Understanding the Five Controlled Substance Schedules
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified controlled substances (CSs) into five schedules. These schedules represent the varying degrees to which the classified drugs have the potential to be addictive or the potential for abuse. Also factored into drug scheduling are the drugs’ accepted medical uses (if any are recognized).
Examples of drugs from the different drug schedules:
- Schedule I: heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and marijuana
- Schedule II: Vicodin, cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl, and OxyContin
- Schedule III: ketamine, anabolic steroids, and Tylenol with codeine
- Schedule IV: Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Ambien
- Schedule V: Robitussin AC, Lomotil, Motofen, and Lyrica
Schedule I drugs are considered those which have the highest risk of abuse or addictiveness and which generally have no accepted medical usage. Meanwhile, Schedule V drugs have the lowest risk for addictiveness or abuse. However, drug scheduling can be confusing as the federal government’s assessment of certain substances does not always coincide with how a state treats specific drugs.
The schedule in which a drug is classified will impact how someone is charged, whether they face misdemeanor or felony charges, and the penalties they may face upon a conviction. Schedule I drug offenses tend to be prosecuted as felonies, while drug charges associated with lower schedules may be treated as misdemeanors or have less severe penalties.
Other factors that may affect how drug charges are filed include:
- The circumstances surrounding the alleged crime
- The specific drug involved
- The amount of drugs involved in the alleged crime
- Whether any other crimes were allegedly committed at the same time
- Whether anyone was injured or killed while the alleged crime was committed
- Whether the person charged has any previous convictions on their record
- Whether the alleged crime was committed in a school zone or the presence of minor children
- Whether the crime was transacted across state lines or international borders
Can You Be Prosecuted If the Drug Is Not Listed?
Yes, a drug does not need to be listed as Schedule I or II for someone to face criminal charges for drug crimes associated with that drug. Controlled substances that do not feature specifically on the drug schedules are referred to as controlled substance analogs. A controlled substance analog is a drug that is pharmacologically or structurally similar to another drug already featured on the drug scheduling list. Alternatively, a drug that is similar enough to the point where it can be considered as being represented by another drug already listed may also be considered a controlled substance analog.
Review 21 USC § 802 for more information on controlled substance analogs.
The Case with Marijuana Charges, Federal vs. State
As mentioned above, a drug’s medical usage is considered when classifying it in a specific schedule. However, this can be complicated as some drugs that many believe have valid medical and research use but the federal government does not recognize it. Furthermore, the opinion on a drug’s potential for abuse may have changed over time, leading to a disparity in how the federal government classifies it vs. state governments. Marijuana is just such a drug.
Even though the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, in New York, it is legal for adults 21 and older to possess cannabis in certain quantities for recreational purposes (the medical use of marijuana has been legal in NY since 2014). Adults are also allowed to smoke or vape marijuana/cannabis wherever it is legal to smoke tobacco (there are a few exceptions).
Adults 21 and older are allowed to possess the following quantities:
- Up to three ounces of cannabis
- Up to 24 grams of concentrated cannabis
Because marijuana possession and use remain illegal at a federal level, marijuana charges can be incredibly complicated and difficult to manage. If you are facing marijuana charges at either the state or federal level, it is crucial that you work with an experienced drug crimes defense lawyer, like ours at Foley Griffin, to ensure your rights are being protected.
At Foley Griffin, our criminal defense team is fully versed in state and federal drug laws, and we have extensive experience representing clients facing a wide range of charges. We are prepared to help you with all aspects of your case, from investigating the situation to uncovering all your legal options to representing you in court.
Whether you are dealing with a first-time misdemeanor or need help developing a strong defense strategy for serious federal charges, we are here to help guide you. Our team is known for our aggressive advocacy, and we fight hard to protect your future and your freedom.
Schedule a free case consultation today by calling (888) 966-8480 or sending us a message online.