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What is a Drug Crime?

What is a Drug Crime?

Drug Crimes… Explained

It is illegal either under state law or federal law, or both, to purchase, possess, sell, distribute, or manufacture any controlled substances. There are numerous types of controlled substances that are placed into certain categories, which determine the severity of any sentencing if someone violates a drug law.

A controlled substance includes illegal drugs such as heroin, marijuana, PCP, methamphetamine, LSD, amphetamines, and barbiturates. Drugs that are not considered to have any medicinal value and have a high risk of addiction and harm will carry more severe sentences.

These crimes can involve significant prison time so a drug attorney should be consulted if you are charged.

Types of Drug Crimes


Possession of an illegal drug is the least severe of drug crimes. To prove possession, the state must prove:

  1. Having the drug under your control, such as in your pocket, car, dresser, or any area over which you intended to have control.
  2. The drug must be listed as a controlled substance. Usually, a lab test will confirm the identity of the drug.
  3. The accused knew that the drug was illegal, or should have known.

A sentence for possession can result in a conditional discharge or deferred sentence, and is subject to being dismissed if the offender completes a drug education class and commits no other crimes for a set period. This is usually reserved for first offenders for small quantities of drugs.

A larger quantity, such as possession of more than one ounce of marijuana, may subject the defendant to a felony, which carries more than one year of prison time. If the drug was heroin or in a higher controlled substance classification, the penalties are more severe.

A skilled drug attorney can challenge each element of this offense and force the prosecution to present credible evidence that meets the standard of proof.

Intent to Sell

A more serious offense is the intent to sell, which can mean incarceration for 5-10 years in some states for even first offenders. Subsequent offenses can mean up to life in some jurisdictions, depending on the quantity, type of drug, and past criminal record.

The intent to sell can be inferred by the amount of the drug found in possession, which is unlikely to be for the defendant’s sole use. If at the time of arrest, the police find large amounts of cash, scales, bags, or lists of clients, these can be evidence of an intent to sell or distribute.

An intent to sell charge carries substantial prison time. Retaining a competent drug defense lawyer is vital in these cases.

Manufacture or Cultivation

The drugs most susceptible to being manufactured are methamphetamines and hallucinogens. Meth labs are not uncommon and careless manufacturers may unintentionally cause explosions.

Cultivating marijuana is also a crime, regardless if the drug is being grown in a state that permits medical marijuana. Also, possession and sale of marijuana remains a federal offense even if it is permitted by a state for certified medical purposes.

The penalties for manufacture or cultivation are usually very severe and can be from 20 to 40 years in prison or even life for a subsequent conviction, with fines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.


The state must prove each element of a drug offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Possession must be proved by showing that the drug is somehow connected to the accused and not to anyone else. If a drug is found in an apartment or car shared by various people, it may not be sufficient to prove possession.

Law enforcement must also conduct legal searches. Searches and seizures can be from observing the drug in plain view or pursuant to a lawfully obtained search warrant that is carefully adhered to, or it can be challenged successfully in court and the evidence suppressed.

Further, the detention of the accused must be legal before a search of the person and his or her immediate area can be performed, generally for weapons and not anything else. Going beyond this may exceed the permissible scope.

Likewise, a search warrant must be issued on probable cause and attested to and signed. It must specifically name the areas to be searched and the items that are the subject of the search.

Lack of knowledge that a drug was in the defendant’s presence is another viable defense.

Only a knowledgeable drug lawyer with years of experience in trying and handling these cases should be representing you in a drug case. These may involve complex issues of fact and law that only a skilled drug attorney can adequately handle.

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