Jail Time for Possession of Drugs

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While popular shows like Breaking Bad captivate our imaginations with their adrenaline-fueled portrayal of the drug and criminal underworld, the real-world consequences of drug-related crimes are far from glamorous.

Around 44.4% of individuals in federal prisons serve sentences for drug offenses, underscoring the weight of drug possession, manufacturing, and distribution as serious crimes that can lead to significant jail time.

The question is, “How much prison time?” In this article, let’s peel back the glitzy facade that fictional depictions create and dive into the harsh realities of drug-related offenses.

This article tackles different topics: from navigating the complexities of controlled substances and drug classifications to understanding the penalties and prison sentences that may await you if you’re found guilty of illegal possession.

If you require further insight into the intricacies of the U.S. correction system and how different facilities handle drug offenses, visit LookUpInmate.org and access an extensive database of over 7,000 prisons nationwide.

What Is a Controlled Substance?

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A “controlled substance” is defined as a drug the government tightly regulates due to its potential for abuse. This drug’s manufacture, possession, and use are monitored under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

While the CSA covers a broad spectrum of substances, examples that fall under federal law include the following:

  • Opiates, such as fentanyl and heroin
  • Hallucinogens, like LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide)
  • Systemic depressants, including Valium and Xanax
  • Stimulants, like meth (methamphetamine) and cocaine
  • Anabolic steroids

Common Drugs in the U.S.

In the vast landscape of controlled substances, certain drugs are prominent for their prevalence, impact on society, and health risks, including dependency and addiction.

Here are some of the most common drugs in the U.S.:

Alcohol Ketamine  Opioids (Oxy/Percs)
Ayahuasca Khat (Cot) Stimulants (Speed)
Cannabis (Marijuana/Pot/Weed) Kratom Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms/Shrooms)
Central Nervous System Depressants (Benzos) LSD (Acid/Lysergic Acid Diethylamide) Rohypnol (Flunitrazepam/Roofies)
Cocaine (Coke/Crack)

MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly/


GHB (Gamma-hydroxybutyrate) Mescaline (Peyote) Steroids (Anabolic)
Hallucinogens Methamphetamine (Crystal/Meth) Synthetic Cannabinoids (K2/Spice)
Heroin Dextromethorphan (DXM) Synthetic Cathinones (Bath Salts/Flakka)
Inhalants PCP (Angel Dust or Phencyclidine) Tobacco/Nicotine and Vaping

Although considered a drug, specifically a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, alcohol isn’t a controlled substance under the CSA. Conversely, while a controlled substance, cannabis is legally allowed for personal use in some states.

Drug Classification

The classification of drugs plays a significant role in determining the potential legal consequences of possessing these substances. Under the CSA, drugs, substances, and certain chemicals fall under one of five distinct categories or “schedules,” depending on their abuse potential.

Schedule I drugs have the most elevated possibility for abuse and generally result in more severe penalties. On the other hand, Schedule V drugs pose the least potential for psychological and physical dependence.

What Are Schedule I Drug Examples?

Schedule I drugs are what the CSA deems to have no currently accepted medical use but have a high potential for abuse. Some examples of Schedule I drugs include the following:

  • Heroin
  • Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD)
  • Marijuana (Cannabis)
  • 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (Ecstasy)
  • Methaqualone
  • Peyote

What Are Schedule II Drug Examples?

The CSA classifies Schedule II drugs as having a high potential for abuse and a likelihood of resulting in severe psychological or physical dependence. Some examples of Schedule II drugs include the following:

  • Vicodin or other products with fewer than 15 milligrams of hydrocodone per unit
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Methadone
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin)
  • Fentanyl
  • Dexedrine, Adderall, and Ritalin

What Are Schedule III Drug Examples?

Schedule III drugs, substances, or chemicals have moderate to low physical and psychological dependence potential. Some examples of Schedule III drugs include:

  • Tylenol and other products with fewer than 90 milligrams of codeine per unit
  • Ketamine
  • Anabolic Steroids

What Are Schedule IV Drug Examples?

Schedule IV drugs are those the CSA deems to have a lower potential for abuse and a lower risk of dependence than the previously mentioned schedules. Some examples of Schedule IV drugs include the following:

  • Xanax
  • Soma
  • Darvon and Darvocet
  • Valium and Ativan
  • Talwin
  • Ambien
  • Tramadol

What Are Schedule V Drug Examples?

