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Drug Schedules Explained

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By Ashley Ravid | Last updated on

Perhaps you've heard marijuana referred to as a "Schedule I drug," or seen other references to narcotics being categorized by "schedules." How does federal drug scheduling work, and what do these designations mean?

Controlled Substances Act

The Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970, organizing narcotic substances into five categories, or "schedules." The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is largely responsible for the designation and evaluation of these drugs. Drugs are sorted into their schedules based on their potential for abuse, legal status, and medicinal uses. Schedule I is for the drugs with the highest dangers, and Schedule V is for narcotics with a relatively low potential for addiction.

Some controversy surrounds certain designations on the list, particularly marijuana, which is a Schedule I drug. Critics of this designation have pointed out the medicinal benefits of marijuana, and its classification in a higher schedule than heroin or cocaine, despite those drugs' higher chance of abuse. Movements to remove marijuana from Schedule I designation have abounded for years, but none have yet to succeed, though it is now widely legal in medicinal or recreational form in a majority of states.

Schedule Organization

Here are some of the drugs belonging in each schedule:

  • Schedule I: Marijuana, ecstasy, heroin, LSD, and peyote
  • Schedule II: Methamphetamine, cocaine, fentanyl, Vicodin, oxycodone, and Adderall
  • Schedule III: Anabolic steroids, testosterone, and ketamine
  • Schedule IV: Xanax, Ambien, Ativan, and Valium
  • Schedule V: Cough suppressants

What That Means

Depending on what schedule a narcotic is classified as, the restrictions on its research and other uses scale in intensity. The legal penalties for drug-related crimes also depend on the schedule of the drug, with higher-ranked schedules entailing more serious punishments.

If you or someone you know is facing a drug-related legal issue, talk to a criminal defense lawyer today.

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