With the movement for decriminalizing marijuana gaining a lot of steam — as many states pass laws that limit penalties on or even make possession legal for, marijuana — it may seem as though a drug possession charge isn’t that big of a deal anymore. To the contrary, drug possession charges are still very serious matters that need to be handled just as seriously. Otherwise, the accused could be dealing with severe punishment.

In the 1980s, federal drug laws were passed to target high-level drug lords. While these laws may have help in this regard, the laws also ended up targeting people who were not drug lords. Mid- to low-level drug offenders were treated as if they were Pablo Escobar, serving many years in jail and suffering immense penalties for seemingly (and relatively) minor drug crimes.

Today, drug possession charges can still net you years in prison. Usually, though, the charge has a small fine attached with it in addition to some jail time. But don’t let that caveat make it seem like drug possession is a paltry criminal offense. The charge itself isn’t necessarily what you need to worry about. It is what comes after.

Having a criminal record can absolutely ruin your future. Companies may not hire you. Landlords may turn you away from a suitable living situation. Probation can be costly. You need to fight the charge, even if it is a “minor” charge such as drug possession.

Source: FindLaw, “Drug Possession Penalties and Sentencing,” Accessed Jan. 10, 2017