Lastly, Schedule V drugs, substances, or chemicals have the lowest potential for abuse than previous drug schedules. Some examples of Schedule V drugs include the following:

  • Robitussin A.C. or other cough preparations containing less than 200 milligrams of codeine per unit
  • Lomotil and Motofen
  • Lyrica
  • Parepectolin

Key Felony Drug Crime Terms

Understanding key terms related to drug crimes is essential when facing charges, as felony drug offenses can result in substantial jail sentences, fines, and a permanent criminal record.

Here are some of the most common drug crime terms you may encounter:

  • Knowingly: When law enforcement charges you “knowingly” engaging in federal drug crimes, they suspect you of willful possession, selling, delivering, manufacturing, or transporting controlled substances.
  • Actual Possession: If law enforcement catches you with drugs on your person and is aware of them, it refers to “actual” possession.
  • Constructive Possession: You have a “constructive” possession charge when the court deems you to have the intent and ability to maintain control over a drug, even if law enforcement doesn’t find it on your person.

The court considers various factors to establish constructive possession, including the following:

    • Your proximity to the drugs
    • Ownership of the location or item where law enforcement found the drugs
    • Whether you have the opportunity to place the drugs in the location
    • Presence of personal items, such as mail and I.D., in proximity to the drugs
    • Your engagement in suspicious behavior, such as attempting to flee
    • Your involvement in drug-related activities or impairment by drugs
    • Sale: In a felony drug case, a “sale” occurs when you transfer drugs to another individual in exchange for compensation, such as money, clothing, jewelry, video games, or services.
    • Deliver: The actual, constructive, or attempt to transfer drugs to another person refers to “delivery.”
    • Manufacture: Except in cases of professional practice, research, teaching, chemical analysis, and personal use, felony drug manufacturing involves:
      • Producing 
      • Preparing 
      • Propagating 
      • Compounding
      • Converting 
      • Packaging or repackaging
      • Labeling or relabeling of the drug or its container
    • Transport: Drug “transport” refers to the actual carrying or movement of drugs from one place to another, regardless of the distance.

    How Different Types of Drugs Are Prosecuted

    Different states and jurisdictions vary on how they implement drug possession criminal charges, as each state has its variation of the CSA. The prosecution also varies depending on the type of drug involved, the amount, and the number of times the offense was committed, which can further complicate things.

    It would be best to consult a criminal defense attorney for state and jurisdiction-specific information on how different drug offenders are prosecuted. However, for the following sections, let’s use Texas’ drug laws and punishments to give you an idea.

    Cocaine Laws and Punishments

    Texas takes a firm stance on cocaine-related offenses, making the substance illegal to possess, manufacture, and deliver.

    The punishment for cocaine possession includes the following:

    Amount Penalty
    Less than 1 gram A 6-month to 2-year prison sentence; first-time offenders may be eligible for probation
    1 to 4 grams Fines of up to $10,000 and jail time between 2 to 10 years
    4 to 200 grams Up to a $10,000 fine and imprisonment for 2 to 20 years
    200 to 400 grams A fine of up to $10,000 and incarceration ranging from 5 to 99 years
    More than 400 grams Fines of up to $100,000 and imprisonment between 5 to 99 years

    Marijuana Laws and Punishments

    While states like California, Massachusetts, and New York legally allow possession of marijuana, carrying any amount is illegal and a class B misdemeanor in Texas.

    The legal consequences of marijuana possession in the Lone Star State include the following:

    Amount Penalty
    Under 2 ounces A fine of up to $2,000 and imprisonment of up to 180 days or 2 years probation
    2 to 4 ounces Fines of up to $4,000 and a one-year jail sentence
    4 ounces to 5 pounds A $10,000fine and jail time between 180 days and 2 years
    5 pounds to 50 pounds A $10,000fine and a 2 to 10-year prison sentence
    50 to 2,000 pounds $10,000fine and incarceration between 2 and 20 years
    More than 2,000 pounds A $50,000fine and imprisonment ranging from 5 to 99 years

    Meth Laws and Punishments

    Texas prosecutes Methamphetamine or “crystal” meth-related offenses depending on the amount and the type of materials used to manufacture the drug. However, all Texas meth punishments include imprisonment.

    Here’s the potential jail time you may face for meth possession:

    Amount Penalty
    Less than 1 gram Fines of up to $10,000 and up to a 2-year prison sentence
    1 to 3.99 grams A $10,000fine and jail time between 2 and 10 years
    4 to 199 grams Fines of up to $10,000 and imprisonment of 2 to 20 years in prison
    200 to 399 grams Up to a $10,000fine and incarceration ranging from 5 to 99 years
    More than 400 grams A $10,000fine and imprisonment of 10 to 99 years

    What Felony Drug Crimes Can One Be Charged With in the U.S.?

