The federal government has numerous laws that govern narcotics violations and other drug-related offenses. The government takes drug crimes seriously and prosecutes them aggressively, and you can receive harsh penalties that include substantial prison time and fines, along with other adverse repercussions on your life and future.
If federal officers have arrested you or are investigating you for alleged narcotics violations, you should understand the laws so you know what to expect. You also need to consult an experienced federal criminal defense attorney immediately to advise you of your options, assert your rights, and help you develop the most effective defense possible.
Understanding Federal Narcotics Laws
The Controlled Substances Act defines the federal government's laws regarding illicit narcotics and controlled prescribed medication. Additionally, Title 21 U.S.C § 841 defines the government's offenses and penalties with respect to narcotics and controlled substances violations.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (D.E.A.) classifies drugs and controlled substances into five categories based on various factors, including their potential for abuse or dependence, their accepted medical use, and their risk to public health, among others. The schedules are:
Schedule I – Have a high potential for abuse or dependence, and they have no currently accepted medical use in the U.S. They also hold the potential to cause harm to the user without medical supervision, and they include drugs such as heroin, ecstasy, L.S.D., and marijuana.
Schedule II – Have a high potential for abuse as well, but they also have an accepted medical use, albeit with severe restrictions. They also have a high level of dependence and include cocaine, morphine, methamphetamine, Vicodin, and Adderall.
Schedule III – Have a lower potential for abuse than Schedule I or II, and they typically lead to low or moderate physical or psychological dependence. They also have a currently accepted medical use and include Tylenol with codeine, anabolic steroids, testosterone, and ketamine.
Schedule IV – Have a low potential for abuse with limited physical or psychological dependence. They also have accepted medical use and include Valium, Xanax, Ambien, and Tramadol.
Schedule V – Have an even lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV and a lower potential for dependence. They have an accepted medical use and include Lyrica, Lomotil, and Robitussin A.C.
Although the federal government allows states to determine the legality of marijuana for either medical or recreational use within their borders, the drug remains illegal at the federal level, and the government can still pursue criminal charges against those who cultivate, smuggle, traffic, or possess substantial quantities of marijuana. This is particularly true if the violations occurred across state or international borders, affected interstate or foreign commerce, or happened on property that falls under federal jurisdiction.
Furthermore, the law includes chemicals or substances that could be used to manufacture illegal narcotics, including cocoa leaves that could be converted to cocaine, crude opium, and poppy straw.
Types of Narcotics Violations
The government can charge you with a variety of narcotics violations that include:
- Drug Trafficking
- Drug Smuggling
- Drug Importing/Exporting
- Drug Manufacturing
- Drug Distribution
- Drug Cultivation
- Drug Possession
- Attempt and Conspiracy
The specific charges you will receive will depend on the types and amounts of drugs involved, as well as your role in committing the violation (i.e., you were manufacturing them with intent to distribute, or you only possessed a smaller quantity).
Also, you can face more than one charge at once. For instance, prosecutors could charge you with manufacturing, distribution, and trafficking, along with possession. Additionally, the government can prosecute you for RICO violations and other offenses if you were part of a criminal organization.
Penalties for Narcotics Violations
The penalties for narcotics violations are as broad as the laws themselves. Minimum sentences can range from five to 10 years or up to 20 to 25 years. You can even receive life in federal prison or the death penalty for certain offenses, such as if you harmed or killed someone during the crime.
Also, you could face considerable fines that could go as high as $10,000,000 if you killed or seriously hurt anyone during the crime. Fines can double if you have previous convictions, and if you are part of a criminal drug ring, you could pay fines of up to 50 to 75 million dollars.
The First Step Act
The government enacted the Final Step Act (F.S.A.) in 2018 to reform federal sentencing guidelines for narcotics violations, many of which seemed too harsh and led to overpopulated prisons. The F.S.A. created several significant changes to sentencing requirements, including:
- Modified “Three Strikes” Law – Under the former guidelines, you could receive a mandatory life sentence on your third conviction for a drug crime, even for a relatively low-level state drug offense. The F.S.A. reduced the sentence to a 25-year minimum and redefined the type of drug offense to include only felony drug crimes or ones that resulted in serious bodily injury.
- Reduced Mandatory Minimum – The F.S.A. reduced the mandatory minimum sentence for a 2nd drug crime conviction from 20 to 15 years.
- Expanded the Safety Valve – The F.S.A. expanded the so-called safety valve provision to allow courts to impose sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders that are lower than mandatory minimums.
The F.S.A. also contains provisions that provide relief for crack cocaine convictions, which can be retroactive. It also contains provisions for the compassionate release of elderly and terminally ill convicts, confinement close to home, and incentives for success, among others.
Additionally, President Joe Biden issued a presidential proclamation on October 6, 2022, that pardons federal convictions for simple possession of marijuana. The proclamation does not include state or local convictions.
Defenses for Federal Narcotics Violations
Your defense options will depend on the facts and circumstances of your case, and you need to consult an attorney who has extensive knowledge of federal narcotics laws and can help you develop a strong and effective strategy. You also need an attorney with experience defending clients in federal court.
If you have already been convicted of federal narcotics violations, you need to consult an attorney to see if the Final Step Act or the presidential proclamation applies to your case and can help provide you relief.
Get Help From an Experienced Federal Defense Attorney
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has defended many clients in New Jersey district court for various narcotics violations, and he can advise you of your options and fight for your rights and future. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or fill out our contact form to request a confidential consultation.