Every state has laws prohibiting possession and use of “controlled substances,” or drugs whose use or prescription is prohibited or regulated by the government. These laws are usually based on the classifications of drugs in the federal Controlled Substances Act. The federal government places controlled substances into five different categories, called “Schedules,” represented by the Roman numerals I through V.
Schedule I drugs are the most restricted and cannot be prescribed at all, because they have a high potential for abuse and have no currently accepted medical use. Examples of Schedule I drugs include cocaine, heroin, LSD, various opiates, mescaline, and PCP. In almost every state, the possession or use of a Schedule I drug is a felony offense.
Schedule II drugs have a high potential for abuse but have some currently accepted medical uses. Schedule II drugs can be prescribed under tightly controlled circumstances. These drugs include opium, morphine, codeine, oxycodone, methadone, fentanyl, dextroamphetamine, methamphetamine, pentobarbital, and secobarbital. In most states, possession of these drugs without a prescription is also a felony offense, and doctors can be prosecuted for over-prescribing or fraudulently prescribing these substances.
Other schedules can be dispensed by prescription more frequently, while Schedule V drugs are commonly called “over the counter” drugs that can be dispensed without a prescription.
In 30 states, the most commonly charged controlled substance offense is possession of methamphetamine. In 14 states, the most commonly charged drug offense is possession of heroin, while cocaine possession is the most commonly charged offense in three states and the District of Columbia, marijuana possession is the most commonly charged drug offense in Arizona and New Mexico, and “other” is the most commonly charged drug offense in New Hampshire.
Prison terms for felony controlled substance offenses range widely by state, averaging 17 months in Arizona to 111 months in Iowa. In ten states (Hawaii, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Florida), the average prison sentence for a felony controlled substance offense exceeds 81 months.
Even though marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the federal government, an increasing number of states have made marijuana use and possession legal, have decriminalized it, or have permitted the use of marijuana for medical purposes under state law. Eleven states and the District of Columbia have made the possession and use of marijuana legal. Ten states have made marijuana use for medical purposes—usually under a doctor’s prescription or with a state-issued prescription card—legal. Sixteen states have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, usually by making it a civil infraction akin to a parking ticket. Thirteen states make marijuana possession fully illegal, but usually make possession of a small amount of marijuana a misdemeanor offense (punished by less than a year in jail, a fine, or some form of community supervision).
Marijuana Use Fully Legal
- District of Columbia
Medical Marijuana Use Legal
- New Jersey
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- Alabama First possession a misdemeanor
- Georgia One ounce or less a misdemeanor
- Idaho Three ounces or less a misdemeanor
- Indiana Six ounces or less a misdemeanor
- Iowa Three ounces or less a misdemeanor
- Kansas Three ounces or less a misdemeanor
- Kentucky Eight ounces or less a misdemeanor
- South Dakota Two ounces or less a misdemeanor
- Tennessee First possession a misdemeanor
- Texas Two ounces or less a misdemeanor
- Utah One ounce or less a misdemeanor
- Wisconsin First possession a misdemeanor
- Wyoming Three ounces or less a misdemeanor