With the exceptions murder and other violent crimes, drug-related crimes are probably the most serious. Anyone involved with illegal drugs, whether they make or use them, faces jail time and fines.
Why? Because illegal drugs cause serious health problems and even death for those who use them. They also lead to other violent crimes, and so pose threats to everyone's safety.
Federal & State Laws
Each state and the federal government have laws against unlawful use, possession, distribution or production of certain drugs. These include cocaine, heroin, marijuana and amphetamines. The idea, of course, is to reduce illegal drug use and cut down on drug-related crimes.
There are five categories, or "schedules," of drugs based on their potential for dependency and abuse as compared with their therapeutic or medicinal value. Schedule I controlled substances (such as heroin) have the highest potential for dependency and no accepted medical use. Schedule V drugs (like codeine) have a low potential for dependency and accepted medical uses.
The penalties are harshest for illegal possession, sale or manufacture of Schedule I drugs. The US Attorney General can delete, add or reschedule drugs.
Laws on drug-related crimes vary from state to state, but in general most states follow the federal drug schedules. State penalties usually match the federal scheme, too. However, it's not uncommon for states to have stiffer penalties for making, selling or using certain drugs, and more lenient penalties for other drugs.
Punishments for Drug-Related Crimes
The punishments or sentences for drug crimes generally depends on:
- The quantity of the drug
- Its classification under the schedules
- The purpose of possession
The most serious drug crimes are:
- Manufacturing or making drugs
- Selling, distributing or "trafficking" in drugs
- Possessing illegal drugs for the purpose of selling or them
Key Notes on "Possession"
In the federal scheme, possession can be a very serious crime - meaning jail time - depending the drug and how much is involved. Or, possession may mean having to pay a fine. For instance, possession of a small amount of some drugs for personal use may be punished by a $10,000 fine.
However, possessing more than the personal use amount may lead to charges of possession with intent to distribute, which may mean years in prison, thousands of dollars in fines or both. Prosecutors can prove someone's intent to distribute drugs just by showing the quantity of the drug, without any evidence the person ever really sold or distributed it.
State Law. Again, many states mirror the federal law when it comes to possession. Punishments for possession of personal use amounts is often probation and a fine. However, possessing larger amounts of illegal drugs, even for personal use, may be more serious. And, in some states, possession of any amount of any scheduled drug is treated as a serious crime.
Whether an offender faces jail time and how much depends on the type and quantity of drug involved, as well as the offenders criminal record. Whether state or federal law was violated matters, too. However, most minimum sentences range from one year in jail to three years in prison for first-time offenders. The minimum sentences for repeat offenders? Three to 12 years in prison.
Many states have stiffer punishments or "enhanced penalties" when drug crimes are committed under certain circumstances, such as when:
- Minors are used to distribute the drugs
- The drugs are delivered or sold to minors
- The drugs are sold or distributed near schools
Also, federal law and the laws in most states call for the "forfeiture" of property used in connection with the drug crimes, and any profits from the crime. For example, the government may seize an offender's home if it was used to make or distribute drugs.
Professional Drug Dealers
Special laws cover professional drug dealers. A "drug kingpin," or a person organizing, financing or managing a business to manufacture, transport or sell drugs, commits a serious crime.
There are special sentences for professional drug dealers. Federal law even has the death penalty for drug kingpins. Some states impose 25 years in prison without parole for professional drug dealers.
As you can see, federal and state lawmakers take illegal drugs very seriously. Anyone who makes, sells or uses these drugs should think carefully about whether the "high" or the profits from the drugs is worth the legal and health consequences.