Drug crimes are those in which controlled substances, such as illicit drugs are involved. Illicit drugs are substances that have been declared illegal to possess, use, or distribute without authorization under federal and/or state laws. 

These drugs are typically classified under schedules that rank the drugs in terms of how dangerous they are to individuals, as well as society. Illicit drugs are subject to intensive control and monitoring by the government, in order to ensure that the general public is protected from the dangers of these drugs. 

Most laws categorize illicit drugs into categories or schedules, including:

  • Narcotics: Narcotics are drugs used to relieve or control pain, and they are typically addictive and able to induce sleep. Examples of narcotics include morphine and codeine.
  • Stimulants: Stimulants are drugs that activate or excite the nervous system, and generally produce more energy. Stimulants are also highly addictive. Examples of stimulants include cocaine, crack cocaine, caffeine based drugs, and amphetamines.
  • Depressants: Depressants are substances intended to reduce tension and anxiety. One of the main examples of depressants are barbiturates.
  • Hallucinogens: Hallucinogens produce altered states of being, and change the way a person perceives reality. Examples include LSD, peyote, and mescaline.
  • Cannabis: The cannabis category or schedule refers to substances taken directly from, or created from, the hemp plant. Examples include marijuana, hashish, and synthetic marijuana variants. 

Creating, controlling, or distributing certain drugs may be illegal. This depends on the type of drug, the amount of contraband possessed, and the defendant’s intentions. Importantly, the difference between a legal drug and an illegal drug is often comes down to the way it is used. 

An example of this would be how some states have legalized the use of medicinal marijuana, but have not legalized it for recreational use. Drug crimes are violations of state or federal drug laws, and generally include:

  • Drug Possession: This is the most common drug charge. Drug possession requires that the individual knowingly and intentionally possesses a drug without a valid prescription, and in an amount that would be for sale or personal use. 

    • Although it is not necessarily a crime to be in possession of a drug that is regulated by the CSA, it becomes illegal when you knowingly use or possess a dangerous substance without the legal authorization to do so.
  • Manufacturing or Creating: This involves creating a synthetic chemical substance as well as extracting a natural drug, and packaging a drug. State laws do vary regarding what qualifies as manufacturing or creating a drug. 

    • Since there are generally several people involved in the manufacturing process, anyone who is found to be involved but was not physically manufacturing the drugs at the time that they were arrested, may be charged with drug conspiracy.
  • Drug Use: This simply means consuming or taking an illegal drug. A drug is generally considered to be illegal if there is no prescription from a doctor directing a person to consume or take the drug.
  • Distribution or Trafficking: This includes the sale or delivery of an illegal substance. This also includes drug smuggling, which is the act of transporting drugs from one area to another for distribution, possession, use, or sale. 
    • This can include inter-country, inter-region, or inter-state. Drug smuggling and drug trafficking are the same thing.

What are Some Defenses to Drug Crimes?

The most common defenses to drug crimes are unwitting possession, illegal search and seizure, police abuse of power, and medical marijuana (legal use). Unwitting possession refers to a person possessing a drug with no knowledge of doing so. 

A common example of unwitting possession is a person borrowing a car from someone who has drugs in the car. Some states allow unwitting possession as a defense, while others allow it with the element of “had no reason to know” as a condition. 

Some states do not allow for an unwitting possession defense at all. The defendant utilizing this defense has the burden of proving that they were unwitting by a preponderance of the evidence.

Illegal search and seizure may be utilized as a defense if the police illegally obtained their evidence. The United States Constitution forbids the police from searching homes without warrants, and automobiles without probable cause. 

Evidence that was illegally obtained by the police may be suppressed in court. If the jury does not see the evidence, the defendant cannot be convicted of a drug crime. Police abuse of power is similar, and includes a variety of illegal methods used by law enforcement to prove a case. 

The most common examples of police abuse of power include unauthorized surveillance, planting evidence, and using pressure tactics on witnesses or suspects. However, it is important to note that the police are allowed to lie when promising leniency, or when using undercover agents.

A medical marijuana prescription can also be used as a defense, depending on the jurisdiction the defendant is in. If the defendant is brought before a federal court, or a court in a state that does not recognize medical marijuana, no defense is available. Additionally, there are several restrictions in place even in states that allow for medical marijuana possession. Some of these include:

  • This being an affirmative defense, meaning that the police arrest people first and the court asks questions later;
  • States limit how much marijuana patients may possess at one time; marijuana possession over the limit is not protected;
  • This defense only applies to possession, meaning that if a patient is charged with distribution, they will not be protected; and
  • Most states require that patients register with a state medical marijuana program, or hold a doctor’s note in order to prove that they have a legal right to be in possession.

Do I Need an Attorney If I Am Charged with a Drug Crime?

Drug crime convictions consequences can include imprisonment, probation or parole, loss of child custody, and significant fines, among others. Some of these charges can be classified as felony charges, which are often difficult to expunge or erase from a record.

Therefore, it is in your best interests to consult with a well qualified and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney if you are facing drug crime charges, or a drug crime conviction. An experienced criminal defense attorney can protect your rights, and help you assert your best legal defenses. Additionally, they can represent you in court as needed.