Federal Drug Laws

Federal drug laws focus on regulating the importation, possession, manufacturing, distributing, marketing and sale of illegal drugs. Legal drugs that are regulated can become illegal when they are not acquired via the proper channels.

Federal drug laws also prohibit psychoactive drugs that alter brain function or are severely physically addictive. Examples of drugs that are unilaterally banned include (but not limited to) cocaine, crack cocaine, PCP and methamphetamines.

The penalties for violating federal drug laws vary depending on the drug and the intent of the person in possession. Penalties are much stiffer for persons arrested who are attempting to distribute the drugs than for persons found to be in possession of the drugs for personal use.

The type and amount of the drug also determines the length of penalties imposed at sentencing, with narcotics such as crack carrying much longer jail terms than marijuana.

Federal vs. State Drug Laws

State drug laws often conflict with federal laws.

A good example of this is Maine’s having made possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil (non-jail) offense, though federal law makes it a crime. (In Maine, it is legal to prescribe marijuana and have a limited amount in possession for medicinal purposes only.) Medicinal marijuana is still unlawful under federal law, although the federal government does not typically prosecute these cases.

When state and federal drug laws conflict, federal laws supersede state laws if the federal government chooses to prosecute the violation. For example, the federal government will sometimes intervene to claim jurisdiction over what amounts to misdemeanor drug possession.

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