State and federal laws classify drugs into five different categories called “schedules” (Schedule I through V). These classifications are based on the potential of abuse and dependency on the drug as compared to their therapeutic or medical value.

For example, Schedule I drugs or controlled substances have a very high potential for abuse and little to no medical value. Schedule V drugs have a lower potential for dependency and some acceptable medical use. Schedule I drugs are associated with the most severe legal punishments for drug crimes, whereas Schedule V drugs have relatively lesser penalties.

Most state drug schedules are based on federal drug schedules.   In addition to federal drug crime laws, every state has laws against the unlawful possession, use, distribution, or manufacturing of illegal drugs. These may include heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, marijuana, some prescription drugs, drug paraphernalia, and other controlled substances.

What Are the Punishments for Drug Crimes?

Many drug crimes are considered to be felonies. Minimum sentences for first-time drug crime offenders can range from 1 year in jail to 3 years in a prison facility. The punishments may also include fines ranging from $500 to several thousand dollars.  Repeat offenders are typically sentenced for a minimum of 3-15 years in prison.

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

  • The amount or quantity of the drug
  • The classification of the drug according to the schedules
  • The purpose of the drug possession (i.e., personal use vs. distribution)

The most serious types of drug crimes include producing, manufacturing, and/or selling illegal drugs. The intent to distribute drugs can make possession charges more serious. For example, a prosecutor can prove a defendant’s intent to distribute drugs simply by proving possession over a certain quantity of the drug. This often does not require evidence of actual distribution of the substance.

On the other hand, possession of certain drugs (such as a small amount of marijuana) can be treated like a misdemeanor or even a traffic violation in some states. These types of charges can result in probation or a fine with little to no jail time. However, possession of large amounts of drugs, even for personal consumption, can result in serious felony charges.

What Are Enhanced Punishments?

Some states enforce enhanced punishments or penalties for drug crimes. A penalty enhancement may result in more severe criminal charges and penalties, for example, 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
  • The drugs were sold or delivered near a school zone or other such protected areas

Penalty enhancements may vary by state and can include other factors besides those mentioned above. Other enhancements may include alternative sentencing measures such as rehabilitation programs or mandatory community service. 

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

Do I Need a Lawyer for Drug Crime Penalty Enhancements?

If you are facing drug crime charges, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer immediately. You have the right to an attorney once charges have been filed against you. An experienced lawyer near you may be able to determine whether any drug crime defenses are available to you.  Also, if enhanced penalties may be involved, your attorney can help guide you along the proper course of action.