The Drug Enforcement Agency, which is a division of the United States Justice Department, is the agency responsible for enforcing the laws of the United States when it comes to drugs. These men and women put their lives on the line every day to capture drugs and the people who traffic them. If you or someone you know is using, abusing or selling drugs, it might be a good idea to understand exactly what is at stake. When it comes to the illicit drug trade and the damage it causes to people around the world, the United States government doesn’t pull any punches.
Statistically speaking, the DEA has a pretty good track record. According to their official fact sheet, the DEA has 226 offices located in 21 various sections of the US. They also have offices in over 80 countries, since many drugs come to our country from overseas. When tracking down dealers and growers in other nations, the law enforcement agencies in those countries depend upon the United States’ DEA agents to lead the way.
So what, exactly, are the United States’ policies when it comes to drugs? What are the laws that these men and women enforce?
What Is a Controlled Substance?
Commonly referred to as “drugs,” controlled substances are substances that the US government has placed on a list of illegal or illicit materials. Some of these substances may be legally prescribed while others, such as LSD, have no medicinal purpose whatsoever.
The US legal code breaks down the acts prohibited by law into three categories of offenses: A, B and C. Parts B and C concern legal manufacturers that are registered with the United States to make medications. Because many of these medications are also controlled substances, the individuals are held to a higher standard and must adhere to very strict rules and regulations.
For the average citizen, the laws in the “A” category of the Controlled Substance Act are of primary concern.
- It is illegal to manufacture a controlled substance.
- It is illegal to distribute a controlled substance.
- It is illegal to dispense a controlled substance.
- It is illegal to possess a controlled substance with intent to distribute, manufacture or dispense the controlled substance.
- It is illegal to create a counterfeit substance with intent to distribute or dispense.
- It is illegal to distribute a counterfeit substance.
- It is illegal to possess a counterfeit substance with intent to distribute or dispense.
The actual code, as it is written, does not separate each of these issues independently; however, it can be difficult to understand what each section means when the prohibitions are lumped together in such a technical manner. If you read each one independently and learn what each part means, they make more sense.
Manufacturing a controlled substance can include growing marijuana, mixing chemicals to make methamphetamine or cutting cocaine down from its pure form into a more diluted state. It is simply against the law to make drugs, in any way, shape or form. That one is fairly simple.
Distribution of a controlled substance means the same as distribution of other goods and services. The process of moving a product from the manufacturing plant to the point of sale, or any location in between, is distribution. When a drug manufacturer hires someone to pick up the controlled substances and take them to a central location where other drivers will pick up a share to deliver to others, they are engaging in distribution. The drivers are also engaging in distribution of the controlled substances, even though they did not create (manufacture) the drugs.
The dispensing of a drug occurs when one person gives the drugs to another person. It does not matter if money changes hands. When one individual provides a friend with a couple of pain pills that were left over from their sprained ankle because their friend has a horrible backache, they have engaged in the illegal activity of dispensing a controlled substance. This, just like the selling of drugs in large quantities to strangers, is a crime.
When an individual is in possession of a certain amount of drugs, it can be assumed that they intend to distribute and/or dispense the drugs. The amount of drugs a person must possess before the intent to distribute is assumed varies depending upon the type of drug. The general rule is based upon any amount that is unreasonable for the individual who possesses the drug to consume for personal use. Therefore, if an individual has a trunk full of marijuana, it is legal to assume that they are in the process of distributing these drugs to others for sale or use. Remember, it doesn’t matter whether they intended to sell the drugs or give the drugs away for free – distribution is distribution.
Even more dangerous than the use and abuse of actual controlled substances can be the manufacture of counterfeit substances. Some of the counterfeit drugs may be deadly poisons. In other cases, an individual may manufacture sugar pills to look exactly like Ecstasy or Lortab in order to sell the “fake” drugs. It might seem like a safe, harmless way to make a few extra dollars, except that it is just as illegal, under the same code of the law, as manufacturing the real thing.
