All fifty states, as well as the federal government, have laws that address the possession, use, manufacture, and sale of specific drugs. Each crime has its own standards and different penalties, especially in terms of the severity of the crime committed.

Drug crimes generally include offenses such as:

  • Possession: Drug possession is one of the most common drug crimes. Drug possession charges generally arise when a person is knowingly in possession of a drug without authorization. In general, drug possession charges take into account the amount of the drug as well, and penalties may vary based on whether the amount is for personal use or for sale and distribution;
  • Manufacturing: Drug manufacturing generally involves creating or “cooking” a synthetic chemical substance, or extracting a natural drug. An example of this would be cooking methamphetamines, or growing illegal cannabis. Packaging a drug for resale can also count as manufacturing in a legal context;
  • Use: The use of illegal drugs is considered to be a criminal act, especially in cases in which the drug requires a prescription from a doctor and the offender does not have the required prescription; and
  • Distribution: This includes the sale, smuggling, trafficking, and/or delivery of illegal substances.

Drug crimes can also include offenses such as drug trafficking, which is largely dependent on the amount of drugs involved, as well as the type of drug involved.

A controlled substance is a drug that is regulated by the government. In general, these substances are considered to have a detrimental effect on a person’s health and welfare, and as such they are strictly controlled by government regulation. The Controlled Substances Act divides up different classes of drugs into five schedules which are based on:

  • Assigned medicinal value;
  • Potential for abuse;
  • Safety to the public; and
  • Likelihood for dependency. Controlled substances include both legal and illegal drugs.

The legality of most drugs is determined by how it is being used, and what it is being used for. An example of this is how cannabis is currently illegal in many states, while some states allow it for recreational use, and others allow it only with a medical prescription.

Prescription drugs are considered to be legal for those who have a valid prescription; as such, if you possess or use a prescription drug without a prescription from a doctor, you may be charged with a drug crime. If you were to possess or use cannabis without a prescription in a state which requires a prescription, you could be found guilty of a drug crime.

Other examples of drugs commonly associated with drug crimes include:

  • Cocaine;
  • Heroin;
  • Methamphetamines;
  • Ecstasy; and
  • PCP, or Angel Dust.

What Is Federal Law And Scheduling For Cocaine Possession?

Currently, it is illegal to possess and/or distribute cocaine. Cocaine is considered to be a Schedule II drug, a classification found in the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”). A Schedule II Drug is defined as a drug which:

  • Has a potential for abuse;
  • Has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions; and
  • Abuse of the drug or other substance may result in severe psychological and/or physical dependence.

Generally speaking, the Department of Justice does not prosecute simple, minor possessions; that is left to the respective municipality in which the crime occurred. Federal prosecutions generally focus on the sale, cultivation, manufacture, and distribution of illicit drugs.

Federal laws are based on a set of guidelines. For cocaine possession, when the amount is 500-4999 grams (mixed), the following is the extent of penalties:

  • Fine: For the first offense, up to $5 million if an individual; up to $25 million if not an individual. For the second offense, a fine of up to $8 million if an individual; up to $50 million if not an individual; and
  • Prison Time: For a first time offense, at least 5 years, and not more than 40 years. For a second offense, at least 10 years, and not more than life. For a first offense, if death or serious bodily injury results from the crime, no less than 20 years but not more than life. For a second offense, if death or serious bodily injury, life imprisonment.

State law generally penalizes a wider variety of offenses than the federal system, ranging from minor possession to the smuggling and distribution of large quantities. States generally mirror the CSA, and classify most drugs according to federal guidelines. Cocaine is considered to be a Schedule II in most states, but carries a wide variety of fines and prison terms for possession and sale:

  • State Possession Penalties: State drug laws have distinct penalties for both the possession and sale of illicit drugs. For cocaine possession specifically, most states do not have a quantity requirement; however, most recognize increased penalties for possession over 28.0 g, and then again over 200.0 g. The following figures demonstrate the extent of penalties for cocaine possession in U.S. states:
    • Possession Fine: $1,000 – $500,000
    • Possession Prison Time: 4 month – 15 years
  • State Sales Penalties: While the sale of illicit drugs also have federal penalties, state courts assess fines and prison time independent of any federal prosecution.
    • Sale Fine: $2,500-$1,000,000
    • Sale Prison Time: 1 year – Life in Prison.

What Is The Difference Between Cocaine And Crack Cocaine?

The pharmacological effects of crack cocaine and powder cocaine are almost identical. While crack cocaine and powder cocaine are essentially the same drug, they have some important distinctions in a legal context:

  1. Appearance: Cocaine appears as a fine powder, while crack cocaine appears as a hard, grainy, and brittle substance. Unlike powder cocaine which is generally snorted, crack cocaine is generally ingested by smoking, although it can also be taken intravenously;
  2. Effects on the User: The effects of crack cocaine tend to be stronger when compared to cocaine, while not as long lasting;
  3. Cost: Crack cocaine is considerably cheaper than powdered cocaine. Because it is highly addictive, it is associated with many negative health consequences; and
  4. Punishment: At the federal level, crack cocaine has historically been punished far more harshly than powder cocaine. While the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act lessened the importance of the distinction, the two are still punished differently, largely due to racism and cultural bias.

Historically, according to federal law, trafficking of 500 grams or more of powdered cocaine carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years in prison. However, for crack cocaine, simply possessing 5 grams or more, without any intention to sell, carried the same sentence. More alarmingly, for powdered cocaine, there is no mandatory minimum sentence for mere possession.

In 2010, after several studies confirmed the large disparate impact crack cocaine laws had on marginalized communities, the Fair Sentencing Act was passed. Key provisions reduced the previous sentencing laws for trafficking crack cocaine to the following:

  • Less Than 28 Grams: Up to 20 years incarceration and $1-5 million in fines.
  • 28 to 279 Grams: 5 to 40 years incarceration, and $5-25 million in fines.
  • 280 Grams or More: 10 years to life incarceration, and $10-50 million in fines.

It is important to note that there is no longer a mandatory minimum for simply possessing crack cocaine. Those convicted under the previous law can petition for release under retroactive sentencing. However, retroactive sentencing is not automatic, and must be requested.

Do I Need A Lawyer For Crack Cocaine Charges?

If you are facing criminal prosecution for trafficking crack cocaine, you should consult with a drug lawyer immediately.

Your attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed. Additionally, they can help you request retroactive sentencing when available.