Both state and federal laws classify drugs according to five different categories called “Schedules” (Schedule I through V). The drugs found in each category are based on the potential of abuse and dependency on the drug as compared to their therapeutic or medical value.

For instance, the drugs listed under Schedule I are those that have a high potential for abuse, are not currently accepted as medical treatment, and have little to no medical value. Drug crimes involving Schedule I drugs normally receive the most severe of legal punishments.

On the other end of the scale are Schedule V drugs. Schedule V drugs have a lower potential for abuse or dependency and some even have acceptable medical uses. As such, drug crimes involving Schedule V drugs usually receive relatively lesser penalties.

Most state drug schedules are based on federal drug schedules. In addition to federal drug crime laws, every state has its own laws against the unlawful possession, use, distribution, or manufacturing of illegal drugs. 

Some common examples of illegal drugs include heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, ecstasy, certain prescription drugs, drug paraphernalia (e.g., bongs or syringes), and other controlled substances. 

What are the General Punishments for Drug Crimes?

Many drug crimes are considered to be felonies. Minimum sentences for first-time drug crime offenders can range from one year to ten years in a prison facility. A punishment for drug crimes may also include fines ranging from five-hundred to several thousand dollars. Repeat offenders are typically sentenced for a minimum of 3 to 15 years in prison.

Drug laws may vary widely by state and some even by local municipalities. The legal penalties for drug crimes generally depend on several factors, such as:

  • The amount or quantity of a drug;
  • The classification of the drug (i.e., according to the schedules); and
  • The purpose of the drug possession (e.g., personal or recreational use versus distribution).

The most serious types of drug crimes include producing, selling, and manufacturing illegal drugs. The intent to distribute drugs can lead to much more serious charges for possession. 

For example, a prosecutor can prove a defendant’s intent to distribute drugs simply by proving that they have possession over a certain quantity of the drug. This often does not require them to have evidence that the defendant actually distributed the substance. The quantity alone might be enough.

Thus, possession of a large number of drugs (including a stash that is solely for personal consumption) can result in serious felony charges. 

In contrast, possession of specific drugs, such as a small amount of marijuana, may be treated like a misdemeanor or traffic violation in some states. These types of charges can result in probation or a fine with little to no jail time.

What are Enhanced Punishments for Drug Crimes?

Some states have enacted enhanced punishments or penalties for drug crimes. A penalty enhancement may result in more severe criminal charges and penalties, such as elevating a misdemeanor charge to a felony charge.

Enhanced criminal punishments may apply to a drug crime if:

  • The drugs were distributed or sold to minors;
  • Minors were used to distribute the substances; or
  • The drugs were sold or delivered near a school zone or another similarly protected area (e.g., a school bus stop, public library, or community center).

Penalty enhancements may vary by state and can include additional factors aside from those mentioned above. Other enhancements may permit alternative sentencing measures, including rehabilitation programs or mandatory community service.

Also, persons convicted of a drug crime may be required to forfeit their property. For instance, if a defendant’s house was used to manufacture or distribute the drugs, then a judge may require the house to be seized.

Additionally, a person who is convicted of a serious drug crime may face far-reaching consequences that have the ability to impact their entire life, such as losing custody of a child, their job or license (e.g., CPA, teacher, doctor), and the ability to travel freely.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with General and Enhanced Drug Crime Punishments?

If you are facing charges for a drug crime, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer immediately. You have the right to an attorney once charges have been filed against you. As such, you should take advantage of it because a criminal defense attorney can help to possibly get your charges reduced or offer an alternative sentencing measure as opposed to prison.

An experienced lawyer may be vital to your case, especially if you are a repeat offender. A lawyer can predict the possible penalties that apply to your matter, determine whether any enhancement statutes apply, and assess whether any drug crime defenses are available to you.

Additionally, if enhanced penalties do apply to your case, an attorney will be able to help guide you through the process.