All fifty states and the federal government have laws that address the possession, use, manufacture, and sale of specific drugs. Each crime has different standards and carries different penalties, especially in terms of the severity of the crime committed.
Drug crimes generally include offenses such as:
- Possession: Drug possession is the most common offense, and generally arises when a person is knowingly in possession of a drug without authorization. An example of this would be when a person has a drug without a valid prescription. Generally speaking, drug possession charges consider the amount of the drug as well, and penalties may vary depending on whether the amount is for personal use, or for sale and distribution;
- Manufacturing: Drug manufacturing as a criminal charge generally involves creating or “cooking” a synthetic chemical substance, or extracting a natural drug An example of this would be cooking methamphetamines, or growing illegal cannabis. Packaging a drug for resale could also constitute a manufacturing charge;
- Use: The use of illegal drugs can be a criminal act, especially in cases in which the drug requires a prescription from a doctor and the offender does not have the required prescription; and
- Distribution: This specific type of drug crime includes the sale, smuggling, trafficking, and/or delivery of illegal substances.
There are also offenses such as drug trafficking, which is largely dependent on the amount of drugs involved, as well as the type of drug involved.
A controlled substance is a drug that is regulated by the government. These substances may have a detrimental effect on a person’s health and welfare, and as such they are strictly controlled by government regulation. The Controlled Substances Act divides up different classes of drugs into five schedules, which are based on their interpretation of:
- Medicinal value;
- Potential for abuse;
- Safety to the public; and
- Likelihood for dependency.
Controlled substances include both legal and illegal drugs.
What Is The Controlled Substances Act?
The Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) is a federal effort to govern the manufacture, possession, dispensing, distribution, and use of certain drugs and other dangerous substances. Significant civil and criminal penalties can be imposed on any person who violates the CSA.
To reiterate, the CSA has categorized many different products into one of five categories which are called schedules. By categorizing these drugs and substances, it makes it easier for the government to regulate or deregulate these drugs and substances as they see fit.
The number of drugs and substances that are covered in the five schedules under the CSA is considerably large. They generally fall into several recognizable larger groups, including:
- Narcotics: Examples include heroin, methadone, morphine, opium and fentanyl;
- Stimulants: Examples include cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamines;
- Depressants: Examples include GHB, rohypnol, and benzodiazepines; and
- Hallucinogens: Examples include LSD, peyote, and ecstasy.
The schedules are ranked from most dangerous, meaning least medicinal value and highest potential for abuse, to least dangerous, meaning most medical value and least potential for abuse:
- Schedule I drugs and substances have no currently accepted medical use, and have a high potential for abuse and dependency. This includes heroin and ecstasy;
- Schedule II drugs and substances have a lesser potential for abuse than Schedule I substances, and have some accepted medical use. Some examples include Vicodin, cocaine, and oxycontin;
- Schedule III drugs and substances are still considered to be dangerous when compared to schedules IV and V, but have a lesser potential for abuse and have some medical accepted use. They include codeine, anabolic steroids, and testosterone;
- Schedule IV drugs and substances are considered to have a low potential for abuse when compared to schedules 1-3 controlled substances. Additionally, they have an accepted medical use, and a risk for limited dependence when compared to other drugs and substances. Valium, Ambien, and Xanax are examples of Schedule IV products; and
- Schedule V drugs and substances have the lowest potential for abuse when compared to other scheduled drugs and substances, as well as an accepted medical use and a risk of limited physical or psychological dependence when compared to the other scheduled controlled substances. They contain only limited quantities of narcotics, such as cough medicines.
Federal Law And Scheduling For Cocaine Possession
It is illegal in America to possess and/or distribute cocaine. Cocaine is considered to be a Schedule II drug, a classification found in the Controlled Substances Act. To reiterate, a Schedule II Drug is defined as a drug which:
- Has a potential for abuse;
- Has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, or a currently accepted medical use with considerable restrictions; and
- Abuse of the drug or other substance may result in severe psychological or physical dependence.
Generally speaking, the Department of Justice does not prosecute minor possessions, as that is the responsibility of the respective municipality in which the crime occurred. Federal prosecutions generally focus on the sale, cultivation, manufacture, and distribution of illicit drugs.
Federal laws are based on a specific set of guidelines. For cocaine possession, when the amount is 500-4999 grams (mixed), the following is the extent of penalties:
- Fine: For the first offense, up to $5 million if an individual, and $25 million if not an individual. For the second offense, a fine of up to $8 million if an individual, and $50 million if not an individual; and/or
- Prison Time: At least 5 years, and not more than 40 years for a first time offense. For a second offense, the sentence is at least 10 years and not more than life. For a first offense, if death or serious bodily injury resulted from the crime, the sentence is to be no less than 20 years but not more than life. For a second offense, if death or serious bodily injury, the charges generally result in life imprisonment.
State Law And Scheduling
State law generally penalizes for a wider variety of offenses than the federal system, ranging from minor possession to the smuggling and distribution of large quantities. State laws are similar to those of the CSA, and they classify most drugs according to federal guidelines. Cocaine is considered to be a Schedule II in most states, but carries with it a wide variety of fines and prison terms for possession and sale:
- State Possession Penalties: State drug laws for cocaine possession vary, but most states do not have a quantity requirement, as they instead recognize increased penalties for possession over 28.0 g, and then again over 200.0 g. The following figures can help demonstrate to the extent of penalties for cocaine possession in the U.S.:
- Possession fine ranging from $1,000 to $500,000; and/or
- Possession prison time, ranging from 4 months to 15 years.
- State Sales Penalties: While many incidents of the sale of illicit drugs also have federal penalties, state courts assess fines and prison time independent of any federal prosecution. This includes:
- A sale fine from $2,500 to $1,000,000; and/or
- Prison time from 1 year to life in prison.
At the federal level, there is a disparity between the sentencing penalties for cocaine in powder form and crack cocaine. In general, states do not reflect this federal sentencing disparity. However, it is imperative to remember that even though states may not have defined different penalties between the different forms of cocaine, this does not mean that judges, juries, and the criminal system address offenders equally.
Do I Need A Criminal Defense Lawyer For Cocaine Possession And Sales?
If you have been accused of or arrested for the possession or sale of cocaine, you should consult with a drug lawyer immediately.
Your attorney will help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws. An experienced attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed, throughout the process.