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Possession of a Controlled Substance

What is Illegal Possession of a Controlled Substance?

Illegal possession of a controlled substance happens when someone is found carrying without permission or justification a drug or other controlled substance such as cocaine, methamphetamine (known as meth), marijuana, heroin, ecstasy or other narcotics.“Possessing” doesn’t mean that the police have to find the drugs “on”the perpetrator. Being found “in possession” can generally occur in 3 situations:

  • Actual – You are physically carrying them
  • Constructive – A place that you own or have control over, such as your bag, car or home
  • Shared – The drugs are in a place you own or control together with another person (apartment, house). In this case, the partner could be charged if they were aware of the possession, yet they did not act against it

Controlled Substance Schedules

How Drugs Are Classified

Controlled substances are divided into 5 main categories called “Schedules”which determine the fine and/or the sentence. Schedule IV drugs are the least serious to be found in possession of, while Schedule I substances are the worst to possess without a prescription from a doctor, dentist, physician assistant or optometrist.

  • Schedule I drugs (Ecstasy, Heroin, Methaqualone, and Peyote) have a high potential for abuse and lead to Category B felony, carrying a sentence of 1 to 6 years in prison;
  • Schedule II (Cocaine, Adderall, Hydrocodone, Oxycodone “OxyContin”, Ritalin, Fentanyl, Dexedrine, Methadone, Demerol) are also known as dangerous drugs;
  • Schedule III (Steroids, Ketamine, Testosterone) are substances known to have a low to moderate risk of psychological and physical dependence;
  • Schedule IV (Ambien, Ativan, Darvon, Darvocet, Valium, Xanax, Soma, Talwin, Tramadol) with low potential for dependence or abuse;
  • Schedule V (Demerol, Motofen, Lomotil, Lyrica, Opium, Parepectolina, and Robitussin) are chemicals with low potential for abuse which are used for antitussive, antidiarrheal, and analgesic purposes.

Penalties for Possession of a Controlled Substance

Penalties for Possession

The severity of the penalty depends upon several factors, such as the state laws, the amount and type of drug involved, the circumstances, whether it’s for personal use or selling, and the criminal history of the perpetrator.

  • Fines. Drug possession convictions can end up with a fine of $100 and up to $100,000 or more
  • Jail or prison time. This ranges from a few days, weeks and could reach 10 years or more behind bars
  • Probation. The offender has to stay in touch with a probation officer for regular check-ups and to obey strict rules, such as to stop using drugs. If they fail to conform, they risk incarceration
  • Diversion. Similar to probation, diversion programs are used for first-offenders guilty of illegal possession. Charges are dropped if the perpetrator follows a behavior modification or a counseling program for around 6 months
  • Rehabilitation. The lawbreaker must enroll in a drug treatment program instead of going to jail

Aggravating Circumstances in Drug Possession Cases

Aggravating Circumstances

Possessing illegal substances could be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. For example, in Kentucky, possessing non-narcotic Schedule I and II substances is a misdemeanor, while possessing Schedule I or II narcotics is a felony.

If “aggravating factors" apply, misdemeanors can easily escalate into felonies. In general, the consequences are more severe under the following aggravating circumstances:

  • On or near drug treatment facilities;
  • Offenders who have previous drug convictions;
  • Possession near or in a school, school bus or school bus stop;
  • Carrying drugs on public transportation, on or near public parks, housing units or swimming pools.

In addition to the above, for instance, Delaware increases punishments if the offense occurs in a place of worship (church, mosque, temple, synagogue), in a car or if a minor more than 4 years younger than the adult offender is involved.


State Drug Possession Laws

State Drug Laws

Each state has its laws regarding drug possession and they can vary widely from one state to another. In Illinois, for instance, carrying 15-100 grams of meth, heroin or cocaine, can lead to a felony conviction with 4 to 15 years behind bars and/or a fine of up to $200,000.

In Texas, possession is at least a “Class B” or a “Class A” misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to 1 year in jail and/or a fine that cannot be higher than $4,000. If consistent amounts of illegal chemicals are involved, the punishment can range from a third-degree felony up to a first-degree felony. The highest penalty given in Texas for drug possession a fine of up to $250,000 and/or life or 99 years in prison.

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