DC Federal Drug Trafficking Attorney

The United States Controlled Substances Act (CSA) regulates the manufacture, possession, use, distribution, and importation of certain substances. The law was enacted in 1970 under President Richard Nixon as a tool for the federal government to strengthen its fight against drug abuse on a criminal level. The federal law also sets out criminal penalties for individuals convicted of violating CSA regulations. Individuals charged under federal drug laws may face severe consequences, including lengthy prison sentences, forfeiture, and costly fines. A skilled and knowledgeable attorney who is based in Washington, DC and who has experience with federal drug trafficking offenses is best-suited to providing the strongest possible defense against federal criminal charges.

Federal Schedules of Controlled Substances

The CSA divides illegal substances into five different Schedules based on several factors. The penalties for criminal offenses related to a certain substance are often based on the respective Schedule of that substance. Penalties for offenses involving Schedule V substances tend to be more lenient, while offenses involving Schedule I substances carry the harshest penalties.

The factors that are taken into account when categorizing substances into Schedules include accepted medical use, safety of use under supervision of medical professionals, and the potential for addiction or abuse. The federal Schedules of controlled substances are as follows:

Potential for AbuseAccepted Medical UseSafety of Supervised Medical UseExamples of Substances
Schedule I High risk of abuse None None
  • heroin
  • ecstasy
  • LSD
  • cannabis (marijuana)
  • peyote
Schedule II High risk of abuse Some accepted medical uses, generally with significant restrictions May cause severe physical and psychological dependence
  • cocaine
  • methadone
  • morphine
  • methamphetamine
  • oxycodone
Schedule III Less risk than Schedules I or II for abuse Substances have current accepted medical uses May cause low to moderate physical dependence and/or high psychological dependence
  • hydrocodone (painkillers such as Vicodin)
  • ketamine
  • anabolic steroids
Schedule IV Lower risk than Schedule III substances for abuse Substances have current accepted medical uses May cause limited physical or psychological dependence
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • diazepam (Valium)
  • lorazepam (Ativan)
Schedule V Lower risk than Schedule IV substances for abuse Substances have current accepted medical uses May cause limited physical or psychological dependence (less risk than Schedule IV)
  • Cough syrups with codeine
  • Some antidiarrheals with small amounts of opium

Penalties for Federal Drug Offenses

The federal authorities focus largely on drug trafficking offenses, rather than on offenses such as possession or smaller-scale sale. The penalties for trafficking depend on the type of substance involved and the amount of the substance a defendant is suspected of trafficking. For example, with respect to violations of 18 U.S.C. Section 841, defendants may face five to 40 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $2 million if convicted of trafficking any of the following substances/amounts:

  • 100-999 grams of heroin
  • 500-4999 grams of cocaine
  • 5-49 grams of cocaine base
  • 5-49 grams of methamphetamine
  • 1-9 grams LSD

The above penalties are for a first offense. Those convicted of a second offense may face 10 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $4 million. In some circumstances, a defendant may be able to avoid these mandatory minimums by qualifying for the safety valve enumerated in 18 U.S.C. Section 3553(f). To qualify, a defendant must generally be a non-violent, first time offender who is not an organizer or leader of others involved in the offense and who truthfully provided to the government all information and evidence the defendant has concerning the offense. Read a transcript of David Benowitz talking about federal drug cases in his own words.

Marijuana as a Federal Controlled Substance

As the above table demonstrates, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, and marijuana-related offenses carry harsh consequences at the federal level. This has raised significant controversy throughout the United States. Numerous states, as well as the District of Columbia, have legalized medical marijuana since researchers have found the substance does, in fact, have accepted and effective medical use in the treatment of certain medical conditions. Aside from medical use, many states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Finally, certain states have completely legalized the personal manufacture and possession, as well as private use, of relatively small amounts of marijuana.

These progressive state actions regarding cannabis conflict with federal drug laws, which continue to classify marijuana in Schedule I alongside drugs such as heroin and LSD. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is in charge of approving reclassification of substances, and has received numerous petitions claiming marijuana does not qualify as a Schedule I substance due to its accepted medical use and other factors. The DEA has yet to reclassify the substance, however, which means that an individual who may be legally obtaining marijuana under state law could still be charged with an offense by federal law enforcement authorities.