Classifications of Drugs and Related Crimes

70959-20121218Drug crimes are regulated by state and federal laws.  Many states, including California, have based their laws on the federal Controlled Substances Act.  This Act regulates the manufacture, import, possession, use and distribution of certain substances.  The Act categorizes all federally regulated substances into one of five “schedules.”  The category, or the “schedule,” the substance is placed into depends on whether it has an accepted medical use, its potential for abuse, how hazardous it is, and its addictive properties.

Whether a substance becomes a “controlled substance” is determined by the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Food and Drug Administration.  These agencies also determine which schedule the substance is placed into.

Schedule I. 

Schedule I substances have: a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment, and a lack of accepted safety for use of the substance under medical supervision.  Doctors cannot write prescriptions for Schedule I substances.  Schedule I substances include Heroin, MDMA (ecstasy), and LSD.

Marijuana is also listed as a Schedule I drug, however, there has been a long history of controversy over listing marijuana as a Schedule I substance and numerous challenges to change this classification.  There is a case currently pending before the US District Court of Appeal for the D.C. Circuit asking the court to determine whether marijuana should continue to be listed as a Schedule I substance.  The plaintiffs in that case have argued that marijuana has medicinal uses and has not been shown to have the abusive qualities of other substances such as methamphetamines.   That court has not yet issued its decision.

In contrast to the Controlled Substances Act, California has decriminalized marijuana use, possession, growth, and sale for medicinal purposes.  This is at odds with the federal regulations and there has been substantial tension between California and the federal government over California’s decriminalization of marijuana.

Schedule II.

Schedule II substances have: a high potential for abuse, currently accepted medical use in treatment, and abuse may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.  Schedule II substances include cocaine, methamphetamines, opium, and methadone.

Schedule II substances can be dispensed with a prescription, but they cannot be refilled.

Schedule III.

Schedule III substances have: a potential for abuse less than the substances in Schedules I and II, a currently accepted medical use in treatment, and abuse may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence.  Schedule III substances include steroids, and acetaminophen or aspirin that contains codeine or hydrocodone.

Schedule III substances can be dispensed with a prescription, but the prescription can only be good for six months and can only be refilled five times within that six month period.

Schedule IV.

Schedule IV substances have: a low potential for abuse relative to drugs in Schedule III, a current accepted medical use in treatment, and abuse may lead to limited physical dependence or psychological dependence relative to substances in Schedule III.  Schedule IV drugs include benzodiazepines and barbiturates.

Schedule IV substances can be dispensed with a prescription, but the prescription can only be good for six months and can only be refilled five times within that six month period.

Schedule V.

Schedule V substances have: a low potential for abuse relative to the substances in Schedule IV, a currently accepted medical use in treatment, and abuse of the substance may lead to limited physical dependence or psychological dependence relative to the substances in Schedule IV.   Schedule V substances include cough suppressants and preparations containing small amounts of opium used to treat diarrhea.

Schedule V substances can be distributed without a prescription, but only for a medical purpose.

In California, if a person is convicted of a drug offense, the punishment assigned is affected by the type of drug or substance involved.  Crimes involving Schedule I substances are often subject to a more severe and harsh punishment than crimes involving a Schedule IV substance.  Depending on the drug, judges can be given discretion to consider other factors in determining the length of a sentence to impose on a defendant, or even whether a defendant is eligible for deferred entry of judgment, diversion, or rehabilitation program instead of prison or jail, and whether the charge may be reduced to a misdemeanor.

This office handles all types of matters related to defending criminal drug charges in San Diego County.






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