Understanding Georgia Controlled Substance Schedules
When you are facing drug charges, it can sometimes feel like the prosecuting attorneys and court staff are using complicated language on purpose to confuse you. But knowing the difference between the different types of drugs and how Georgia law treats them can affect your sentence, and your decision on how you wish to proceed with your case. Find out how to understand the Georgia controlled substance schedules, and what they mean for you and your drug charges.
What are Controlled Substances?
Many lawyers, prosecutors, and judges have a habit of using legal jargon when they talk about criminal cases. The paperwork you receive from the police or the court can sometimes be so full of abbreviations and acronyms you can’t tell what they mean without a law degree. That is especially true when it comes to drug crimes, or as lawyers say, “Violations of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act” or VGCSA. But what does that mean? What counts as a controlled substance?
The law defines a “controlled substance” as a “drug, substance, or immediate precursor” listed in one of five “Schedules”. It generally includes any intoxicating substance or medication that must be prescribed by a doctor. The schedules are broken down by the severity of the drug and the danger of its side effects or risk of addiction.
Schedule I Drugs
Schedule I applies to the most dangerous and highly addictive types of drugs. These are substances that have no accepted medical use in the United States. Examples of Schedule I drugs are:
- Non-prescription opiates
- Hallucinogenic substances
- Tetrahydrocannabinol or Thetrahydrocannabinolic acid which does not contain the morphological features of the plant (ie- cannabis wax/dabs)
Schedule II Drugs
Schedule II drugs have a high chance of abuse or psychological or chemical addiction. They have some accepted medical use, but are usually highly restricted and can only be used with a prescription or under a doctor’s care. Examples of Schedule II drugs are:
- Prescription opiates (including oxycodone and morphine)
- Cocaine (including crack cocaine)
- Methamphetamines (meth)
Schedule III Drugs
Schedule III applies to drugs that are less dangerous than Schedules I and II, but still have a low to moderate chance of creating psychological or physical addiction. They all have accepted medical uses. Examples of Schedule III drugs are:
- Steroids (with some exceptions)
- Testosterone (with some exceptions)
- Limited quantities of codeine, opium, or morphine
Schedule IV Drugs
Schedule IV drugs are medications with only a limited risk of addiction or dependence and a low potential for abuse. Examples of Schedule IV drugs are:
Schedule V Drugs
Schedule V drugs have the lowest chance of addiction or abuse of any of the controlled substances. They also have recognized medical uses. Examples of Schedule V drugs are:
- Mixtures of narcotic and non-narcotic drugs
- Small quantities of codeine, morphine, or opium
- Pseudoephedrine (i.e. Sudafed or Benadryl)
The Penalty for Violations of the Georgia Controlled Substance Act
Once you know which schedule the drugs you are accused of possessing belong to, you and your criminal defense attorney can start to determine the maximum penalty for the drug charges you are facing. That penalty will depend on:
- The schedule of the drug involved
- The amount of the drug involved
- Whether the prosecutor can prove you intended to sell, distribute, or manufacture the drug
- Your past history of drug convictions
Most violations of the Georgia Controlled Substance Act are felonies. Possession of a Schedule V drug carries a penalty of one to five years in prison, and the consequences go up from there. A second offense of possessing a Schedule I drug is five to thirty years in state prison.
The Special Case of Marijuana
Marijuana prosecution and penalties depend on whether the substance is the leafy form or the other, more serious, liquid or solid form without leafy material. To be clear, the possession or use of marjuana is illegal in Georgia.
However, the penalty for possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana, in the leaf/tree form, is a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail. The sale or distribution of marijuana can have a penalty of 1 - 30 years, depending on the amount involved.
In addition, Georgia law allows for the possession of hemp. If you are charged with a marijuana violation, you will want to explore the possibility of using the hemp statute to your benefit. An experienced criminal defense attorney should be able to discuss the hemp issue, and whether you may have a defense, with you at the time of your office consultation.
What to Do If You Are Facing VGCSA Charges
If you have been arrested for drug possession, or received paperwork from the court that says you have been charged with VGCSA, you need to talk to a criminal defense attorney right away. Your attorney can file the proper legal motions and make the proper legal arguments to preserve and protect your rights.
Lance McCoy of The McCoy Law Firm, LLC, is a criminal and DUI defense attorney with 25 years of experience. From his family-owned law firm in Cartersville, Georgia, he represents defendants facing controlled substance charges throughout northwest Georgia. If you are facing Georgia drug charges, please contact Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia so we can begin working on your case right away.