If you have been charged with the manufacture, possession, use, or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS), you could face serious penalties, including massive fines and time in prison. The punishment you face is determined in large part by what type of CDS is involved in your charge. Knowing and understanding the classification of the CDS is critical to building your defense.
Regulation of Controlled Dangerous Substances in Maryland
Controlled dangerous substances are drugs the federal government considers dangerous to the public. Through the Controlled Dangerous Substances, Prescriptions, and Other Substances Act, the Office of Controlled Substances Administration (OCSA), a division of Maryland's Department of Health, controls and regulates these drugs.
Classifications of Controlled Dangerous Substances in Maryland
Maryland adheres to federal rules when it comes to classifying controlled dangerous substances. Controlled dangerous substances are defined by the Food and Drug Administration and are broken down into categories called "schedules" ranging from I to V. A drug is placed in one of these five schedules according to two primary factors: (1) its potential for abuse and dependency; and (2) the presence or absence of medical approval for the substance.
Schedule I controlled dangerous substances are the most dangerous classification of substances. Schedule I drugs have no medically accepted use and carry an extremely high risk of abuse and dependency, both physical and psychological. Common examples of Schedule I controlled dangerous substances include:
To note, for Maryland's purposes, marijuana -- though considered a Schedule 1 drug -- is considered separately. Any person possessing less than 10 grams will not be charged with a criminal offense but a "civil offense punishable by a fine not exceeding $100" for the first offense and a fine not exceeding $250 or $500 for the second, third, or subsequent offenses, respectively. MD Crim. Law Code § 5-601.
Like Schedule I controlled dangerous substances, a Schedule II drug has a high risk of abuse along with physical and psychological dependency. The difference in the two categories, however, is that Schedule II controlled dangerous substances are approved for medical use, albeit with severe restrictions. Schedule II controlled dangerous substances include:
- Painkillers, like Vicodin, Oxycodone, Dilaudid, and morphine
- Stimulants, like Ritalin and Adderall
Schedule III controlled dangerous substances have been approved for medical use and can even be prescribed with the option of refills. The potential for abuse with this class of drugs is lower than Schedule I and II controlled dangerous substances. While the risk of physical dependency is lower than Schedule I or II drugs, the risk for psychological dependency remains high. Schedule III controlled dangerous substances include:
- Anabolic steroids
Schedule IV controlled dangerous substances present fewer dangers to users than the above-listed drugs. They are medically approved and carry a low potential for abuse. In addition, a Schedule IV CDS carries a minimal risk of physical or psychological dependency. Schedule IV controlled dangerous substances include:
- Anti-anxiety medication, like Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium
- Sedatives, like Ambien
- Epileptic medication, like Ativan.
At the bottom of the risk hierarchy of controlled dangerous substances are Schedule V drugs. These controlled substances carry a low risk of abuse and dependency and are sometimes available without a prescription. Schedule V controlled dangerous substances include:
- Cough suppressants containing small amounts of codeine, like Robitussin
- Pain medication, like Lyrica.
Charges involving a CDS are governed by Title 5 of the Maryland criminal code. Determining the schedule of the CDS involved in your charge is critical as the schedule of the drug will often determine what penalties you face if you are convicted of the crime. Charges involving Schedule I and II substances often carry a more severe punishment than charges related to Schedule III, IV, and V substance.
Factors Affecting Punishment for Controlled Dangerous Substances
Several factors are considered by the court when determining a convicted person's possible punishment. These factors include the drug schedule -- as described above -- and the amount of the substance, type of crime committed while in possession of the substance, and any prior drug convictions.
As a general rule, Maryland criminalizes illegal possession of all controlled dangerous substances and penalties are often in accordance with the schedule associated with the drug. Drugs listed under schedules I, II, and, to some extent, III, usually mean tougher sentencing.
There are, however, other factors that determine the sentencing. For instance, if you were in possession of a controlled substance with the intent to distribute it, then the sentencing can be more severe, especially if it was a more dangerous drug, like heroin.
Amount of Substance
The extent of punishment after a conviction involving dangerous controlled substances depends on how much of the CDS you were found with when you were charged. While small amounts of controlled dangerous substances still result in punishment, possession of larger quantities can turn a drug possession charge into a charge of intent to distribute. Sentences for these crimes are much more severe than possession convictions.
Type of Crime Committed
Criminal offenses involving controlled dangerous substances include:
- Possession or attempt to possess a CDS
- Manufacturing a CDS
- Distribution of or intent to distribute a CDS
- Organizing, financing, transporting, or importing a CDS.
Depending on the type of crime with which you are convicted, sentencing can range from jail time to up to 40 years of imprisonment, along with fines ranging from $1,000 for possession to $1 million for trafficking of a controlled dangerous substance.
Prior Drug Offenses
Another factor that can affect punishment is whether the conviction is your first offense of such a crime. When it comes to possession, distribution, or manufacturing of a controlled dangerous substance, convictions for first offenses carry a lighter sentence than convictions for a second, third, or subsequent offense.
For example, manufacturing a Schedule I or II drug, like heroin or methamphetamine, carries a 20-year maximum prison sentence and $25,000 fine for a first offense. A person who has three prior offenses, though, faces a 40-year minimum prison sentence and a fine up to $100,000 if convicted a fourth time.
Faced with a Drug Charge in Maryland?
If you have been charged with a drug crime, knowing the drug classification matters. It is one of several factors that determine sentencing. It is also a starting point for the development of your defense strategy.
It is important to contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible following your arrest. A drug charge can have long-term effects on your life and make it difficult to apply for a job or find a place to live. Get the representation you deserve by a competent attorney who has your best interests in mind.