Federal and state laws strictly enforce restrictions on the use, possession, and distribution of illegal, or "scheduled" drugs. The term "scheduled" refers to drugs that are regulated by federal law. States tend to follow the federal categorizations of drugs on the schedule, with the notable exception of cannabis, which is widely decriminalized under many state laws.
A drug crime conviction can also have severe consequences. This article provides an overview of some common types of drug crimes.
Possession of Scheduled Drugs
A person cannot be prosecuted merely for being under the influence or even for addiction to illegal drugs. In 1962, statutes criminalizing addiction were found to be unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark case Robinson v. California.
Instead, the most basic drug charge is possession of illegal drugs, which punishes defendants who have illicit substances on their person or in their control. This charge does not require proof of intent or proof of ownership. Just holding onto someone else's cocaine or heroin could result in criminal charges for the possessor.
A person in possession of illegal drugs may be charged with simple possession or with an enhanced charge based on the quantity of drugs possessed or proof of intent to distribute the drugs. Sometimes, the intent can be implied (according to statute) based solely on the weight of the drugs, by creating an inference or presumption that the large quantity of drugs is greater than what would normally be possessed for personal use.
Drug possession charges can also be brought against people in possession of prescription drugs unless they are prescribed to the defendant. Because abuse of prescription drugs is such a public health crisis, some states even prohibit possession of lawfully-prescribed medications outside their original pharmacy packaging.
Drug Dealing and Drug Trafficking
Drug dealing or "trafficking" laws make it illegal to sell, trade, or otherwise exchange scheduled drugs. Some state laws differentiate offenses for selling drugs for value from simply providing or sharing drugs. Drug trafficking is generally charged as a felony and becomes more serious when a large amount of drugs is involved, or when a person's death results from the drugs that were trafficked. Federal penalties are also enhanced if the dealers or traffickers used a firearm while selling drugs.
Even small-time drug dealing, such as one person selling a small amount of scheduled drugs, can be punished as a felony. While the penalties may be less severe than those for selling larger amounts, drug possession with intent to distribute may involve probation or even prison time. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), selling even 100 grams of heroin can result in a minimum sentence of five years in prison.
Another type of drug crime is drug manufacturing, involving any step of the production process of an illegal drug. The most common version of this crime is the cultivation of marijuana, which might be entirely legal under state law. While the federal government has largely stayed out of punishing marijuana cultivation or cannabis product manufacturing because of medical and personal use exceptions in state law, state regulation of the cannabis industry is often quite complicated.
Another frequently prosecuted form of drug manufacturing is the production of methamphetamines (commonly known as a "meth lab"). This crime is especially dangerous because of the harmful chemicals involved in the production process and the risks of fire. If convicted, those involved in running a drug manufacturing operation typically face lengthy prison terms.
Possession of Drug Paraphernalia
In general, "drug paraphernalia" describes any equipment that is used to prepare, inject, inhale, or conceal illegal drugs. It also refers to any equipment used to conceal, produce, or package drugs. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, it is against the law for anyone to sell, import, or export any type of drug paraphernalia. Some states also charge possession of paraphernalia as a misdemeanor offense. Examples of drug paraphernalia include but are not limited to:
- Pipes and bongs
- Baggies, scales, cutting agents
- Rolling papers
- Syringes and injection kits
Often, drug paraphernalia can be used for legitimate purposes, and some are even designed for legal purposes. For example, pipes, bongs, and rolling papers often include labeling stating that they are to be used with tobacco. Despite such a label, circumstantial evidence can be used to charge possession of the item as illegal possession of drug paraphernalia. Usually, drug residue or evidence of use in conjunction with drugs defeats the argument that the items were used for legitimate purposes.
Possession of drug paraphernalia is typically punished as a misdemeanor, with enhanced penalties for the sale or transfer of the paraphernalia to a minor.
Get Professional Legal Help With All Types of Drug Crimes
If you or someone close to you has been charged with a drug crime, it is in your best interests to get the help of a legal professional. Since the penalties for drug crimes can be particularly severe, often including prison time, you should not delay in seeking legal help. Get started today and find a local criminal defense attorney with drug crime experience.