Legal Consequences Of Drug Addiction

While some drugs have been or are being legalized in certain states, there are still legal consequences for drug addiction. Federal law imposes penalties relating to drugs, and people facing drug addiction may also face penalties from state and local governments.

Legal Consequences Of Drug Addiction

Along with the many health problems associated with drug abuse, people may also experience legal consequences related to possessing or selling illegal drugs.

These consequences vary depending on a number of factors such as the state you live in and how often you have been charged with a drug-related offense.

Other factors that affect the legal consequences of drugs include the level of laws people have violated and the types of drug offenses they face.

Federal, State, And Local Laws On Drugs

Drug use can bring you into contact with three levels of the law: federal, state, and local.

This doesn’t mean that state law will protect you from federal law if you are in a state that has legalized marijuana, for example.

But it usually means that penalties from all three levels of law will be added together if you are convicted.

Federal Laws

Generally speaking, federal laws against drug use have the harshest penalties.

Whereas many states have legalized marijuana and some are on their way toward legalizing certain psychedelic drugs, the federal government still views marijuana and psychedelics as Schedule I drugs.

This means that in the eyes of the federal government, they are illicit drugs with no medical value.

But even where both state and federal governments agree on which drugs are illegal, federal penalties are usually stricter.

State Laws

Where state and federal laws agree, people in the criminal legal system may face compounded penalties.

For example, if you are convicted of drug trafficking, the applicable penalties enforced by the state may be added to those enforced by the federal government.

Sometimes states have specific laws over areas where the federal government does not. For example, in some states, it is against the law to be in the presence or company of someone in possession of an illicit drug, whether you are aware of it or not.

Local Laws

The local jurisdiction of cities can play into this dynamic as well. Cities may have specific laws about public use and consumption, especially of alcohol.

The penalties for these, such as fines or community service, may be added to other penalties.

Types Of Penalties

Violating drug laws can result in a variety of penalties.

Penalties for drug crimes include:

  • jail time
  • fines
  • loss of federal benefits such as school loans or grants, contracts, or licenses
  • loss of property such as cars or personal belongings
  • loss of real estate

If you are a university student, you could also face academic discipline or expulsion. This could go on your record making it difficult to gain admission to another school.

Types Of Drug Offenses

The penalties that you may face from drug laws will vary depending on the type of drug involved and the type of drug offense that you are facing.

The penalties for drug offenses also vary based on the amount of drug involved and whether or not you are facing a first-time offense.

Drug Possession

The minimum amount of jail time you can expect to face for the possession of an illegal drug is up to one year plus a fine between $1,000 and $100,000.

Fines and jail time increase with each subsequent conviction up to a maximum of three years in prison and a minimum fine of $5,000.

Drug Trafficking

Drug trafficking, or possession with the intent to sell, carries much heavier fines and penalties.

Law enforcement officials usually determine trafficking by:

  • the amount of drugs in your possession
  • possession of a lot of cash
  • the presence of paraphernalia such as baggies, scales, and other items

Possession with intent to sell 1 kilogram (kg) of heroin can result in 10 years to life in jail. Less than a kilogram of heroin can get you five to 40 years in jail.

Also, possession of different drug amounts (with intent to sell) can trigger the same penalty depending on the drug. For example, the possession of 1,000 kg of marijuana results in the same level of penalties as the possession of 1 kg of heroin (as mentioned above) or 100 grams of methamphetamine.

Finally, if death or bodily harm comes from drugs that you have sold, you could face mandatory life in prison and an $8 million fine.

Misdemeanor Versus Felony Charges

Misdemeanors generally carry a lighter penalty than felonies. Felonies are usually connected to serious crimes, often those where violence is involved.

Possession of illegal drugs usually constitutes a misdemeanor charge. However, depending on certain conditions, you could be charged with a felony.

Conditions that could result in a felony charge include:

  • the laws of the state in which you are charged
  • the kind of drug associated with the charge (in other words, how dangerous the drug is considered to be)
  • intent to sell
  • whether or not violence is involved


The place where you sell drugs can also affect penalties. For example, if you sell drugs within 1,000 feet of a university, you could face penalties that are twice as high as they might otherwise be.

This is probably in effect to discourage the sale of illegal drugs to young adults and curb drug use among young people.

Consequences For Drug-Related Offenses

The possession of drugs and drug trafficking are not the only offenses you can be charged with. You can also face indirect legal consequences for substance abuse.

Drug-seeking behaviors, including those involved with prescription drugs or prescription opioids, can often lead to legal trouble.

These behaviors include:

  • stealing
  • using an alias (to obtain prescription drugs)
  • forging prescriptions
  • selling prescriptions that you have hoarded to pay for other drugs

Legal Consequences Of Alcohol

There are also legal consequences of alcohol, even though alcohol has been legal for decades. You can still be charged for behavior resulting from alcohol misuse.

Illegal behavior resulting from alcohol includes underage drinking and driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol.

If you kill someone while operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, you may be charged with manslaughter.

Drug Court And How It Works

For some drug offenses, you may be diverted to drug court. Drug courts began in 1989 and have since grown to 4,000 programs throughout the United States.

Although the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs (OJP) supports drug court programs, these programs are not officially part of the criminal legal system.

Traditional courts, however, may refer people facing charges of drug-related criminal activity to drug court. Area drug court programs then assign people to treatment programs.

If these people successfully complete addiction treatment, which usually includes drug testing to ensure success, they could get criminal charges dropped.

Find Substance Abuse Treatment Today

If you or a loved one is looking for substance abuse treatment, you can find it today. Call us to learn about treatment services and how to begin the recovery process.

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This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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