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Federal drug schedules dictate potential penalties

You may assume that if a police officer here in Indiana arrests you on alleged drug crimes, that you would face charges in the Indiana criminal justice system. Oddly enough, that may not be the case. While many drug crimes remain with the state, you could discover that your case went to federal court.

If that happens, what kind of penalties could you face? Would it be the same as in the state system? The easy answer to that question is a simple maybe, but what really determines the potential penalties in a federal drug case is where the substance falls in the federal drug schedules.

How could a state drug case end up in federal court?

The supremacy clause in the U.S. Constitution allows the federal government to step in when a conflict between federal law and state law exists. Since drug crimes fall under both federal and state jurisdiction, the circumstances of a particular case could move a state drug case into federal court. This means that if you face any of the following related drug charges, your case could end up in federal court or state court:

  • Possession with the intent to distribute
  • Manufacturing
  • Trafficking
  • Dispensing
  • Importing
  • Exporting

You could also face charges for attempting to conspire or for conspiring to engage in any of the above activities.

What are these schedules?

The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 divided most drugs into five schedules. Depending on the substance that law enforcement officials claim you possessed at the time of your arrest, you could face increasingly harsher penalties. For instance, a Schedule I drug would yield harsher penalties for a conviction than a Schedule V drug.

Schedule I includes drugs that have no apparent medical use, involve a high probability of addiction and are unsafe. At this point, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance despite several states now legalizing its use for certain medical conditions and other states legalizing it for recreational use. So, even if you visit a state where recreational marijuana use is legal, or you use it for medicinal purposes, you are still violating federal law.

Drugs listed in Schedules II through V have medicinal value and vary in degree of potential addiction and dependence. They range from drugs like Percocet and OxyContin to cough syrup with codeine, and many in between. If your doctor legally prescribed the medication for you and you use it for its intended purposes, you should not face prosecution for possessing them. However, if you possess quantities of a certain medication that are much larger than would be prescribed by a doctor, you could be in trouble.

Facing federal drug charges

In the end, it doesn't matter whether you face state or federal drug charges. You retain the right to challenge the charges. As you do so, you may find yourself in a better position if you work alongside an attorney experienced in handling cases in federal court.

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