Drug crimes are exactly what they sound like — crimes that are related to drugs. All fifty states and the federal government have laws that address the possession, use, manufacture, and sale of certain drugs. Each crime has certain standards and carries different penalties, especially when it comes to the severity of the crime committed.
Drug crimes typically include offenses like:
- Possession: Drug possession is the most common offense when it comes to drug crimes. Drug possession charges usually arise when a person is knowingly in possession of a drug without authorization, such as when a person has a drug without a valid prescription. Usually, drug possession charges take into account the amount of the drug as well, and penalties may vary depending on whether the amount is for personal use or for sale and distribution;
- Manufacturing: Drug manufacturing often involves creating or “cooking” a synthetic chemical substance or extracting a natural drug (for example, cooking methamphetamines or growing illegal marijuana). Packaging a drug for resale can also count as manufacturing;
- Use: The use of illegal drugs is can be a criminal act, especially in cases where the drug requires a prescription from a doctor and the offender does not have the required prescription; and
- Distribution: This type of drug crime includes the sale, smuggling, trafficking, and delivery of illegal substances.
They can also include offenses like drug trafficking, which is largely dependent on the amount of drugs involved, as well as the type of drug involved.
The legality of most drugs is determined by how it’s being used and what it is being used for. For example, marijuana 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 legal for those who have a valid prescription. However, if you possess or use a prescription drug without a prescription from a doctor, you may be charged with a drug crime.
Marijuana is actually the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States, even in states that prohibit its possession and use. Recently, large changes have taken place in marijuana laws. At the time of this writing, eleven states recognize marijuana as legal for both recreational and medical use, while more recognize it only for medical use with a valid prescription.
Other commonly abused drugs that may bring about criminal charges include substances like:
- Ecstasy; and
- PCP (or “Angel Dust”).
Generally, a controlled substance is a drug that is regulated by the government. Usually, these substances can have a detrimental effect on a person’s health and welfare, and are strictly controlled by government regulation. The Controlled Substances Act divides up different classes of drugs into five schedules based on medicinal value, potential for abuse, and safety to the public and likelihood for dependency. Controlled substances include both legal and illegal drugs.
In both federal and state systems, most of the cases of drug crimes come from charges of drug possession, manufacturing, or trafficking. Punishments for federal offenses are typically more severe than those for state charges. At the same time, each state has its own rules about drug crimes and how they are punished.
Generally, punishments are based on:
- The type of drug involved: The more “dangerous” the drug, the more severe the punishment. For example, possessing heroin may result in a more severe punishment than marijuana;
- The amount of drug: Large quantities of drugs may indicate that the drug was intended for distribution;
- Purpose of possession: Whether the drug was intended for personal use or for sale and distribution;
- Prior convictions: An offender’s prior convictions can be factored into the decision regarding sentencing; and
- Probation or parole status: If an offender is on probation when they are convicted of a drug crime, they may face having their probation revoked.
Punishments for drug crimes can vary from state to state, but generally the consequences can involve:
- Court-ordered counseling;
- Community service; or
- Loss of child custody.
If the drug crime results in a felony conviction, it can have a detrimental effect on a person’s immigration status if they are not a U.S. citizen. For example, a conviction for drug trafficking can make them subject to immediate removal from the country. A history of similar drug convictions can even make them ineligible for entry into the United States and ineligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.
If you have been charged with a drug crime, it is in your best interests to consult a local criminal defense attorney. The penalties can become severe depending on the nature of the crime charged, and a lawyer can give you the best advice on what to expect.
Your lawyer can explain the penalties you’re facing, help you protect your rights, and represent you in court in order to obtain the best possible outcome for your case.