United States Substance Abuse Laws

After being caught with 0.5kg of heroin, the intense legal consequences await you. Substance abuse laws were designed to preserve the legality of addictive substances. The possession, use, or distribution of illegal drugs is prohibited by law. Although certain controlled substances have been reported for medical purposes, the larger battle is between state and federal powers.

With the global pandemic changing the way our world operates, substance abuse trends have been on the rise. Social withdrawal, lack of resources, and economic uncertainty have brewed challenging circumstances for recovering individuals. Substance abuse laws can introduce mandatory sentences for caught individuals.

Drug policies vary for a number of different reasons. The classifications of legality include the following:

  • Prohibition – Decreases the accessibility of the drug, yet increases criminality and Incarceration.
  • Decriminalization – This signifies that if you’re caught with a small amount of a drug, you’re free from the criminal penalty. Decriminalization decreases criminality, incarceration, and black markets.
  • De Facto Decriminalization – A period of no actual decriminalization has been passed yet current substance abuse laws prohibiting use are no longer passed. This can reduce criminality, incarceration, and black markets.
  • Medicalization – A policy position that permits controlled substance use for medical purposes, typically for psychoactive drugs. Medicalization can destigmatize use yet requires extensive testing to ensure its safety and side effects are minimal.
  • Legalization – (Legalization without Commercialization)

What are the Laws At the Federal Level for Drug Use and Possession?

The federal substance abuse laws define the possession, use, or distribution of illicit drugs that are prohibited. If you are caught and convicted, severe penalties are determined including mandatory sentences for many offenses. The penalties increase if the use of illicit drugs results in death or serious bodily injury. 

Federal Possession Penalties

If you are caught possessing any controlled substance, you can face up to a year in jail and/or pay a minimum fine of $1,000. Secondary convictions are punishable (by not less than 15 days) but not more than 2 years in prison and a minimum fine of $2,500. 

Subsequent convictions are punishable (by not less than 90 days) but not more than 3 years in prison and a minimum fine of $5,000. Civil penalties are applicable up to $10,000, whether or not criminal prosecution is pursued.

Drug Paraphernalia

If you’re convicted on federal charges of the sale, import, export, or shipping of drug paraphernalia, you could face penalties of up to 3 years in prison and a fine.

Forfeiture of Personal Property

If you’re convicted of a federal drug offense, it’s punishable by more than one year in prison. You’ll have to forfeit to the United States any personal or real property related to the violation, including houses, cars, and other personal belongings. Property may be seized upon arrest on charges that may result in forfeiture.

Denial of Federal Benefits

A federal drug conviction may result in the loss of federal benefits, including school loans, grants, contracts, and licenses. Federal drug trafficking convictions may result in denial of federal benefits for up to 5 years for a first conviction, 10 years for a second conviction, and permanent denial of federal benefits for a third conviction. 

A federal drug conviction for possession may result in denial of federal benefits for up to 1 year for a first conviction and up to 5 years for subsequent convictions.

Drug Trafficking

Penalties for federal drug trafficking convictions could vary depending on the quantity of the controlled substances involved in the transaction. If you violate federal drug trafficking laws within 1,000 feet of a university, you may face penalties or prison terms. Additionally, you could pay fines up to twice as high as the regular penalties for the offense, with a mandatory prison sentence of at least one year.

What is the Controlled Substance Act?

The Controlled Substance Act was created by the Nixon Administration as a means to control the war on drugs. The Controlled Substance Act provided a framework for substances to be controlled and decontrolled. Drug trafficking has always been a complicated obstacle for federal agencies.

The Controlled Substance Act outlines five classes of drugs:

  • Narcotics
  • Depressants
  • Stimulants
  • Hallucinogens
  • Anabolic Steroids

During the 1980s, there was an uptick in illegal drug trafficking and distribution. There were underground laboratories that used chemicals from the United States to create illegal drugs.

What determines a controlled substance depends on:

  • It’s relative or actual potential for abuse
  • Scientific evidence of its pharmacological effect
  • The state of current scientific knowledge regarding the drug or substance
  • Its history and pattern of abuse
  • The scope, duration, and significance of the use
  • What, if any, risk to public health
  • Its psychic or physiological dependence liability
  • Whether the substance is a precursor of a substance already scheduled

Who Schedules Substance Abuse Laws?

The DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) crafted Schedules (I-V) to identify the potential risks related to controlled substances. The abuse rate is a significant determining factor in the scheduling of the drug. 

Schedule I – Controlled substances with no clear medical use and a high potential for abuse. There is a lack of accepted safety for the drug or substance unless medically supervised.

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), heroin, marijuana (cannabis), ecstasy, methaqualone, and peyote are all examples of Schedule I drugs.

Schedule II – Controlled substances are classified for their high potential for abuse and minimal medical use. These include Hydrocodone (Vicodin), cocaine, methamphetamine, methadone, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), meperidine (Demerol), oxycodone (OxyContin), fentanyl, Dexedrine, Adderall, and Ritalin.

Schedule III – Controlled substances with moderate to low risk of abuse. Examples include Tylenol (with codeine), ketamine, anabolic steroids, and testosterone.

Schedule IV – Controlled substances with a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence. These drugs are recognized as Xanax, Soma, Darvon, Darvocet, Valium, Ativan, Talwin, Ambien, Tramadol.

Schedule V – Controlled substances have a low risk for abuse and typically contain limited quantities of certain narcotics.

