Blog | Drug Abuse

Criminal Penalties for Drug Possession, Drug Addiction and Drug Distribution

Since the Reagan era, the United States government has taken a strong stand when it comes to regulating possession or illegal substances. A number of illicit substances including heroin, cocaine, marijuana, crystal meth and many others are all illegal for individuals to possess. Even drugs allowed by prescription are heavily regulated and non-medical use, possession and distribution of these drugs is a serious offense.

Criminal penalties first came about in 1909 with the passage of the Smoking Opium Exclusion Act. This law banned the use, possession and importation of opium that was used for smoking. However, this law didn’t regulate medications that were opium based, but it was still the first federal law that controlled non-medicinal use of a substance.

Prohibition stopped the legal use and distribution of alcohol for a number of years in the early 1900s as well, only to be overturned eventually. Is this a sign that the current restrictions on drugs will eventually be overturned as well? What does history say?

Post-Prohibition Laws Against Drug Possession and Use

The 1924 Heroin Act made the possession, importation and manufacturing of heroin illegal, even if it was for medicinal use. The Narcotic Drug Import and Export Act of 1922 preceded the Heroin Act and was responsible for ensuring that proper controls were established for the sale, importation, production and use of narcotics. Together with the Uniform State Narcotic Act, which encouraged states to pass laws to match the Federal Drug Import and Export Act, these laws served as the next step in narcotic and drug enforcement and regulation in the US.

Laws Against Importing and Exporting Drugs

DEA logoIn 1951, a law was passed that imposed maximum penalties for violating import and export laws relating to narcotics and then, just five years later in 1956, a second law increased those penalties. During the course of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, more drug enforcement laws and regulations were created, and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was created to take the place of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Through increased penalties and state and federal laws, the government was able to clamp down more heavily on drug users and suppliers. Funding was also increased to help develop programs targeting children and students to inform them of the dangers of substance abuse, as well as to help people who suffered the ill effects of drug abuse. Through both enforcement laws and the development of prevention and treatment programs, drug enforcement has become more even-keeled, though there is still a highly negative stigma attached to narcotics and the users of illicit substances. Only time will show if this perception will change along with the ever-evolving laws and programs.

Laws Extend Beyond Possession and Distribution

Today, we see a number of groundbreaking cases to bring unethical doctors and other drug dealers to justice. In these cases,individuals often give drugs to another person who then goes on to overdose or commit crimes with the substance in their system. Even doctors who legally prescribed medications to people like Anna Nicole Smith and Michael Jackson– both of whom died of drug overdose–are finding themselves on trial for their professional conduct.

Do you think that the current drug laws in the U.S. go too far? Not far enough? What about the treatment and prevention programs? How many drug-related regulations should there be and to what end?

If someone you care about struggles with a substance use problem, call our toll-free helpline to learn more about modern, evidence-based treatment approaches. Our caring and experienced addiction recovery professionals are here to help you.