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You’ve been caught with drugs, and now, as you scramble to get in touch with an attorney and figure out your options, you’re beginning to worry about the consequences of your arrest.

The truth is that drug penalties are not cut and dry. It depends on how dangerous the government considers the drug. But even that isn’t as straightforward as it sounds — in the eyes of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), marijuana is just as dangerous as heroin.

This is because of drug scheduling. Here, we’re going to cover the basics of drug scheduling, particularly schedule 4 drugs, and the legal penalties for possession and trafficking of schedule 4 drugs.

How Does the US Classify Illicit Drugs?

First, you need to understand the basics of the scheduling system, which guides criminal law in the prosecution of drug offenses.

Drug scheduling is part of the Controlled Substances Act, in which the federal government (primarily the DEA) places federally regulated drugs into one of five classifications or schedules.

In determining whether a drug should be included in a schedule, the DEA considers:

  • Its actual or relative potential for abuse
  • Scientific evidence of its pharmacological effects
  • Current scientific knowledge on the drug
  • Its current and historical patterns of abuse
  • The scope, duration, and significance of abuse
  • What risk the drug poses to public health
  • The potential for physical or psychological dependence
  • Whether the drug is an immediate precursor to a currently scheduled drug

In simple terms, the DEA is concerned with two points — whether the drug can be abused and its medical benefit relative to the potential for abuse.

If the drug can be abused, the DEA places the drug on a schedule. After that, it assesses the drug’s potential for abuse relative to its known medical benefit (if any) to determine where the drug falls on the schedule scale.

In order to have demonstrated medicinal value, the drug must have large-scale clinical trials on its side, similar to those performed by the FDA when it considers a drug for entry on the market.

Understanding Drug Schedules

The DEA uses five schedules, listed in order from high to low. In other words, schedule 1 drugs are the most dangerous and schedule 5 drugs are the least dangerous (though schedule 5 drugs are still controlled substances).

Schedule 1

Schedule 1 drugs are drugs, chemicals or substances that the DEA considers the most dangerous to public health. These drugs do not have any demonstrated medicinal value, no currently accepted medical use, and a high potential for abuse.

In addition, these drugs are not considered safe or acceptable to use even with medical supervision.

Common examples of schedule 1 drugs include:

  • Heroin
  • Cannabis or marijuana
  • Gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB)
  • Methaqualone
  • Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy)
  • Peyote
  • Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
  • Magic mushrooms

Because schedule 1 drugs are considered the most dangerous, they face the strictest regulation. Schedule 1 drugs are functionally illegal outside of research, and the DEA sets strict limits on the production of schedule 1 drugs even for research purposes.

Schedule 2

Schedule 2 drugs are drugs, chemicals, and substances which have a high potential for abuse and a high potential for physical and psychological dependence. These drugs are still considered highly dangerous to public health and face strict regulations.

Common examples of schedule 2 drugs include:

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Methadone
  • Methamphetamine
  • Cocaine
  • Morphine
  • Fentanyl
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin)
  • Dexedrine
  • Adderall
  • Ritalin

The best way to think about the gap between schedule 1 and schedule 2 is medical value. Adderall and Ritalin, for example, are ADD drugs with known medical value, and Vicodin and OxyContin are known to be effective painkillers.

However, these drugs are scheduled because they have a high potential for abuse. Schedules 2 to 5 are drugs with medical value, while schedule 1 has no medical value.

Schedule 3

Schedule 3 drugs are those drugs, chemicals, or substances with some potential for abuse but a moderate to low potential for physical or psychological dependence, making them less comparatively dangerous than schedule 2 but more dangerous than schedule 4.

Common examples of schedule 3 drugs include:

  • Codeine products with aspirin or Tylenol
  • Anabolic steroids
  • Ketamine
  • Testosterone
  • Some barbituates

Because schedule 3 drugs are considered less dangerous, they face less regulation than schedule 2 drugs.

Schedule 4

Schedule 4 drugs are drugs, chemicals, and substances with a relatively low risk of physical or psychological dependence and a relatively low potential for abuse (compared to schedule 3 drugs).

Common examples of schedule 4 drugs include:

  • Ambien
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Darvon
  • Darvocet
  • Ativan
  • Talwin
  • Tramadol
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Clonazepam (Clonopin)

Drugs in this schedule do have an accepted medical use in the United States, but because they do have some potential for addiction and abuse, they are scheduled to ensure that they are prescribed and taken with medical supervision.

Schedule 5

Schedule 5 drugs are the lowest-risk drugs on the drug scheduling scale. These are drugs with a lower potential for abuse or dependence than schedule 4 drugs.

That said, these drugs are not without risk, which is why they are scheduled. The biggest concern for schedule 5 drugs is the fact that their preparation process includes limited quantities of certain narcotics.

Common examples of schedule 5 drugs include:

  • Robitussin AC
  • Lyrica
  • Motofen
  • Lomotil
  • Parapectolin

Generally, schedule 5 drugs are prescribed for analgesic, antidiarrheal, or antitussive purposes.

Trafficking Penalties for Schedule 4 Drugs

If you are charged with trafficking or illegal possession of schedule 4 drugs, the penalties you face with be relatively low compared to schedule 1-3 drugs, but you will face penalties.

First offense possession of one gram of Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol, a benzodiazepine) results in a penalty of no more than 20 years in prison or no less than 20 in cases of death or serious injury. Individuals face a fine of $1 million. If you are not charged as an individual, you are fined $5 million.

Second offense possession of one gram of Flunitrazepam results in no more than 30 years in prison, or no less than 30 years in cases of death or serious injury. Individuals are fined $2 million, while non-individuals are fined $10 million.

First offenses for more than one gram of Flunitrazepam and all other schedule 4 drugs result in a prison sentence of no more than five years. Individuals are fined no more than $250,000, while non-individuals are fined $1 million.

Second offenses for more than one gram of Flunitrazepam and all other schedule 4 drugs result in a prison sentence of no more than 10 years. Individuals are fined no more than $500,000; non-individuals are fined up to $2 million.

Understanding Drug Charges Against You

As you can see, schedule 4 drug possession charges are quite serious. You need to know what you’re getting into–and you need a good lawyer on your side.

For more information on Louisiana drug charges, make sure to check out our blog for more useful posts, like this post to help understand how long you might be in prison for drug charges. And if you need an attorney, make sure to get in touch with us on our main website.


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DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is not formal legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.

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