The Worst Drugs to Get Caught With in America

July 23rd 2016

Under federal law, all drugs are not treated equally. Penalties for simple possession vary pretty dramatically based on the drug's classification under the Controlled Substances Act, and that classification system doesn't always make sense.

The way it's supposed to work is that the Drug Enforcement Administration determines what "schedule" a drug will be listed under by evaluating its medical value and potential for abuse. The punishment for possession depends, in part, on what schedule the agency assigned to the drug. It seems like an effective system until you consider, for example, that marijuana — a drug with limited abuse potential and a wide variety of medical applications — is placed in the strictest drug category, above meth and cocaine.

Here's how these 10 common drugs rank under federal law.

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1. Heroin (Schedule I)

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2. LSD (Schedule I)

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3. Marijuana (Schedule I)

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4. MDMA (Schedule I)

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5. Psilocybin (Schedule I)

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6. Cocaine (Schedule II)

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7. Methamphetamine (Schedule II)

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8. Prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and morphine (Schedule II)

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9. Ketamine (Schedule III)

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10. Benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium (Schedule IV)

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Why scheduling matters in terms of punishment. 

The penalties for simple possession (i.e. smaller than the amount that qualifies for a trafficking charge) vary from state to state. To an extent, state drug laws are informed by the Controlled Substances Act, but each state has the discretion to penalize drug offenders according to their own standards. That said, the trend is consistent: the higher the scheduling, the worse the penalty. As it stands, federal law stipulates that a first-time offender charged with simple possession faces up to one year in prison and/or a minimum of a $1,000 fine (the maximum fine is set at $100,000.)

To get a sense of how dramatically state drug laws vary, consider the fact that possession of any amount of marijuana in Kansas is punishable by up to six months in prison and a maximum $1,000 fine. In California, meanwhile, possessing up to an ounce of marijuana (without a medical marijuana license) is a simple infraction, carrying a $100 fine and no jail time. 

RELATED: How Long It Takes for 6 Common Drugs to Leave Your System

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