Drug Crime Facts
Drug crimes account for many of the incarcerations in the U.S. These crimes have far-reaching consequences for individuals and their families.
- Nearly two million people are arrested for drug crimes each year.
- More than 80% of drug crime arrests are for possession of drugs.
- The Bureau of Justice reports that 21% of people incarcerated in local jails and state prisons committed crimes to finance a drug habit.
- Nearly 40% of property crimes were for drug money, while 14% of violent crimes involved drug-related reasons.
- Substance abuse and addiction are at the root of many drug crimes and resulting incarcerations.
- Only a quarter of prisoners with drug use problems received treatment while incarcerated.
What Laws Regulate Drug Crimes?
Most drug crimes fall under state jurisdiction. The main federal law that addresses drugs is the Controlled Substances Act. It categorizes drugs into five schedules, from I to V, from most to least controlled. The law states that the more controlled substances have fewer or no medical uses, are more dangerous, and have a higher potential for abuse. Many of the controlled substances are legal with a prescription.
The Controlled Substance Act informs most state drug laws. The federal government usually handles trafficking crimes, moving drugs across state lines. Local and state laws address possession, manufacturing, and dealing within the state. Most crimes fall under state jurisdiction.
Drug sentencing is subject to a federal law that mandates minimum sentences. The mandates are based on the type of drug, the amount in possession, and an individual’s past criminal record. Mandatory sentences are controversial and have led to many length possession sentences. State judges have little discretion to be lenient when circumstances warrant it.
What Are the Types of Drug Crimes?
Use, possession, and sale of drugs are related to a number of crimes indirectly, including theft or assault, but just a handful of crimes directly involve drugs:
- Possession. Most people arrested on drug crimes are charged with possession. This means you possess any amount of an illicit drug, like heroin or cocaine. The charge may be simple possession or possession with intent to distribute. The latter is usually reserved for someone with a large amount of drugs, more than they would have for personal use.
- Paraphernalia. It is also illegal to possess drug paraphernalia, the instruments or equipment used to take drugs. This could include a pipe, needles, and syringes. Paraphernalia also includes items used to manufacture or hide drugs.
- Manufacturing. Drug manufacturing is a crime and includes any state in the process, from possessing the ingredients to make a drug to having the finished product. However, to convict someone of manufacturing, prosecutors must have evidence of intent.
- Trafficking. Trafficking is the distribution of drugs. This is a federal felony that comes with serious penalties, up to life in prison. Even without direct evidence of moving the drugs, police can charge someone with trafficking if they have very large amounts. This signals an intent to distribute.
- Dealing. Dealing drugs is a smaller scale crime than trafficking. States define dealing differently, but it generally includes anyone who sells drugs to others. Dealing, depending on the amount of the drug involved, can result in several years in prison.
What if Marijuana is Legal in My State?
Many states have legalized marijuana for medicinal and recreational use. The federal government still outlaws it and lists marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance along with heroin, ecstasy, and LSD. This brings states into conflict with federal law, but the federal government has made it clear that charging people in states with legal marijuana is a low priority.
The real conflicts arise when you are involved with marijuana in a legalized state and are also subject to other federal laws or rules:
- If you work for the federal government, you cannot use marijuana.
- You can lose your federal financial student aid for using or possessing marijuana.
- To purchase a firearm, you must complete a federal form that asks about marijuana use.
- You cannot use marijuana on federal lands.
- You could lose federally-subsidized housing for marijuana use.
Know the risks associated with using, growing, or possessing marijuana, even if it is legal in your state. While the federal government is not prioritizing arrests, you can technically be charged with a federal crime. Stay within state laws and regulations related to marijuana.
What Should I Do if I Have Been Arrested for Drug Crimes?
If you get arrested for a drug crime, remain calm and cooperate with the police. It is important to know your right before being arrested. If the police ask to search you, your car, or your home, you can say no. They can only search if they have probable cause.
You have a right to remain silent during this process, and you should. This extends to written statements. Do not sign anything. You have a right to a lawyer, so wait until you have representation before answering any questions or signing a statement. You could accidentally incriminate yourself. If you cannot afford a lawyer, request a public defender.
Your lawyer will help you request bail so you can return home and help them build your defense. You may be able to get a plea bargain for reduced charges and a lesser sentence. You may have to go to trial, where your lawyer will defend you.
Drug crimes, even minor incidents, come with stiff penalties and often significant jail time. It’s best to stay away from illicit substances, but contact a drug crime lawyer to represent you if you do get caught.