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How do drug schedules impact penalties?

The country as a whole may be making strides to legalize marijuana, but marijuana and other drug charges still carry a large stigma and significant penalties with them here in Kentucky.

Movements to legalize marijuana could be facing such pushback because marijuana is a Schedule I drug. But what does that mean, exactly?

What are drug schedules?

Before 1970, several different laws regulated different types of drugs at both the state and federal levels. Then, Congress established the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 that combined these laws and created a way to classify drugs.

These classifications are called schedules. They separate substances based on their level of safety, the risk of abuse and the medicinal properties. For example:

  • Schedule I includes heroin, marijuana, ecstasy and LSD
  • Schedule II includes methamphetamine, oxycodone and cocaine
  • Schedule III includes steroids, ketamine and drugs containing codeine
  • Schedule IV includes many prescription drugs, including Valium, Xanax and Tramadol
  • Schedule V includes drugs with more medicinal purposes, including Lyrica and Robitussin

However, the schedules play a much larger role than simply classifying drugs when individuals face criminal drug charges.

Drug schedules also inform penalties

The drug schedules can heavily impact the penalties individuals face with drug charges – whether they face state or federal charges.

In Kentucky, individuals will face higher penalties for drug charges involving Schedule I and Schedule II drugs, including:

  • One to five years in prison or paying a fine between $3,000 and $5,000 for the first offense of the possession of Schedule I or II drugs; or
  • Five to ten years in prison and a fine between $5,000 and $10,000 for the first offense of drug trafficking Schedule I or II drugs.

Some substances, including LSD and Phencyclidine, automatically increase the penalties of a first offense as well.

On top of that, the federal Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 also established higher mandatory minimum sentences for drug charges depending on the drug schedule.

However, anyone facing drug charges must remember that their circumstances can also play a large role in reducing the penalties of the charges against them, regardless of the drug’s schedule. That is why individuals must understand their options to fight and protect their rights and futures.