Drug abuse crimes are crimes that involve addiction to controlled substances as well as addiction to alcohol, sleep and anti-anxiety medications, and other legal substances. A person can also become addicted to narcotic pain medications, or opioids, whether obtained legitimately through prescriptions or through illegal dealing.
Crimes related to drug abuse can involve the possession, use, manufacture or distribution of illegal or controlled substances. These include marijuana, cocaine, heroin, morphine, amphetamines, opium or other substances identified in drug laws as controlled. All of these crimes are related to drug abuse.
Drug crimes can also involve using prescription drugs or other chemical substances by, for example, distributing the drugs without authority, using them without a prescription or in a manner not authorized by a valid prescription.
What Are Some Examples of Drug Abuse Crimes?
Some examples of drug abuse crimes include:
- The possession of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, and other controlled substances;
- Possession of drug paraphernalia;
- Public intoxication, a crime involving alcohol;
- Intoxication while on the job;
- Driving while intoxicated with alcohol or other controlled substances.
Of course, the situation in the U.S. with respect to marijuana is quite complicated. Depending on the state a person is in, marijuana can be legal for medical use, legal for recreational use, decriminalized or illegal. Under federal law, the use and possession of marijuana is illegal for any purpose per the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
However, the medical use of cannabis, the psychoactive component of marijuana, with a doctor’s recommendation, is purportedly legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia.
Twelve other states have laws that limit tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, in order to allow their citizens access to products that contain cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component of cannabis. Although cannabis is still a Schedule I controlled substance, the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment prohibits federal prosecution of people who are in compliance with state medical cannabis laws.
The so-called “recreational use,” that is, use for personal enjoyment as opposed to use for the treatment of a medical condition, of cannabis has been legalized in 17 states, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam. Another 13 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have decriminalized the use of marijuana. This means that the states have passed laws that impose penalties that do not include jail or prison time for possessing small amounts, supposedly for personal use only, as a first offense. Commercial distribution of cannabis has been legalized in all jurisdictions where possession has been legalized, except the District of Columbia.
Before January 2018, the Cole Memorandum provided some protection against enforcement of federal law in states that have legalized cannabis, but it was rescinded by a subsequent attorney general of the U.S..
In addition, while the use of cannabis is still illegal under federal law, some of its derivative compounds have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for prescription use. Substances containing cannabinoids which have received FDA approval are Marinol (THC), Syndros (THC), Cesamet (nabilone), and Epidiolex (cannabidiol).
For non-prescription use, cannabidiol derived from industrial hemp is legal under federal law, but legality and enforcement vary from state to state. If a person has a question about the legality of substances derived from marijuana in the state where they live, they would be well advised to consult an experienced local criminal defense attorney for guidance. They should be able to advise a person as to the current state of the law in which the person lives.
Crimes involving the distribution of drugs are generally regarded as being in a different category from drug possession or drug use crimes. Generally speaking, drug distribution is a more serious offense than drug use. However, possession alone of a large amount of substances may lead to the assumption that the person intends to sell the drugs.
Legal penalties for drug crimes may involve fines, jail time, time in state prison and other consequences, such as a loss of child custody or a loss of driving privileges.
Are There Any Defenses to Drug Abuse Crimes?
Available defenses vary depending on the exact crime with which a person is charged and the exact circumstances of a person’s case. One possible defense to drug use or intoxication is unintentional intoxication. For the unintentional intoxication defense, the perpetrator claims to have been under the influence of drugs unknowingly or unwillingly.
For instance, the person may claim that they were drugged by another person without their knowledge. Of, the perpetrator might claim that they were forced to take drugs under the threat of force or violence.
Another defense is to question the accuracy of the drug-testing equipment used by the police, an employer or a medical crime lab. The accuracy of the equipment or tools used to measure the presence of the controlled substance in the person’s blood or urine can be questioned. Mistakes can be made if certain measuring devices have not been accurately calibrated. It may be discovered that the results of all employees or all persons at a police station are erroneous. Various other defenses may apply as well, depending on the circumstances of a person’s particular case.
Another defense may be available if a person contacts the authorities to obtain medical help for themselves or another person in response to a drug overdose. In this situation, drug overdose immunity, which prohibits the arrest of someone seeking medical attention for an overdose, may apply.
So-called “Good Samaritan” laws or 911 drug immunity laws were enacted in most states in response to the ongoing epidemic of deaths from overdoses of opioid painkillers, such as Oxycodone and Oxycontin, heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Forty states and the District of Columbia have enacted some form of these laws to encourage people to get medical attention for an overdose or for follow-up care after naloxone has been administered
These laws generally give immunity from arrest, charge or criminal prosecution for certain crimes involving possession and use of a controlled substance or possession of drug paraphernalia when a person who has overdosed on an opiate or has observed another person having an overdose calls 911 or seeks medical attention. State laws may also provide immunity from violations of pretrial, probation or parole conditions and violations of protection or restraining orders for the same kinds of crimes also for the same reasons.
Defenses to crimes that involve the manufacture and distribution of large quantities of controlled substances are a different matter. Both the federal government and every state has laws that criminalize the manufacture and distribution of large quantities of controlled substances. The penalties for conviction of a drug distribution and trafficking charge varies from state to state, but generally depends on the the following factors:
- The quantity and kind of drugs that were involved;
- The location of the perpetrator when they were arrested;.
- The perpetrator’s criminal history, e.g. whether they have prior convictions.
The sentence for drug distribution and trafficking can be anywhere from three years to life in prison along with a substantial fine, but the crime of trafficking will be the most severely punished. Whether a person charged with manufacture or distribution has any defense will vary from state to state and depend on the circumstances of the offense. They should by all means consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Drug Abuse Crimes?
There are various crimes relating to drug abuse, from simple possession of amounts for personal use, to the manufacture and distribution of large quantities of controlled substances. You should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney if you have been charged with a drug abuse-related offense.
If you have any questions regarding the drug laws in your state, an experienced drug lawyer will be able to provide you with legal guidance and representation during the court hearings, and can instruct you on how you should proceed. Also, your attorney can help determine whether any alternative sentencing options are available. You are most likely to get the best possible outcome in your case if you have an experienced drug lawyer representing your interests and fighting for your rights.