    The court may charge you based on your specific drug-related offense, such as possession, possession with intent to manufacture or distribute, manufacturing, or trafficking.

    As mentioned, different states and jurisdictions have varying guidelines on felony drug crimes. So, it would be best to seek legal advice and representation from a criminal defense lawyer.

    Possession of a Controlled Substance

    Drug possession occurs when you knowingly and willfully carry a controlled substance that the CSA considers a drug. Depending on the drug classification, possessing a controlled substance can lead to significant jail time.

    Penalties for Illegal Drug Possession

    Depending on the type of drug and the amount you’re carrying, the punishment for illegal drug possession in Texas generally falls under the following categories:

    Class C Misdemeanor Up to a $500fine
    Class B Misdemeanor A fine of up to $2,000 and a jail sentence of up to 180 days
    Class A Misdemeanor Fines of up to $4,000 and prison time between 180 days to a year
    State Jail Felony Up to a $10,000fine and imprisonment ranging from 180 days to 2 years
    3rd-Degree Felony Fines of up to $10,000 and incarceration for 2 to 10 years
    2nd-Degree Felony Up to a $10,000fine and jail time of 2 to 20 years
    1st-Degree Felony Fines ranging from $50,000 to $250,000, and federal prison time of 5 to 99 years

    Additionally, possessing drug paraphernalia, syringes, needles, pipes, and roaches, can result in fines of up to $5,000.

    Group 1 Penalties

    Drugs like cocaine, heroin, and meth fall under Group 1. Possession of less than 1 gram of a Group 1 substance is a state jail felony. However, carrying more significant quantities, such as 200 to 400 grams, can result in higher penalties, up to a 1st-degree felony.

    Group 1-A Penalties

    Expect punishment equal to a state jail felony for possessing 20 units of Group 1-A substances like LSD; 3rd-degree felony for 20 to 80 units; 2nd-degree felony for 80 to 4,000 units; and 1st-degree felony for dosage units over 4,000.

    Group 2 Penalties

    Group 2 substances, including ecstasy (MDMA), hashish, and PCP, have penalties ranging from state jail felony for possessing less than 1 gram to 1st-degree felony for carrying more significant amounts.

    Group 3 Penalties

    Drugs in Group 3 include anabolic steroids and benzodiazepines. If law enforcement catches you with less than 28 grams, you’ll face a penalty similar to a class A misdemeanor. Possessing over 400 grams of a Group 3 substance will incur a 1st-degree penalty.

    Group 4 Penalties

    Group 4 substances, which include certain opioids and prescription medications with abuse potential, have penalties similar to those of Group 3 substances. Like other groups, the severity of your punishment, ranging from fines to significant jail time, depends on the quantity in possession.

    Sale or Delivery of a Controlled Substance

    Transferring a controlled substance involving a monetary exchange or another form of compensation refers to a “sale.” A transfer without compensation constitutes a “delivery.” Both are punishable by fines and imprisonment in Texas.

    Punishment for Sale or Delivery of Drugs

    Again, the penalty for selling or delivering controlled substances can vary depending on the type and amount of drugs involved. For instance, the delivery of less than a gram of cocaine levies a fine of up to $10,000 and incarceration, ranging from 180 days to 2 years.

    On the other hand, selling or delivering any amount of marijuana to a minor can result in prison time between 2 and 20 years and a fine of up to $20,000.

    Manufacturing of a Controlled Substance

    The unregulated or illegal manufacture of controlled substances is a felony offense. Under Texas’ CSA, you will incur manufacturing penalties if you’re directly or indirectly involved in producing or processing a controlled substance, even if the involvement is limited to the substance’s packaging and labeling.

    Punishment for Drug Manufacturing

    The penalties you may face for the illegal drug manufacture of cocaine include a fine of up to $10,000 and incarceration between 180 days and 2 years for less than a gram; a $250,000fine and 5 to 99 years in prison for manufacturing over 400 grams.

    Conversely, the punishment for manufacturing methamphetamine can result in 2 to 20 years imprisonment for 1 to 4 grams and between 10 and 99 years for 200 to 400 grams.

    Possession of a Controlled Substance With Intent to Manufacture, Sell, or Deliver

    While drug possession and possession with intent to manufacture, sell, or deliver involve controlled substances, they’re different felony convictions in Texas.

