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The Controlled Substances Act: Overview

Throughout much of the twentieth century, the United States made numerous attempts to outlaw certain drugs, eventually resulting in a hodgepodge of more than 200 separate laws that were hard to keep track of. In an attempt to remedy this, President Richard Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, combining all prior existing federal drug laws into one single statute.

What Does the Controlled Substances Act Do?

The Controlled Substances Act is the federal statute that regulates the manufacture and distribution of controlled substances such as hallucinogens, narcotics, depressants, and stimulants. The Act categorizes drugs into five classifications or “schedules” based on their potential for abuse, status in international treaties, and any medical benefits they may provide. Generally speaking, drugs included in Schedule 1 are the most strictly regulated, because they are deemed to have no medical value. Some examples of drugs and their classifications are:

  • Schedule 1: Ecstasy, LSD, and heroin. Marijuana is also considered a Schedule 1 drug, despite studies finding it to have medical uses.

  • Schedule 2: Cocaine and methamphetamine.

  • Schedule 3: Anabolic steroids, ketamine, testosterone.

  • Schedule 4: Ambien, Xanax, and Valium.

  • Schedule 5: Lyrica and cough suppressants.

The grouping of controlled substances makes it easier for legislators to draft or modify rules covering multiple drugs at a time. Some states have borrowed the federal schedules' definitions in their own drug legislation.

The penalties for drug crimes typically depend on the schedule that the drug falls into. In general, trafficking in a Schedule 1 controlled substance will carry a heavier range of potential criminal penalties than a similar offense involving a substance that appears in Schedule 4. However, marijuana and some other drugs have standalone penalty statutes that provide specific punishments for them.

Although marijuana is included in federal Schedule 1, many states have legalized it for medical or recreational use. Because federal law normally takes precedence, the outcome of this conflict between different levels of government hinges on whether federal authorities choose to enforce the prohibition in the face of state opposition.

The Drug Enforcement Administration

The Controlled Substances Act mandates that every manufacturer, distributor, importer, or exporter of any drug must register with the government. Registrants are required to keep accurate records of their inventory and transactions in the event they should ever become the focus of a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigation.

The DEA, created in 1973, is a federal agency tasked with regulating the use of controlled substances. It may initiate proceedings to add new drugs to the federal schedules or erase others from them. The agency also ensures that registrants abide by security controls and storage requirements for legally produced drugs. Finally, the DEA works cooperatively with state and local law enforcement in special task forces to thwart drug trafficking and gang-related drug violence nationwide.

Facing Drug Charges? An Attorney Can Help

If you've been charged with a violation of the Controlled Substances Act, it's essential to establish your defense for trial or explore plea bargain options. An experienced lawyer who knows the ropes will be able to advise you about your specific situation. Contact a qualified criminal defense attorney near you today.

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