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Drug Classification: What You Should Know

By Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney on July 5, 2020

The Controlled Substance Act (CSA) was passed in 1970 by the Reagan administration. It was one of the government’s many tactics while fighting the war on drugs. The drug epidemic was considered the most important issue of the day, and the federal government was determined to keep American citizens from becoming addicts.

While many of the drugs listed on the CSA were already illegal to use recreationally, the act gave them categories based on their medicinal use as well as how addictive they are. This helped determine how serious it was if a person was found in possession, as well as what punishments they should face. It also allowed the government to have a tighter control on the drugs being prescribed by doctors and used at large by Americans.

The sorting system uses a “schedule” with five total categories. Schedule V drugs are the least serious and monitored, while Schedule I drugs are tightly controlled and users are punished harshly. It is important to note, however, that the CSA is subject to state laws. Many states choose to follow the CSA’s system strictly, outlawing the same drugs that the act names illegal. Others, however, have modified the system, as well as the penalties for those accused of possession or distribution of controlled substances.

Schedule V, IV & III

Drugs that fall into Schedule V, IV, and III have medicinal uses and are generally considered to have low addiction rates. Drugs that are classified at Schedule V are very commonly prescribed, and you have likely taken some at some point in your life. However, they are still illegal to use without a prescription, and you could be charged with prescription fraud if you use them unlawfully. Common types of Schedule V drugs include:

  • Ezogabine
  • Motofen
  • Lomotil

Common Schedule IV drugs, which are still often used through prescriptions, though slightly more addictive than Schedule V drugs, are:

  • Klonopin
  • Ambien
  • Valium

Like Schedule V and IV, Schedule III drugs are still considered to have a medical use, but have a moderate, rather than low, risk of addiction if used. The penalties for illegal possession or distribution of these drugs are much harsher than that of Schedule V and IV. Schedule III drugs you may recognize include:

  • Vicodin
  • Steroids
  • Ketamine

Schedule II

Schedule II drugs are tightly controlled. While they may still be prescribed and used legally, they are highly addictive and should only be used when necessary. Even lawful use of Schedule II drugs can lead to addiction and abuse. This was exemplified by the still ongoing opioid crisis, where doctors were prescribing highly addictive, Schedule II pain killers far more often than they should have. The penalties for illegal use of Schedule II drugs will be incredibly harsh, and will probably involve jail time as well as heavy fines.

Schedule II drugs you have likely heard of include:

  • Methadone
  • Oxycodone
  • Morphine
  • Barbitals

Schedule I

Schedule I in only used for drugs that have absolutely no medical use and are highly addictive. There is no way to use or possess Schedule I drugs lawfully. Those caught using, in possession of, or distributing Schedule I drugs will likely face felony drug charges. That means, on top of a prison sentence, probation, and heavy fines, you will have certain rights stripped of you. Those include the right to vote, the right to work within a government agency, and the right to own or use firearms. Using Schedule I drugs is incredibly dangerous, and our court systems act accordingly.

Commonly known Schedule I drugs are:

  • Heroin
  • Ecstasy
  • Peyote
  • LSD
  • PCP


Marijuana has been legal to use for medicinal purposes since 1996. More recently, in 2016, it has become legal to use marijuana recreationally in California. While many Californians appreciate that marijuana is legal, and it has opened up new streams of revenue for our state, it is still important to remember that not all states have legalized the drug. Federally, marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug and using it in states that still follow the federal system can land you in hot water.

All of California’s neighboring states have also legalized the drug for both medicinal and recreational use, save Arizona, where it is currently only legal to use for medical purposes. However, there are still states close to us, including Idaho and Wyoming, where marijuana is highly illegal. In addition, there are still restrictions on where you can use marijuana, how much you can grow and possess, and how to operate a dispensary without violating federal law.

You should also keep in mind that driving under the influence of marijuana, even if you are over the age of 21 and can legally use the drug, is illegal. Driving while high is treated similarly to driving under the influence of alcohol and could result in your license being revoked.

Drug offenses, be it possession or distribution, often carry harsh penalties. While the war on drugs may be over, our country still has a very harsh view of drug abusers, whether they are found guilty of their alleged crimes or not. If you or a loved one are facing serious drug crime accusations, you need the best criminal defense representation available. That is where we at Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP come in. With years of legal experience and knowhow at our disposal, we know how to help our clients get the best outcome possible. Call our firm at (213) 688-0460 or contact us online and tell us about your case.

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