despite the leniency of the state law on possession of drug paraphernalia, the charge may often be covering what’s at the heart of the issue. Even with limited penalties, admitting that an item on your person was being used as paraphernalia may be opening the door to more severe drug charges.

Like any criminal matter, if you’re being accused of being in possession of paraphernalia in SC, the first thing you should do is consult an attorney. At Kent Collins Law Firm, we’ve protected the interests of people like you in South Carolina for years. Contact us today for more information.

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