    Several factors can determine the difference between the two drug-related offenses, including the following:

    • The amount of drugs you carry exceeds standard personal use
    • Existence of significant amounts of cash, scales, and packaging material
    • Presence of laboratory equipment and chemicals required for controlled substances manufacturing

    Punishment for Possessing Drugs With Intent to Manufacture, Sell, or Deliver

    If the Texas court convicts you of possession intending to manufacture, sell, or deliver Group 1 drugs like meth, heroin, and cocaine, expect state jail felony punishment to be between a 15- and 99-year jail sentence and a fine of up to $250,000, depending on the amount of drugs found on you.

    However, the penalties can increase by one felony level if law enforcement catches you possessing illicit drugs with intent to sell or deliver near public facilities, such as swimming pools, video arcades, and playgrounds.

    Drug Trafficking Offenses

    Under the Texas CSA, you may be found guilty of drug trafficking if you knowingly and willfully delivered controlled substances belonging to any of the four drug groups. The punishment for drug trafficking or “dealing” ranges from a state jail felony to harsher penalties of up to a 1st-degree felony.

    Punishment for Drug Trafficking

    As mentioned, states and jurisdictions vary in prosecuting  individuals involved in drug crimes. Curiously, North Carolina punishes drug trafficking differently from other drug-related offenses in the state because drug trafficking sentences don’t consider previous criminal records.

    Instead, North Carolina courts determine penalties for drug trafficking violations based on a chart of the type of drug and the amount involved. The chart follows:

    Class H
    Type of Drug Amount Min-Max Prison Sentence
    Marijuana 10 to 49 pounds 25 to 30 months
    Amphetamine 28 to 199 grams 25 to 30 months
    Synthetic Cannabinoids 50 to 249 units 25 to 30 months
    Class G
    Type of Drug Amount Min-Max Prison Sentence
    Marijuana 50 to 1,999 pounds 25 to 30 months
    Methaqualone 1,000 to 4,999 units 25 to 30 months
    Cocaine 28 to 199 grams 25 to 30 months
    Amphetamine 200 to 399 grams 25 to 30 months
    LSD 100 to 499 units 25 to 30 months
    MDA/MDMA 100 to 499 units or 28 to 199 grams 25 to 30 months
    Synthetic Cannabinoids 250 to 1,249 units 25 to 30 months
    Class F
    Type of Drug Amount Min-Max Prison Sentence
    Marijuana 2,000 to 9,999 pounds 70 to 84 months
    Methaqualone 5,000 to 9,999 units 70 to 84 months
    Cocaine 200 to 399 grams 70 to 84 months
    Amphetamine More than 400 grams 70 to 84 months
    Opium or Heroin 4 to 13 grams  
    LSD 500 to 999 units 70 to 84 months
    MDA/MDMA 500 to 999 units/200 to 399 grams 70 to 84 months
    MDPV (Methylenedioxypyrovalerone) 28 to 199 grams 70 to 84 months
    Mephedrone 28 to 199 grams 70 to 84 months
    Synthetic Cannabinoids 250 to 1,249 units 70 to 84 months
    Class E
    Type of Drug Amount Min-Max Prison Sentence
    Methaqualone More than 10,000 units 90 to 117 months
    Methamphetamine 200 to 399 grams 90 to 117 months
    Opium or Heroin 14 to 27 grams 90 to 117 months
    MDPV 200 to 399 grams 90 to 117 months
    Mephedrone 200 to 399 grams 90 to 117 months
    Class D
    Type of Drug Amount Min-Max Prison Sentence
    Marijuana More than 10,000 pounds 175 to 219 months
    Cocaine More than 400 grams 175 to 219 months
    LSD More than 1,000 units 175 to 219 months
    MDA/MDMA Over 1,000 units or 400 grams 175 to 219 months
    Synthetic Cannabinoids More than 3,750 units 175 to 219 months
    Class C
    Type of Drug Amount Min-Max Prison Sentence
    Methamphetamine More than 400 grams 225 to 279 months
    Opium or Heroin More than 28 grams 225 to 279 months
    MDPV More than 400 grams 225 to 279 months
    Mephedrone More than 400 grams 225 to 279 months

    What Happens After a Drug Conviction in the U.S.?

