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Illegal Drugs laws

Information on the law about Illegal Drugs

Although the 1960s and 1970s seemed to hail a new level of legal tolerance toward recreational drug use, the movement became mired in reality in the 1980s when society as a whole grew intolerant of drug use of any kind, largely due to the destructive nature and violent criminal character of the drug trafficking and distribution business.

As a result, what little ground gained toward the legalization of recreational drugs was either lost or frozen, and drug traffickers and dealers now face increasingly stiffer penalties. Notwithstanding the religious use of peyote, virtually no state recognizes legal possession or use of any "recreational drug." Alaska is apparently the most liberal state, with no prescribed penalty for the personal use or possession of marijuana. (Many states have made possession of small amounts of marijuana a misdemeanor. In most of these states, there are also stiff penalties for possession near school grounds or sale to minors—even an offense called "reckless" possession near school grounds.)

Drug laws are among the most complex criminal laws on the books. Often certain offenses are given class designations whereby any number of specific criminal offenses are grouped into various classes and sentences prescribed according to mandated terms, called "sentencing guidelines." Sentencing guidelines set absolute minimum and maximum sentences for specific crimes and take much of the discretion for setting sentences away from judges. Sentencing guidelines have become very controversial lately as legislatures attempt to assert more control over punishments imposed on criminals. From year to year, punishments, it seems, vary often enough not to put them on the books.

One recent trend in drug legislation is the growing incorporation of special enhancements directed at selling to or from minors. Several states have recently amended these particular laws by incorporating mandatory sentencing to adults selling to minors. While such laws have been common, some of the new amendments are becoming more specific by including language such as that found in California. That state's new laws note particularly that enhancements attach when the seller is over 18 and the buyer is a minor 4 years younger. The intent of the legislation to protect minors from influence by corrupt adults is easy to see. The specific age and number of years difference between the parties is less clear.

In most cases in the following tables, reference to the code sections give a picture of the potential punishments for the violation of a specific crime. Since the class schedules among illegal drugs overlap and because the penalties are often extremely involved and difficult to summarize, reference is often made only to the class designation. In these cases, however, it is still possible to draw comparisons among states by studying the degrees assigned to the violation. In addition, quick reference to the individual state code listed should provide easy access to more detailed information.

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