With classes underway, college students across Pennsylvania are gearing up not only for studying hard, but for partying hard, too. And that means more crackdowns on underage drinking and drug crimes. At the end of the night, even the most responsible and well-meaning students can find themselves in trouble with the law.

The way many of these charges unfold may sound familiar: It begins as a low-key get-together, perhaps to celebrate a football victory. You invite a few friends. They invite their friends. Soon it’s an open door. The alcohol is flowing, and it doesn’t take long before things spiral out of hand. A noise complaint results in an officer knocking on your door – and then rounding everyone up on marijuana charges.

It’s still a crime

In recent years, the movement to legalize recreational marijuana has gained traction across the country. Pennsylvania, however, is far from the leading edge of change in this hot-button area. Marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance in our state (and under federal law, too). Possession, sale and distribution can lead to harsh consequences – especially for college students.

The penalties can be costly

The penalties for marijuana-related drug crimes depend on the type of charge and the quantity involved. Possession is typically a misdemeanor, but with larger quantities, it’s often charged as possession with intent to distribute – a felony offense. Likewise, trafficking-related charges are frequently felonies, and they can land you in jail for a year or more.

As a college student, you’ve got a lot on the line. Criminal proceedings and a potential prison sentence mean time away from your studies. Your reputation and employability are in jeopardy. You might even face school disciplinary proceedings – including the prospect of expulsion.

Don’t let a mistake drag you down

Given what’s at stake, marijuana charges – even misdemeanors – are not something to take lightly. Fortunately, there are many ways to build a strong defense. You might have strong grounds for challenging the charges. You might be eligible for probation or alternative sentencing options. You might even be able to get the charges reduced or dismissed.

The first step? Consult with a knowledgeable attorney as soon as possible after the arrest.