The possession, use, distribution or sale of certain drugs is a crime. Punishments range from fines to many years in prison. These drugs are illegal because of health risks and because they are associated with violent crimes. Both the states and the federal system can prosecute drug crimes.
All 50 states have introduced the concept of specialized, multidisciplinary drug courts to handle the cases of non-violent substance-abusing offenders. The goal of these problem-solving courts is recovery and return to society, rather than punishment.
The Number of Illegal Drugs Is Increasing
Hundreds of drugs have been declared illegal by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the state governments. The use of some drugs, such as codeine, is restricted to those with a prescription. The use of others, such heroin, is banned altogether. New drugs are regularly added to the list of banned or restricted substances. For example, after Louisiana became the first state to criminalize the use of the herb salvia divinorum in 2005, most other states banned it within the next few years.
Drug Users Face a Range of Charges
Using illegal drugs is considered less serious than selling them. A first offense of possessing a small amount of marijuana, for example, may not even result in jail time. Possession of any amount of cocaine, however, can be prosecuted as a felony and punished by several years in prison.
Possession of a restricted drug such as Oxycontin without a prescription can also be prosecuted as a felony. Other punishments include heavy fines, probation, and drug treatment programs. If an illegal drug crosses state lines, federal penalties apply - and these penalties are generally more severe than state law penalties.
Drug Trafficking Dramatically Increases Penalties
Involvement in the drug trade is punished more severely than almost any other crime. If you have illegal drugs in large quantities, this is known as "possession with intent to distribute" - a type of drug trafficking offense. Other offenses include cultivation, manufacturing, sale, and distribution.
Federal law imposes mandatory minimum sentences for crimes involving illegal drugs - the judge has no authority to reduce the sentence due to special circumstances. These penalties range from several years in prison to life without parole.
Additional Penalties for Certain Circumstances
In addition to possession and distribution, state and federal governments have criminalized other drug-related activities. In addition, engaging in certain activities will increase penalties for drug crimes. Driving under the influence of an illegal drug, for example, is treated as a form of DUI. New Jersey and some other states have created "drug-free school zones." In New Jersey, additional penalties can be imposed for certain drug crimes that take place within 1,000 yards of a school or a school bus.
A Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding arrest for a drug crime is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a criminal lawyer.