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Drug use and addiction cost the economy billions of dollars and claim thousands of lives every year in the United States, and certain substances such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine are banned by laws in every state and at the federal level. The Controlled Substances Act, which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970 as part of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act, is the legal foundation for the War on Drugs; it includes a schedule of controlled substances and provides a mechanism for adding or moving drugs from this list. Those facing drug charges in the United States may be accused of possessing, manufacturing, trafficking, distributing or dealing drugs, and the penalties they face will vary greatly depending on what substance is involved and whether they were arrested under state or federal drug laws.
The Controlled Substances Act established five schedules of controlled substances. Drugs are classified according to their addictive qualities and how much of a danger they pose to those who take them, and these classifications have been reviewed every two years since 1970.
Drugs are classified as Schedule I substances when they have no known medical value and are likely to be abused by those who take them. Drugs classified as Schedule I substances include heroin, LSD, ecstasy and marijuana.
This schedule is reserved for drugs that have known medical benefits but are also likely to cause addiction. Drugs currently classified as Schedule II substances include morphine and cocaine.
These drugs have known medical uses and are thought to lead to either low or moderate physical dependence or high psychological dependence. Schedule III drugs include anabolic steroids and many habit-forming prescription drugs.
Schedule IV substances have known medical uses and are less likely to lead to physical or psychological addiction than Schedule III substances. Many prescription antidepressants and sleep aids, such as Xanax and Ambien, are considered Schedule IV drugs.
Drugs are classified as Schedule V substances when they provide proven medical benefits and are unlikely to cause physical or psychological addiction. Cough syrups that contain opioids such as codeine are often classified as Schedule V substances.
Every state has its own set of drug laws, and these do not always align with the federal government's position on controlled substances. The use of marijuana for medical and even recreational purposes is now permitted in several states, but the drug remains a prohibited Schedule I substance under federal law. The penalties for possessing, distributing and selling drugs can also differ greatly from state to state. California residents can grow, possess and consume modest amounts of marijuana without running afoul of state laws, but being found in possession of even small amounts of the drug in Arizona is considered a felony.
State lawmakers may learn about a developing drug issue before Congress becomes aware of the problem. The Drug Enforcement Administration tend to devote most of its resources to combating the trafficking and distribution of illegal drugs while state and local authorities concentrate more on cases involving drug possession and drug sales.
Most of the people charged under the nation’s narcotics laws each year are taken into custody for drug possession. To secure a conviction on drug possession charges, prosecutors must be able to establish that the defendant intentionally and knowingly possessed a sufficient quantity of a controlled substance for their personal use or with intent to sell to others. These charges are often filed when police officers discover drugs during a search or pat-down, but constructive possession charges may be brought against individuals who had access to and control over the location where drugs were found. Being found in possession of drug paraphernalia can also lead to misdemeanor or felony charges even if no illegal drugs are discovered. In many states, individuals charged with drug possession who have no history of violent criminal behavior may enter substance abuse treatment programs under the supervision of special drug courts rather than being processed through the criminal justice system.
Those found in possession of large quantities of illegal drugs may be charged with possession with the intent to distribute. However, conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute charges may be filed even when small amounts of controlled substances are discovered if other evidence suggests that some sort of drug dealing or distribution scheme was in operation. Such evidence could include scales, drug packaging materials or large amounts of currency.
The penalties under state and federal laws for cultivating or manufacturing controlled substances can be severe. These charges are generally brought against individuals who grow cannabis or poppy plants or operate facilities used to manufacture drugs like methamphetamine and LSD, but they may also be filed against those who provide the seeds, precursor chemicals or equipment used.
The penalties for importing, delivering or selling illegal controlled substances range from three years to life imprisonment. Sentences are generally harsher when large amounts of drugs are involved or substances are being sold to children or close to schools or places of worship, and those accused of bringing drugs into the country or transporting them across state lines may face the toughest penalties of all. Suspected drug dealers are often arrested by police officers who purchased illegal controlled substances while undercover, but the discovery of scales and drug packaging materials could also lead to drug distribution charges.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified drug crime lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local drug crime attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.