blog home Drug Crimes Do Drugs Ever Change Schedules?

Do Drugs Ever Change Schedules?

By Peters & Nolan, LLC on July 19, 2021

Since the 1980s, the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) has outlined strict guidelines to determine which drugs are illegal and which a person can possess or use with a prescription. In general, most states follow the federal standards for classification in their drugs laws, but also have the authority to modify them where they see fit. Colorado (and Washington) made history in 2012 when our state decided to legalize marijuana for recreational use, and many other states have followed suit since then.

However, for drugs that are still (mostly) illegal, it is important to understand how they are assigned to different Schedules and the impact of a drug changing Schedules.

Drug Schedules Explained

According to the CSA, drugs are classified into five Schedules based on how addictive they are and whether they have any accepted medical uses. Schedule I drugs are considered highly addictive and have no medical use, while Schedule V drugs have a low chance of being addictive and may have some medical uses.

Examples of drugs on each Schedule include:

  • Schedule I: Heroin, LSD, Ecstasy
  • Schedule II: Methamphetamines, OxyContin, morphine.
  • Schedule III: Ketamine.
  • Schedule IV: Xanax, Valium, and Ambien.
  • Schedule V: Certain cough medicines.

Who Determines Drug Schedules?

Drugs are assigned to Schedules by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which has the broad authority to evaluate and criminalize drugs on a national scale. When evaluating a drug’s potency, the DEA may work closely with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to determine the side effects of the drug, if it has any medicinal uses, and how addictive it is. According to Section 201 (c), [21 U.S.C. § 811 (c)] of the CSA, the DEA and HSS will look at several factors when assigning a drug to a Schedule:

  • If the drug is addictive
  • Pharmacological effects of the drug according to scientific evidence
  • Current scientific knowledge of the drug
  • The drug’s pattern and history of abuse
  • The scope, duration, and significance of abuse
  • If there is a risk to public health
  • How psychologically dependent an addict would be to the drug
  • If the drug is made from or can be manufactured into another illegal drug

Do Drug Schedules Impact Drug Penalties?

Each state has different penalties for different drugs’ use and possession, but Colorado has based its penalties on the federal Schedules in the past. Until March 2020, possessing a Schedule I drug like heroin would have led to a Class IV Felony charge with up to a year in state prison for a conviction; however, new laws now require all drug possession charges to be treated as Class I Misdemeanors unless the defendant is a repeat offender or there are aggravating factors.

In addition, most courts lean toward reform rather than criminalization nowadays. For first-time offenders, a county drug court may evaluate if they are eligible for rehabilitation and reform instead of sending them to jail for non-violent offenses.

If you or someone you love has been charged with a drug crime, it is important to have a skilled Grand Junction criminal defense lawyer on your side. While Colorado courts do focus on reform, you should not trust a judge or prosecutor to be merciful. At Peters & Nolan, LLC, we can fight to get you the best possible result in your case, whether that is a reduced charge, entry into a diversion program, or a complete dismissal of all charges. Call us today at (970) 243-4357 for a free case evaluation. Your future may be on the line.

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