The United States Department of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) establishes federal laws that identify controlled substances and classifies drugs. The classification of drugs, also known as Drug Scheduling, includes illegal, prescription, and over-the-counter drugs and medicines, based on potential risk of abuse as well as accepted medicinal use.
Legal repercussions associated with drug scheduling are most likely to be “presumptive punishments” or the routine sentencing for the crime committed unless the defendant has previous convictions or “aggravating factors” such as criminal charges, or is on probation, bond, or parole for another felony.
Securing a well informed and highly trained criminal defense lawyer to present your case can potentially reduce possible jail time and fines. With proper legal representation, some cases even result in drug treatment rehabilitation as an alternative to jail time.
Drug Scheduling by DEA
Drugs are classified into five specific categories: Schedule I, Schedule II, Schedule III, Schedule IV, and Schedule V. The most hazardous and potentially life-threatening drugs, such as heroin, are classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. The less addictive a drug is, the lower on the scale of scheduling it will rank. The lowest level drug category is Schedule V, which includes over-the-counter cough syrup. Prescription drugs and even over-the-counter medicines such as Sudafed and cold or flu medicine can be considered a violation of the law if being abused or sold illegally.
While drug scheduling is federally enforced and maintained, laws may vary from state to state; especially with the legalization of marijuana in many states like Colorado. Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) administered by the DEA, each drug is regulated regarding their risk for addiction as well as possession, quantity, sale, and production. The following is an overview of drugs in each category, visit usdoj.gov for a more comprehensive list of controlled substances and their classifications.
Schedule I Drug Classification
Schedule I drugs are classified as the most hazardous and potentially addictive controlled substances. While there are some prescription medications that qualify, most Schedule I drugs are illegal such as LSD, ecstasy, and heroine. If you are illegally using or in possession of a Schedule I drug you can face fines and jail time. For example, if you are holding even a minimal amount of methamphetamine or heroin, you could be sentenced up to 18 months in jail in Colorado.
Punishments for increased quantity and intent to sell or distribute Schedule I drugs such as heroine can result in level I drug felony penalties. Jail time for such drug related crimes can include 8 to 40 years in prison and fines ranging from several thousand up to $2 million dollars. In addition, the state of Colorado requires a mandatory parole period of 3 years following jail term associated with level I drug crimes.
Schedule II Drug Classification
The second most severe level of drugs are Schedule II, because of their potential for dependency and associated risks if illegally being used or sold. Cocaine and its derivative, crack, are notable street drugs that are documented as Schedule II drugs. Prescription medications such as morphine, OxyContin®, hydrocodone, fentanyl, Percocet®, and Demerol® are also listed as Schedule II classification because of the severe physical and psychological dependence. The consequences of holding, selling or being charged with the intent to sell Schedule II drug punishments are somewhat similar to that of Schedule I drug repercussions.
Although the laws vary from state to state, federal guidelines suggest that Schedule II drug crimes can have fines of up to $1 million dollars and maximum jail time of 20 years. The fees and length of incarceration are directly related to the type of drug, quantity, and intent associated with the controlled substance. Furthermore, aggravated circumstances concerning other crimes can also affect sentencing. Similar to Schedule I drug crimes, Schedule II drug crimes also carry a parole time of 3 years.
Schedule III Drug Classification
Schedule III drugs have a lower physical and psychological dependence. Prescription medications containing 90 milligrams or less of codeine per dose are considered to be a controlled substance under Schedule III. Anabolic steroids such as Depo®-Testosterone and Tylenol with Codeine® are both Schedule III drugs. Benzphetamine, a prescription appetite suppressant used to treat obesity is also considered a Schedule III drug.
Individuals that are illegally in possession of Schedule III drugs (often with intent to sell) can be penalized to 10 years in jail and up to $500,000 in fees and charges. Again, these are the maximum amount of penalties. Minor offenses, especially for first time offenders being represented by a quality criminal defense lawyer can expect much less.
Schedule IV Drug Classification
Schedule IV drugs have a much lower risk for substance abuse. Medications such as alprazolam- also known as Xanax®, Valium®, clonazepam or Klonopin®, Ativan® are just a few prescription drugs that are identified by the drug administration as Schedule IV drugs.
As the level of severity of scheduling reduces, so do the criminal fines and jail time associated with the crime. The maximum federal punishment for Schedule IV drug crimes without any other coexisting charges is 5 years in prison and fines of $250,000.
Schedule V Drug Classification
Drugs categorized as Schedule V have the lowest risk for substance abuse. These drugs often contain limited amounts of narcotics. Some antihistamines and cough syrup medications that can be prescribed or purchased over-the-counter may be classified as Schedule V drugs. Just because a medication can be purchased without a prescription does not exempt this drug from being illegal if used or sold improperly.
Schedule V drugs are the least addictive drugs and have the lowest level of punishment. Maximum fines of $100,000 and up to 1 year in jail can be set for individuals facing Schedule I drug charges.
Contact a Criminal Defense Drug Lawyer
Because there are so many variable factors that link drug charges with criminal punishments, working with a seasoned criminal defense attorney is important. Drug crimes can be petty offenses, misdemeanors, or felonies. Punishments associated with controlled substances can range from community service, drug rehabilitation treatment, small to excessive fines, as well as jail time that could be extensive.
If you or someone you know needs legal assistance concerning drug allegations, contact M.Colin Bresee, criminal defense lawyer for a free consultation. A knowledgeable and caring attorney can help you present evidence as well as mitigating factors, based on the defendant’s character, to support a more lenient sentencing.