What are Drug Offenses?

drug-offensesDrug offenses are often classified as crimes against morality, but could also be placed in a category with offenses against public order and health because drug crimes can potentially cause physical harm to people and property and can contribute to other crimes as well as economic and social problems. Because of their potential for being detrimental to society, drug offenses do not wait until public safety is actually threatened, but are intercepted prior to that by penalizing the manufacture, transportation, sale, distribution, and possession of drugs.

Drug offenses include purchase, possession, manufacturing, delivering, distributing, dispensing, administering,  and selling (or possessing with intent to distribute). Drug offenses are determined by the Uniform Controlled Substances Act which controls the distribution, classification, sale, and use of drugs. According to law, drugs are categorized into two distinct categories (1) drugs and (2) narcotics. Drugs are substances for use in or on the body for diagnosis, cure, treatment, and/or prevention of disease. These are regulated by the Federal Drug Administration and include such things as herbs, tonics, laxatives, weight reduction aids, and even blood. Narcotics, on the other hand, are substances defined by statue; narcotics are substances that either stimulate or dull an individual’s senses. Usually narcotics are considered to be addictive. Legal narcotics are regulated by the Federal Drug Administration and are available only with a valid physician’s prescription. Illegal narcotics (controlled substances), however, are banned by statute.

The authority to regulate the use of drugs is most often found within federal government jurisdictions due to the federal government’s power to regulate interstate commerce. States can and do regulate drug use, but the laws that states establish must be consistent with federal law. Most states choose to adopt federal standards for their drug legislation to avoid unnecessary litigation and as a means of using federal government resources to bring major drug offenders to justice.

The federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970, 21 U.S.C.A § 811 et seq., extended in 1972 by the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, was enacted to promote uniformity among state and federal laws. As a result, most states conform to federal drug acts. The Continuing Criminal Enterprise (CCE) Statute (also known as the Drug Kingpin Act), 21 U.S.C.A. § 848 targets those who have a managing or organizing role in large illegal drug organizations. Some drug offenses are strict liability crimes, while other drug offenses require general intent.

The two main objectives of current drug law is to regulate the manufacture, sale, and use of legal drugs such as aspirin, sleeping pills, and antidepressants, and to prohibit and punish the manufacture, possession, and sale of illegal drugs such as marijuana, heroin and dangerous legal drugs.

As a means of controlling the use of dangerous drugs, federal law and most state statues use the classification system outlined by the Uniform Controlled Substances Act. The system categorizes both illegal and dangerous legal drugs and groups them into five schedules, organized according to each drug’s potential for medical use, harm or abuse. In addition, this system imposes a series of controls and penalties for the misuse of these controls for each individual schedule. For example heroin, hallucinogens, and marijuana are considered Schedule I drugs because of their high potential for harm with no medical use. Opiates and cocaine are Schedule II drugs, most depressants and stimulates are Schedule III drugs, mild tranquilizers are Schedule IV drugs, and cough syrup mixtures containing some codeine that are considered medically useful and less dangerous are Schedule V drugs.

Drug crime penalties are established depending on the severity of the crime. Possession of a controlled substance is the simplest drug offense, with possession with intent to sell being a more serious offense. Selling and trafficking drug offenses incur the greatest penalties. The precise penalty for a particular drug offense depends on many factors. These include the type of drug involved, the amount of that drug involved, and the criminal record of the convicted party. Drug conviction penalties range from small monetary fines to life imprisonment and the death penalty. In 1994, the crime bill imposed the death penalty for major drug trafficking per Pub. L. No. 103-322, 108 Stat. 1796.

Defenses for drug charges usually involve some legal error on the part of law enforcement. Sometimes police act illegally by operating without warrants and with disregard for a person’s constitutional rights, resulting in a successful defense of illegal search and seizure which can get a case thrown out of court. Other successful drug defenses include entrapment and the performance of illegal surveillance in violation of a person’s right to privacy.

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