Substance Abuse Laws: First-Time Offender vs Multiple Offenders?

First-time offenders usually receive lenient penalties, especially for non-violent offenses. The age and specifics of the offense will play a factor. This may not always be the case, considering that some courts use first offenses as an example. 

On the other hand, a person who has multiple past convictions may not be so lucky. They are recognized as habitual offenders. A habitual offender can expect more severe sentencing considering his or her history (I.E. Three Strikes). Judges tend to be harsher towards habitual offenders in their penalties.

A majority of habitual offenders continue to commit crimes due to their relationship with substance abuse. For example, if a habitual offender needs money for illegal substances, he or she will likely commit a crime. Other crimes occur due to the offender being under the influence. This can increase the safety risks for those around them, including alcohol-related driving accidents. 

Certain states mandate severe penalties for habitual offenders, resulting in punishment that is long-term. Some states will increase the penalties, even if the crime is unrelated to the previous ones. Life sentences are uncommon for habitual offenders.

Can You Go to Rehab Instead of Jail? 

If you’re a first-time offender, and you’ve received such as DUI, addiction rehab could be an option for you. Drug courts can be characterized as court docket programs that target criminal defendants and offenders, juvenile offenders, and parents with pending child welfare cases who have substance abuse issues. 

A judge, prosecutor, or counselor can argue on your behalf for drug court. Drug courts aim to resolve criminal behavior in individuals affected by substance use.

There are no drug courts on a federal level, however, all 50 states have them set. Once the court order has been initiated, the person must complete all the steps of the program, without incident, to complete the sentence.

Drug court incorporates:

  • Screenings and assessments of risks, needs, and responsivity
  • Judicial interaction
  • Attend counseling and support group sessions
  • Monitoring such as drug testing and supervision
  • Graduated sanctions and incentives
  • Treatment and rehabilitation services

How Can Rehab Help Convicted Individuals?

Comprehensive drug rehabilitation for convicted individuals could present better alternatives to substance abuse laws. Each case of drug possession will vary, which requires a fitting set of consequences and solutions. 

People who struggle with addiction are more likely to end up with drug charges. A simple “No” won’t suffice, considering that addiction is a disease of the brain.

Recent reports have indicated that 1 out of 5 incarcerated people are doing time for drug-related offenses (456,000 for non-violent possession). Finding a job could be difficult for someone released from incarceration, particularly with background checks. The level of resources available to addiction in jail is limited. 

This can drastically affect an incarcerated person’s ability to remain clean. The additional burden of a criminal record could damage a person’s sense of self, promoting addiction further. Addictive substances have been made discreet in jails. 

Sending a person to drug rehab instead of jail can prove to be more beneficial to set them on an alternative path. Addiction rehab can instill a supportive environment, despite the circumstances. Spending time in jail does little to address the root of the addiction.

It can be difficult to readjust to the world, even without a substance use disorder. Addiction recovery can provide you with the life skills to maintain sobriety and maintain healthy coping mechanisms.

Which States Allow Recreational or Medical Drug Use for Certain Substances (marijuana)? 

Until 1913, marijuana was legal at both state and federal levels. Prohibition advocates used propaganda from violent crimes and stereotypes of minorities to change the narrative. For years, marijuana advocates have been praising the practical benefits of legalizing recreational marijuana. However, there is a gray area in determining the full scope of marijuana use and its long-term effects on users. 

The following states that permit recreational marijuana are:

  • California
  • Alaska
  • District of Columbia
  • South Dakota
  • New Jersey
  • Montana
  • Colorado
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Washington

Critics argue that legalizing recreational marijuana increases use, increases crimes, and presents public safety concerns. Advocates suggest that marijuana legalization promotes tax revenues, reduces crime, and lowers criminal justice expenditures.

In November 2012, Colorado and Washington approved ballot initiatives for recreational use under state law. An analysis of recent reports suggests that marijuana legalization has not indicated an increase in use. 

Most states will follow a pathway of decriminalization – medicalization – legalization pattern for marijuana. More data is needed to determine the full scope of post-legalization and how it affects the greater whole.

What Are Some Strange US Drug Laws?

  • In Texas, any person who intends to buy chemistry equipment must get permission from the state. This was a measure to prevent the production of methamphetamines.
  • In Florida, you can end up with a minimum mandatory sentence of 3 years for 4 grams of opioid painkillers (including any mixture of the drug).
  • In California, marijuana is taxable, which sends a red flag to law enforcement. The taxes collected are used to conduct raids on facilities.
  • In New York, you can be arrested for displaying marijuana, despite a small amount not warranting trouble.
  • In 23 states, you are legally obligated to pay the taxes on any drugs you purchase, even requiring a stamp for proof of payment.
  • Despite the rare enforcement, no one is allowed to own PVC pipe in the US. PVC pipe can be considered paraphernalia.
  • In 1977, Louisiana passed a law that prohibited the sale of materials that promote or market illegal substance use. You can’t sell a magazine to a minor where drugs are the dominant theme, yet alcohol and tobacco can still be advertised.

Recovery is Destined through Harmony Ridge Recovery

Substance abuse laws were created to protect the private interests and safety of Americans. With an evolving perspective on substance use, addiction treatment is still an invaluable resource. Harmony Ridge Recovery is equipped with the tools and services to guide you through these difficult periods. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, feel free to reach out today.

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