Drug Laws in the U.S.

drug laws in the U.S.

An Overview of Drug Laws in the U.S.

Drug laws in the U.S. have been the topic of much debate in the past ten years. All states have laws against possessing, manufacturing, and selling controlled substances. Prohibited substances range from cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine to marijuana, hallucinogens, and ecstasy.

Drug Laws and Controlled Substances

While debates rage over the ethics of drug laws in the U.S., controlled substances have an undeniable effect on society. Due to death, physical harm, medical care, treatment programs, crimes, and other factors, controlled substances drain society of over 100 billion dollars in funds.

Drug laws in the U.S. exist on many levels. Both legal and illegal drugs are examined and ruled upon by governing bodies. Their legality is often determined by use. Take prescription drugs for example. Some substances are used in prescription drugs that are otherwise illegal.

Amphetamines are a good example of this. Unsupervised amphetamine use is illegal in all states.

However, controlled amphetamines are prescribed legally to patients suffering from ADHD and ADD. Lawmakers have determined that the dangers of amphetamines and other substances lie in supervision. Regulations are made in order to control the production and distribution of said drugs.

Federal vs. State Drug Laws

Although federal regulation exists, efforts and laws to combat substance abuse are also made on the local and state level. A major difference is the level of prosecution which is important to learn about when exploring drug laws in the U.S. Federal prosecutions are normally reserved for more severe charges like drug trafficking. On the other hand, local and state prosecutions focus on smaller charges like drug possession.

When it comes to drug laws in the U.S., there are differences in the severity of punishments between federal and state drug laws. On the local and state levels, punishments are usually handed out in the form of probation and misdemeanors. Federally, punishments usually carry harsher consequences, including long jail sentences.

Important Drug Law Terms

The most important term to be familiar with in regards to drug laws is controlled substance. The term, used on local, state, and federal levels, refers to any substance that is regulated by law. The degree of which a controlled substance is governed is categorized by schedules. Schedules delineate the severity of punishments associated with the drug, with schedule one being the worst. Schedule one drugs include cannabis, heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.

There are various charges that can stem from controlled substances. The most common charges are listed with a brief description below.

Charge: Distribution

Distribution usually refers to the act of selling a controlled substance. Although commonly associated with selling, distribution charges can occur from providing a controlled substance without any transaction occurring. Sales to undercover law enforcement often results in distribution charges.

Charge: Trafficking

Trafficking is a similar charge to distribution in that it refers to the selling of a controlled substance. However, trafficking differs from distribution by the amount sold. A person is normally charged with trafficking when they are caught dealing large amounts of a controlled substance. Sentencing for both distribution and trafficking can be as little as a few years to a life sentence, with trafficking usually resulting in more severe charges.

Charge: Manufacturing

Manufacturing is a charge used on both state and federal levels. Manufacturing charges occur when a person is caught contributing to the growing or producing of a controlled substance. Manufacturing includes both natural cultivation and chemical creation. For example, a manufacturing charge can be levied for growing marijuana or creating methamphetamine in a lab. Manufacturing charges usually come with severe sentences.

Charge: Possession

Possession charges are usually sentenced on the local level. They are the most prevalent form of a drug charge. In order to be charged with possession, governing bodies must show that the accused knowingly and unlawfully possessed a substance. Additionally, they must prove that the quantity of the substance possessed was enough for personal use or distribution.

Possession can often coincide with other drug charges. For example, a charge of possession can lead to an additional charge for distribution. Possession charges scale in severity, with the least severe charge being referred to as a simple possession charge. Simple possession charges can be cleared from criminal records in most states.

Search and Seizure

For those attempting to fight drug charges related to drug laws in the U.S., claiming a violation to Fourth Amendment search and seizure rights is a common defense. Defendants must prove that law enforcement conducted illegal search and seizure in order to be cleared of charges.


Drug laws vary in definition and severity. Upheld at federal, state, and local levels, drug charges can range from simple misdemeanors to life sentences. Common drug charges include distribution, trafficking, manufacturing, and possession. Understanding the legal ramifications of drug laws can be the difference in preventing a severe sentence for you or someone you love.

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