Drug Possession: An Overview

For nearly a century, if not longer, the United States has been plagued with an infusion of narcotics from inside and outside sources. The criminal narcotics industry is a multi-faceted, multi-billion dollar affair with effects and consequences that ultimately trickle down to local cities and neighborhoods in America. From manufacturing and distributing to sales and simple possession, the broad scope of criminal activities involving illegal narcotics is astonishing. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), an estimated 14,000 people die every year due to illegal drugs and thousands more die due to criminal activities related to illegal drug possession. Therefore, federal and state laws have determined that holding, owning, carrying, or any form of illegal drug possession is a crime against society.

Drug possession laws and policy typically reflects the zeitgeist of a society. Possession of certain drugs garner harsher penalties than possession of other illegal drugs due to the bubble of violence and peripheral illegal activities associated with the particular illegal drug or narcotic. Simple possession of one specific drug is penalized with a small fine while possession of another illegal drug may mandate automatic incarceration.

Possession of illegal drugs is a crime with severe penalties in both the state and federal level. The severity of drug possession penalties depends on various factors including quantity, type of drug, intent, age of the offender, and location of the crime, among other factors. For example, simple possession of an ounce of marijuana discovered in your car is a misdemeanor and will not have as severe a penalty as felony possession of five pounds of cocaine with intent to distribute near a public school. Penalties are proportionate to the crime and related mitigating factors.

If you are facing a drug related charge, consult with a criminal defense attorney to discuss your case.

Types of Illegal Drugs

In the United States, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) categorizes controlled substances by factoring potential for abuse, dependence liability, and medical usage, among other essentials. It is important to note that not all drugs on the DEA's list are illegal and that there are specific omissions for drugs like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine.

Factors involved in classifying certain drugs as illegal include:

  • Use of drug deviating from original medical intent sufficient to create a hazard
  • Deviation of drug from legitimate channels and usage
  • Use of drug deviating from medical advice and taken on user's initiative
  • New drug having potential for abuse

The most common drugs found on the street are:

  • Marijuana - Marijuana is the most popular and widespread narcotic in current consumption in the United States. Drug possession statistics show that everyone from teenagers in school to businessmen use marijuana.
  • Cocaine – Cocaine comes in second in widespread usage in the U.S. Available as both a powder and in "crack" form, cocaine was the fastest growing drug in the 1980's and 1990's. Once referred to as the rich man's drug of choice, the cheaper "crack" form of the drug made it more available and viable for drug addicts. The penalties for cocaine possession are severe and the consequences can last a lifetime.
  • Crystal Methamphetamine – Also known as crystal meth, this drug has been steadily on the rise since the late 1990's due to the relative low cost to manufacture and the highly addictive properties. Learn more about penalties for crystal meth possession.
  • Heroin – Derived from opium, heroin has been in use for more than one hundred years with laws prohibiting certain uses for the drug as far back as 1914. Heroin is also highly addictive. Learn more about penalties for heroin possession.

These drugs amount to a majority of drug possession cases in the United States. However, the relatively new category of so-called "Club Drugs" has seen a rise in possession cases. Club drugs include ecstasy (MDMA), GHB, Ketamine, Rohypnol. Ecstasy is by far the most popular of these club drugs with surveys showing that more than 450,000 people use the drug on a yearly basis, according to National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

GHB, Ketamine, and Rohypnol are notorious "date rape" drugs. All three have slightly hallucinogenic and amnesia-like qualities when taken in large doses. With the recent tide of date rape drugs in the market, penalties for possession of date rape drugs has been amended to reflect the dangers of these illegal drugs.

If you are facing a drug related charge, consult with a criminal defense attorney to discuss your case.

Misdemeanor Drug Possession

A misdemeanor is a lesser crime not with penalties not as severe as felony crimes. Every state has different drug possession penalties proportionate to the crime. The penalties for misdemeanor drug possession may result in a small fine, court mandated drug counseling, community service, and probation, depending various factors. An example of a misdemeanor drug possession charge occurs when someone is caught with less than 20 oz. of marijuana in his or her possession.

A recent trend in legislation involves stiffer penalties for selling, possession, and distribution within the vicinity of day care centers and public schools, whether the case involves a misdemeanor or felony conviction. What might have seemed like a misdemeanor drug possession can be enhanced to a felony drug possession charge if the location of the crime was committed in or near one of those areas.

Felony Drug Possession

Felony drug possession charges are far more serious with oftentimes very severe penalties included that are mandated by law. Felony possession cases typically involve other charges like intent to distribute or the person charged had a large amount of the illegal substance on his person or care. Someone convicted of felony drug possession may face a lengthy prison sentence as well as large fines, probation, community service, and mandatory drug counseling programs.

Multiple drug possession offenders are likely to receive longer prison sentences and larger fines. While the typical felony drug possession sentence may be one-to-three years in prison, a multiple offender may receive a prison sentence ranging from five-to-ten years for a second offense and ten-to-twenty-five years or more for a third conviction.

If you are facing a drug related charge, consult with a criminal defense attorney to discuss your case.
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