People sometimes share recreational drugs with friends or visitors when they buy them for “social” purposes. There have been some questions about whether this can be treated as drug distribution, which is a far more severe crime than mere drug possession.
Since no money changes hands when drugs are shared, many people assume the law will not consider it drug distribution. There are exceptions to this rule.
In the federal statute that prohibits drug distribution, there is no distinction between social and commercial distribution. In most cases where federal courts have considered this issue, no distinction has been found. People can be guilty of drug distribution if they share drugs with friends.
The word “distribute” simply means “to deliver.” There is no requirement that drugs be sold, only that they change hands. Therefore, someone can be charged with drug distribution if they host a party and share drugs with the guests.
A person arrested with drugs may be convicted of drug possession with intent to distribute if a court finds they planned to give some of the drugs to friends without payment.
What Is a Drug Crime?
Crimes involving drugs are exactly what they sound like – crimes involving drugs. All fifty states and the federal government have laws that address the possession, use, manufacture, and sale of certain drugs. Depending on the severity of the crime committed, each crime carries different standards and penalties.
There are several types of drug crimes, including:
- Possession: Drug possession is the most common offense in drug crimes. A person is usually charged with drug possession when they possess a drug without authorization, such as a drug without a prescription. The penalties for drug possession vary depending on whether the drugs were intended 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). The packaging of a drug for resale can also be considered manufacturing;
- Use: The use of illegal drugs 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.
Drug trafficking is also one of them, which is largely determined by the amount and type of drugs involved.
What Are Some Different Types of Illegal Drugs?
In most cases, the legality of drugs depends on how they are used and for what purpose they are used. Some states allow marijuana for recreational use, while others require a medical prescription. If you have a valid prescription, prescription drugs are legal. If you possess or use a prescription drug without a prescription from a doctor, you may be charged with a drug crime.
Even in states that prohibit its possession and use, marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States. Recently, large changes have taken place in marijuana laws. It is currently legal to use marijuana recreationally and for medical purposes in numerous states, while more states recognize it only for medical use with a prescription.
Among the other drugs commonly abused that can lead to criminal charges are:
- Ecstasy; and
PCP (or “Angel Dust”).
What Is a “Controlled Substance”?
Generally, a controlled substance is a drug that the government regulates. Government regulations strictly restrict the use of these substances because they can negatively impact a person’s health and welfare. Different classes of drugs are divided into five schedules by the Controlled Substances Act based on their medicinal value, the potential for abuse, safety to the public, and the likelihood of dependency. Both legal and illegal drugs are controlled substances.
What Does It Mean to Possess an Illegal Substance?
Although state and federal laws may vary, a person possesses an illegal substance when they know of its presence and have physical control of it. A person also possesses an illegal substance, such as a narcotic, if that person has the power and intention to control it. Criminal possession is the holding of property that is illegal to possess.
There are two ways in which the police can find possession:
- Actual Possession: Typically, a person has actual possession of an illegal substance when it is physically on their person.
- Constructive Possession: A person can be in possession of an illegal substance even when it is not on their physical person. Someone can be in possession of an illegal substance they do not own. In addition, it is possible for more than one person to possess an illegal substance.
Use of Drugs
The definition of “use” in drug-related crimes can vary from state to state. It typically involves the use of an illegal controlled substance that a licensed doctor or practitioner has not prescribed.
Distribution of Drugs
Generally, a person is guilty of “distribution” when he transfers a controlled substance to another person. Transfers can take the following forms:
- Actual: A transfer is “actual” when a person physically transfers the controlled substance to another.
- Constructive: The law permits the government to prove that a person intends to sell or distribute an illegal substance through their actions or the quantity of drugs in their possession. A large quantity of drugs packaged in small bundles may suggest that the drugs are being packaged for sale rather than for personal use.
- Consequently, the intent to distribute can be inferred without any evidence of actual distribution.
- Attempt: A transfer is “attempted” when the person attempts to transfer the controlled substance to another but is otherwise prevented from doing so.
Distribution can carry the harshest penalties out of all the drug crimes because it involves enabling the drug use of others and perpetuating drug problems plaguing society.
What Are the Possible Punishments for Drug Crime Convictions?
Across both the federal and state systems, most drug crimes are charged with possession, manufacture, or trafficking. In general, federal offenses are punished harsher than state offenses. Meanwhile, each state has its own laws and punishments regarding drug crimes.
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.
Are There Possible Immigration Consequences?
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.
What Can You Do If You Are Accused of a Drug Crime?
If you are accused of a drug crime, you should speak to a drug lawyer to learn more about your rights, your defenses, and the complicated legal system.