The Controlled Substances Act: The Bare Bones Basics

Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in 1970 to regulate the possession and distribution of drugs. The CSA – also known as the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act – created five so-called “schedules” of controlled substances classified according to a I to V scheme. Let’s review these:

Schedule I

Illegal possession and distribution of these drugs can constitute a serious offense and could lead to more severe penalties under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. These drugs are thought not to have any legitimate medical use (according to the law) and can cause harm even if the user gets supervision. Examples of Schedule I drugs include:

  • LSD
  • Ecstasy
  • Heroin
  • Mescaline
  • Peyote
  • DMT
  • Marijuana

Of course, marijuana does have medical uses and such uses are recognized in the state of California. However, Federal Law does not recognize such uses, and people on federal probation are not allowed to use marijuana, whether prescribed or not.

Schedule II

These drugs do have some medical use, but they have an extreme potential for being addictive – either physically or psychologically. Examples include:

  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • PCP
  • Methadone
  • Opium
  • Methamphetamines
  • Methadone

Schedule III

Schedule III drugs also have a so-called accepted medical use, and while they do have the potential to be addictive – psychologically or physically – there is less “potential for abuse” for these drugs than there is for Schedule II drugs. Examples include:

  • Naline
  • Anabolic steroids
  • Codeine
  • Other kinds of steroids

Schedule IV

Schedule IV drugs are less easily abused than Schedule III drugs and can include:

  • Sedatives
  • Meprobamate
  • Certain tranquilizers
  • Certain barbiturates
  • Certain products made with opium or codeine
  • Valium
  • Xanax

Schedule V

These drugs have the least potential for abuse and psychological/physical dependency and include:

  • Cough medicines that contain codeine
  • Other medications prepared with opium or codeine

Since its inception in 1970, the Controlled Substances Act has been amended to come into compliance with conventions established internationally. States have their own drug sentencing laws, which often mirror the federal laws. Certain states do diverge, however. For instance, California and 11 other states allow medical marijuana use. (According to the federal scheme, marijuana is a Schedule I drug.) In a 2005 Supreme Court case, the High Court ruled that the US government can bring federal criminal charges against marijuana users, irrespective of their state protections, since the sale of marijuana is often done on an interstate basis.


Different offenses merit different penalties. Simple possession is generally the least serious charge. Possession with the intent to distribute the drug carries higher penalties. If you get into manufacturing or distributing or selling illegal narcotics, your punishment can be greater still. And if you engage in a criminal conspiracy to manufacture, distribute, and sell drugs to generate a serious income stream, you could wind up with a severe sentence, depending upon the degree of participation in the conspiracy.

Depending on the nature of the charges, your criminal history and whether any co-conspirators committed additional crimes (such as burglary, assault and battery, or even murder), your penalties could range from a minimum of 10 years up to life imprisonment.

A federal criminal defense attorney who is familiar with the Controlled Substances Act can help you put together a vigorous defense. In some cases, your attorney may be able to challenge the evidence that prosecutors have assembled through Fourth Amendment objections (protecting you against unreasonable search and seizure).

If you have been arrested for drug charges pursuant to the Controlled Substances Act in West Texas, it’s a good idea to consult with an attorney who is Board Certified and deeply familiar with the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

Contact Information