Q: My brother was arrested for possession of marijuana. Someone told us that possession of marijuana is a felony and he could actually go to jail! Is that true? How are drugs classified and are some drugs considered worse than others?
A: To help answer your question, I enlisted my associate Michelle White, who formerly worked in the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office. In the early 1970's the Federal Government, as part of it’s war on drugs campaign, signed into effect a comprehensive drug prevention act. Many states, including Florida, quickly followed suit. Accordingly, drug crimes in Florida are governed by Florida’s Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act.
The Act places drugs into five groups called schedules. Each schedule consists of different types of drugs and possession of drugs in each schedule carries different penalties, with Schedule I being the most severely punished and Schedule V being the least. Schedule I contains drugs which have a high potential for abuse and have no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. It contains drugs such as heroin, LSD (acid) and mescaline (peyote). A person found to be in possession of a Schedule I drug commits a felony of the second degree which is punishable by up to fifteen (15) years in prison. Interestingly enough, marijuana, or cannabis, is listed as a Schedule I drug. However, there is a special exception for marijuana. A person who is convicted of possession of not more than 20 grams of marijuana commits a first degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year imprisonment. There is some controversy over whether marijuana should even be listed as a Schedule I drug and there has been talk to removing it, but for now it remains in Schedule I.
Schedule II contains drugs which have a high potential for abuse and have a currently accepted but severely restricted medical use in treatment in the United States. Abuse of the drugs listed in Schedule II may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. Schedule II is divided into three sub-parts which includes drugs such as amphetamine (Adderall), hydrocodone (Vicodin) and methadone (Meth). A person found to be in possession of a Schedule II drug commits either a second degree felony which is punishable by up to fifteen (15) years in prison or a third degree felony punishable by up to five (5) years imprisonment depending upon which sub-part the drug is in.
Schedule III drugs have less potential for abuse than Schedule I or II drugs. Schedule III drugs have a currently accepted medical use in the U.S. Abuse of Schedule III drugs can lead to moderate or low physical dependence and high psychological dependence. In the case of anabolic steroids, abuse can lead to physical damage to the body and vital organs. Schedule III includes Nalorphine, Lysergic acid (a derivative of LSD), and all anabolic steroids. A person found to be in possession of a Schedule III drug commits either a second degree felony which is punishable by up to fifteen (15) years in prison or a third degree felony punishable by up to five (5) years imprisonment depending upon which sub-part the drug is in. Schedule IV drugs are similar to Schedule III but have slightly less potential for abuse. Improper use is said to have limited physical or psychological dependence and there are medically accepted uses for all of the drugs. Some examples include Medazepam, Clonazepam, and Phenobarbital. Punishment for Schedule IV drugs is the same as for Schedule III.
Schedule V drugs are the least severely punished. The drugs have a low potential for abuse and which may lead to limited physical and/or psychological dependence. Schedule V drugs have a medically accepted use in the United States and include codeine, diphenoxylate, and ethylmorphine. A person who is convicted of possession of a Schedule V drug commits a first degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year imprisonment.
Of course the amount of drugs will also affect how severely a person is charged. For example, a person in possession of more than 28 grams of cocaine will be charged with trafficking in cocaine, a first degree felony, and if convicted, faces up to thirty (30) years in prison! Similarly, if your brother was caught with over twenty-five (25) pounds of cannabis he will be charged with trafficking in cannabis, a first degree felony.
As you can see, the consequences of a drug conviction are severe, even for the most minor charge. Anyone arrested for, or charged with, any drug offense should consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible.