Key Facts About Drug Laws in the United States

Drug laws in the United States can be complex to understand. This is due to the fact there are both substantial federal laws and state laws that relate to the possession of or the selling of drugs. Here are the key parts of American drug laws you should know about.

Everyone knows that getting involved in drugs is not usually good news. If you start taking drugs, you can become addicted, spend money you don’t have, and see negative impacts on your health, job and personal life. If you become involved in selling or smuggling drugs, the impact on your life can become profound in the sense that you risk losing your personal freedoms for the more serious crimes associated with this.

The penalties that relate to drugs depend on the particular drugs involved, and the situations people find themselves in. There are many crimes that relate to drugs, ranging from possession to manufacturing, selling and smuggling. It’s important to point out that even if a particular drug is legal, transporting it to certain places might be illegal.

Anyone who is arrested for a drug related charge should seek legal help, because only an expert can help to guide you through the intricacies of federal and state laws that relate to the drug crime you have been accused of (keep reading for more info). The penalties for someone found guilty of a drug related crime can range from house arrest, probation and community service, to substantial fines and time in jail or prison.

The statistics around drug crimes in the United States are eye-opening. There are more than 1.5 million arrests for drug related violations in the United States every year. About 87% of these are for possession of a controlled substance, with the remaining 13% relating to the sale or manufacture of drugs. People convicted of certain drug charges will get a criminal record, which can make future employment difficult. It is estimated that almost 100 million people in the United States have a criminal record.

So what are some of the key things you need to know about drug laws in the United States?

How Is A Federal Penalty Decided?

The way courts decide on the penalty an individual must pay in relation to a drug crime depends on different factors. As well as the type of drug and the activity the person was engaged in – i.e. possession or something more serious – the penalty also depends on aspects such as whether the person has had any previous offences. If you’re involved in more serious drugs and more serious crimes related to these, the resulting penalties will always be much higher.

Different Types Of Drugs

Since different penalties are decided on in part due to the type of drug involved, there is a classification system to decide which drugs are more or less serious. All drugs – even legal ones – are categorized based on a balance of their risk versus the medical benefits. The categories are called ‘schedules’. The exact drug in each schedule is set out in federal law and in state law – and the two are not always the same.

Schedule I drugs are those with a high risk of abuse and no positive medical impact according to health professionals. These types of drugs can include heroin, ecstasy and LSD.

Schedule II drugs may have very specific approved medical uses, but also have a very high risk of abuse. These types of drugs can include methamphetamine, cocaine and opioid based pain medications such as methadone.

Schedule III drugs generally have a lower risk of abuse compared to Schedule I and II drugs, and include substances such as steroids and ketamine.

Schedule IV drugs have a low risk of abuse, such as benzodiazepines and Tramadol.

Schedule V drugs have the lowest risk, and may include things such as cough syrup that incorporates a low dose of a low risk pain medication.

Drug Penalties

Based on drug scheduling and specific circumstances, courts can form a basis of the penalty an individual will receive. Anyone convicted of a federal drugs charge will face up to one year in prison and a fine of at least $1,000. If a drug crime conviction is an individual’s second conviction, they will definitely have to serve at least 15 days prison time, and the sentence could be up to two years, with a fine of at least $2,500. The penalty for a third conviction is significantly higher, with a prison sentence of between 90 days and three years, and a fine of at least $3,000.

When higher schedule drugs are involved, and/or higher quantities of drugs are found, the penalties can be significantly higher. For example, possession of any amount of amphetamines carries a prison sentence of up to three years and a fine of up to $250,000. Possession of 1kg or more of a substance such as heroin carries a minimum prison sentence of 10 years, and a fine of up to $4 million.

Other Federal Impacts

Being convicted of a drug crime under federal law also means individuals may lose other privileges and benefits, such as their driving license. Those in college will not be able to access school loans or scholarships. And anyone convicted of a crime with a minimum sentence of a year in prison can lose their house, car and other property or personal belongings.