It is not illegal, according to this particular statute, however, to buy or possess the counterfeit drugs. It is only illegal to possess counterfeit drugs if you are going to profit from them by way of manufacture or distribution. If you accidentally buy sugar pills rather than Ecstasy, you can be thankful for two reasons: You have not broken the law, and you may not overdose or risk the harmful effects of addiction.
What Are the Penalties for Breaking the Laws of the ‘A’ Category?
This is a difficult question to answer. The penalty depends upon what kind of drug is involved, and what the outcome of the events was that led to arrest and conviction.
For instance, the average term for violation of this code is a sentence of 10 years in a federal prison, but it could be as much as life in prison. If a person has more than 1,000 marijuana plants growing behind his barn, he could face these penalties. If an individual has 100 grams of PCP (phencyclidine) or one kilogram of any substance that contains any detectible amount of PCP, he could find himself in the same position as our aforementioned individual growing marijuana. Very different drugs, in very different amounts, can lead to the same penalty.
If someone dies, or is seriously injured, as a result of the criminal activity, the person convicted could face a life sentence, no matter how much of the controlled substance he possessed. This means that if someone who takes the drugs provided suffers an overdose, the penalty will go up. If violence occurs during the arrest and anyone is shot or otherwise injured during the process of resisting arrest — even if the injured individual is one of the suspected criminals — the surviving suspects could face life in prison instead of 10 years in prison. If the suspects choose to evade the DEA or other federal agents by driving recklessly away and an innocent bystander is injured in a car accident that might result, the sentence will increase. As a matter of fact, according the law, the individuals held responsible will face a prison term of at least 20 years in the event of death or serious bodily injury.
In other cases, if the individual possesses lower amounts of a drug, the sentence can range between a minimum of five years in prison to a maximum of 40 years, depending upon their criminal history and the specific circumstances.
Prison is not the only penalty. Most, if not all, convictions will also have significant fines associated with the sentence. In some cases, if the individual is convicted in a large-scale distribution case, the monetary penalties can reach into the millions of dollars. For the average citizen, however, the amounts are far less, such as $5,000 or $10,000. After spending several years in prison, the convicted felon will need to find a way to arrange for the payment of these fines.
Some Drugs Are More Dangerous to Your Freedom Than Others
Schedule I drugs are substances that have been deemed even more dangerous that the average illicit drugs. Drugs like heroin or GHB are so dangerous, they are given a higher status in the ranks of controlled substances. GHB is the notorious “date-rape” drug that caused the poisoning death of 15-year-old Samantha Reid. Her death at the hands of three older boys and a grown man of 26 who placed the drug GHB into her drink at a high school party resulted in the passing of the Hillory J. Farias and Samantha Reid Date-Rape Drug Prohibition Act of 2000, signed into law by President Bill Clinton. This statute severely increases the penalties for the use of this drug against someone who is not aware they are taking it. If convicted for a single, first offense, the minimum sentence is 20 years to life in prison. Subsequent convictions will result in additional penalties.
It is the policy of the United States in many situations to expect her citizens to exercise certain levels of common sense. For instance, when an individual takes a loaded gun into a convenience store with the intention of robbing the clerk, and that clerk is killed when the nervous criminal accidentally pulls the trigger, a murder has occurred. It does not matter, in a case like this, whether “intent” to commit murder exists. The individual took a loaded gun into a store to commit a crime. It is reasonable to assume that the bullet might leave the gun and someone will be harmed or worse.
It is the same with the use of certain drugs. Because the government knows — and expects reasonable persons to know — that certain drugs, like Ketamine or GHB, are used specifically to commit sexual assaults against innocent or unsuspecting victims, it is assumed that the recipient of the drug is in danger. If they are seriously injured or killed because of the actions of another — even if the person who drugged them was not present when they were injured — the person who gave them the drugs will be held as responsible as if they personally harmed the victim.
The laws of the United States are rather clear when it comes to the manufacture and sale of illicit drugs. When an individual chooses to engage in these crimes, they are placing themselves, their families and many innocent people at risk.
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