    You may face various consequences after a drug conviction in the U.S., including legal penalties and potential nonlegal long-term effects. Here are the repercussions you can expect if a court convicts you of a drug crime:

    • Incarceration: In many states, drug-related offenses like possession constitute felony crimes. As punishment, you may face imprisonment, which can range from a few months to several years, depending on the seriousness of the offense.
    • Fines: The court may impose monetary penalties as part of your punishment. The amount can vary based on the circumstances of your case, including the type of drug, the amount involved, and your prior criminal record.
    • Probation: In states like Texas, the court may allow you to pursue probation instead of incarceration. As such, you must meet specific conditions and be subject to supervision during a set period.
    • Mandatory drug treatment: The court may order you to undergo drug treatment programs, counseling, or rehabilitation, such as the Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison (DTAP) Program, as part of or as an alternative to a prison sentence.
    • Asset forfeiture: Sometimes, the government may seize assets, such as cars, cash, and real estate, connected to drug-related activities.
    • Criminal record: A drug conviction results in a criminal record, which can have long-term effects, such as compromising your ability to find employment, housing, and educational opportunities.
    • Loss of rights: A felony drug conviction can lead to losing certain rights, such as your right to vote, possess firearms, or hold specific professional licenses.
    • Impact on immigration status: Non-U.S. citizens may face severe immigration-related consequences, including deportation or ineligibility for certain immigration benefits, such as permanent residency.
    • Social stigma: A drug conviction may subject you to social stigma and discrimination, affecting personal relationships and community integration.

    The Impact of Drug Use

    People often associate legal consequences with the impact of drug use. However, drugs can significantly and more immediately influence one’s physical, mental, and social well-being.

    Drug use or, more specifically, abuse can cause severe health issues, such as organ damage and increased chances of contracting infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.

    Abusing drugs also results in mental side effects, such as impaired cognitive functions, addiction, and other psychological disorders like anxiety, depression, and psychoses.

    Moreover, drug use profoundly affects relationships due to the physical and psychological changes produced by controlled substances, which can lead to behavioral changes, trust issues, and conflicts.

    Drug Diversion Program

    While drug crimes usually result in fines and prison sentences, the U.S. government and states provide drug diversion programs, such as the DTAP, as an alternative punishment.

    These programs are designed to subject individuals with low-level drug offenses, such as possession of minimal amounts of controlled substances, to treatment, counseling, monitoring, and rehabilitation.

    Many correctional facilities also offer drug diversion programs. For more information on prison-specific alternative penalties, visit LookUpInmate.org and access a database of over 7,000 federal, state, and county jails.

    Your Rights if You Are Accused of Drug Possession

    If you’re facing drug possession accusations, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll face jail time. You have various rights to protect yourself with under federal and state laws, including the following:

    • Right to Remain Silent: You have the right not to answer any questions from law enforcement or prosecutors without having an attorney present. This way, you avoid potentially incriminating yourself.
    • Right to an Attorney: You have the right to an attorney, even if you can’t afford one. A criminal defense lawyer can help you form a defense against the charges and navigate around the potential consequences.
    • Right to Challenge Evidence: You can challenge the evidence the court is presenting against you. You can question how the evidence was obtained and handled. If the evidence was acquired unlawfully or violates your constitutional rights, it may be possible to remove it from your case.
    • Right to a Fair Trial: You are entitled to a fair trial, including the right to a jury trial and to cross-examine witnesses, and the opportunity to present evidence in your defense.
    • Right to Defend Yourself: You can use various defenses in a drug possession case, such as claiming unwitting possession, challenging the legality of the search and seizure, disputing the quantity of the drugs involved, and arguing against the notion of possession.

    Discuss Your Drug Possession Charges With an Experienced Attorney

    While the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution give you the right to defend yourself against drug possession charges, seeking free consultations from an experienced criminal defense attorney is the better option.

    Information on drug laws and punishments is readily available. Still, each case is unique, and having a solid defense strategy tailored to your specific situation is essential to achieving the best possible outcomes.


    1. Federal Bureau of Prisons Offenses
    2. The Controlled Substances Act
    3. Commonly Used Drugs Charts
    4. Is Alcohol A Drug?
    5. Controlled Substance
    6. Felony Drug Crims in North Carolina
    7. Texas Laws & Punishments for Drug Possession & Trafficking
    9. Texas Penalties & Punishments for Drug Possession
    10. Texas Health and Safety Code
    12. Program Profile: Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison (DTAP)
    13. DEA Asset Forfeiture
    14. Criminal reactions to drug-using offenders: A systematic review of the effect of treatment and/or punishment on reduction of drug use and/or criminal recidivism
    15. Which Rights Do You Lose After a Felony Conviction?
    16. Immigration Effect of a Drug Crime Conviction
    17. Physical and Psychological Effects of Substance Use
    18. Fifth Amendment
    19. Sixth Amendment

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