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 What Are Drug Crimes?

Drug crimes are criminal actions that are regulated by all fifty states, as well as the federal government. Both the state and federal government have enacted laws that address the possession, use, manufacture, and sale of certain drugs. Each drug crime has its standards and criminal legal penalties, especially in terms of the severity of the drug crime that was committed.

The most common examples of drug crimes include:

  • Possession: Drug possession is the most common criminal offense in terms of drug crimes. Drug possession charges typically arise when a person is knowingly in possession of a drug without authorization.
    • For example, when a person possesses a prescription drug without a valid prescription, they may be charged with the crime of drug possession. Drug possession charges typically consider the amount of the drug possessed, and penalties may vary according to whether the amount possessed is for personal use or for sale and distribution;
  • Manufacturing: The crime of drug manufacturing generally involves creating or “cooking” a synthetic chemical substance, or extracting a natural drug.
    • Examples of drug manufacturing would be cooking methamphetamines, or growing illegal cannabis. Additionally, packaging a drug for resale could also constitute drug manufacturing;
  • Use: The use of illegal drugs is also a criminal act, especially in cases in which the drug requires a valid prescription from a doctor and the offender does not have the required prescription;
  • Distribution: The crime of drug distribution includes the sale, smuggling, trafficking, and/or delivery of any controlled or illegal substances; and
  • Drug Trafficking: A drug trafficking charge includes criminal acts such as the illegal sale, transport, and/or importing of an illegal drug or controlled substance, or if you intended to sell or deliver the drug. you could face trafficking charges.

The legality of most drugs is determined by how the drug is being used, and what the drug is being used for. For example, cannabis is currently illegal in many states. However, many states allow cannabis for recreational use, and others allow it only with a medical prescription. Prescription drugs are considered legal for those who have a valid prescription from a licensed physician. However, if you possess or use a prescription drug without a prescription from a licensed doctor, you may be charged with a drug crime.

What Is a Controlled Substance?

Generally speaking, a controlled substance is a drug that may have a detrimental effect on a person’s health and welfare and is regulated by the government. As such, controlled substances are strictly controlled by government regulation. The Federal Controlled Substances Act classifies controlled drugs into five schedules based on:

  • The medicinal value of the drug;
  • The potential for abuse of the drug;
  • The safety to the public; and
  • The likelihood for dependency.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are synthetic, or partly synthetic, prescription drugs that are typically administered to patients as painkillers. Importantly, all opioids are controlled substances. The active ingredients in opioids are intended to mimic drugs derived from the opium plant.

Examples of common opioids include:

Because of the synthetic nature of opioids, opioids can be manufactured in a way that increases their potency when compared with other painkillers. It is important to note that opioids are distinct from opiates, which are drugs that are derived naturally (i.e. not synthetically) from the opium plant. Opiates include drugs such as heroin, morphine, and codeine.

What Do Opioid Laws Regulate?

Opioid laws regulate the control and possession of opioids. As mentioned above, opioids are controlled substances that are covered by the Federal Controlled Substances Act. In some cases, opioid laws may also cover or overlap with the laws regulating opiates as well. Although opioid laws vary by state, opioid laws typically cover aspects such as:

  • Which persons may legally own or possess opioids;
  • The manufacture of opioids;
  • How opioids may be distributed;
  • How opioids are to be prescribed and administered.

Some of the most common opioid violations include the illegal possession of opioids, possession of opioids without a prescription, prescription fraud, and illegal distribution of opioids.

What Are the Legal Penalties for Violations of Opioid Laws?

Criminal penalties for opioid violations depend on several factors, including state laws, as well as the type of criminal conduct in question. For example, illegal possession of an opioid may lead to a misdemeanor charge, resulting in penalties such as criminal fines and/or imprisonment of up to a year. However, felony charges may result for distribution of opioids, or possession with an intent to distribute opioids. Felony charges can result in higher criminal fines and longer periods of imprisonment.

Once again, the strictness of the criminal penalties will depend on the amount of opioids that are possessed or the amount that was distributed. Criminal penalties can also increase due to other factors, such as if a person was seriously injured due to distribution of illegal opioids.

Are There Any Legal Defenses to Drug Crimes?

In short, yes there are many different legal defenses that may be asserted to avoid criminal conviction. The most common legal defenses to drug crimes are:

  • Unwitting Possession: Unwitting possession refers to a person possessing a drug with no knowledge of actually possessing the drug.
    • A common example of unwitting possession is a person borrowing a car from someone who has drugs in the car. Some states may allow unwitting possession to be raised as a legal defense, while other states may allow it with the element of “had no reason to know” as a condition;
  • Illegal Search and Seizure: Illegal search and seizure may be utilized as a legal 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.
    • As such, evidence that was illegally obtained by the police may be suppressed and not allowed to be utilized during the criminal trial;
  • Police Abuse of Power: The most common examples of police abuse of power include unauthorized surveillance, planting criminal evidence, and using pressure tactics on witnesses or suspects in order to get them to falsely confess; and
  • Legal Use: The best legal defense for a drug charge is that you possessed a valid prescription and were possessing and using the drug legally.
    • For example, if an individual was arrested with the possession of opioids, but that individual had a valid prescription from a licensed physician for the amount of opioids that they were in possession of, the charges against them would be dropped or vacated.

Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With an Opioid Crime Case?

As can be seen, the criminal penalties for opioids can be very strict, and also differ from state to state. As such, if you have been charged with an opioid crime, it is in your best interests to immediately consult with an experienced drug lawyer in your area.

An experienced drug attorney will be able to review your case and determine if there are any legal defenses that may be asserted. Further, an attorney will also be able to help you gather the evidence necessary to form a strong legal defense. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you at any in person court proceedings throughout the pendency of your criminal case.

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