Drug Crime FAQs

Drug Crime FAQs

Florida Statutes Section 893.13, conveys the state penalties for felony possession. Third-degree felony possession carries with it up to 5 years in prison, while first degree is punishable with up to 30 years in prison. There can also be felony drug charges for distribution and manufacturing/cultivation of drugs. When the trafficking of a controlled substance is prosecuted as a first-degree felony, the Florida penalty can be as high as 30 years. There are also set times of incarceration that are mandatory minimums for certain types and amounts of drugs. It is also possible to get a second- or third-degree felony if an intent to distribute can be established. Manufacturing or cultivation of controlled substances can be categorized as a third-degree felony, with a maximum of five years. Making other types of drugs is considered a second-degree felony, with a maximum penalty of 15 years. Federal drug laws for trafficking are very severe as well; depending on amounts and types of the substance, an arrest can result in life in prison.

According to an analysis from the Prison Policy Initiative that compiles data on all the various types of prisons, jails, and other places in which inmates are held within the United States, there are 2.3 million inmates; nearly half a million of those people are behind bars for a drug offense.

To look at nonviolent drug offense numbers, we can assess the number of people who are imprisoned that have a drug charge as a primary offense. According to a study from John Pfaff of Fordham University, this population was at its highest point in 1990: 22 percent; that segment of prisoners increased from 1980 to 1990, then started declining again (as a proportion), receding to 17% by 2010. However, when we ask what percentage of the prison population are nonviolent offenders without including the state level, drug offenders represent more than half of individuals currently incarcerated at federal prisons (Federal Bureau of Prisons).

The nonviolent drug offender is a person who committed a drug crime that did not involve any kind of damaging physical force (i.e., the idea of a victimless crime). In terms of today’s cultural context, the nonviolent drug offense or offender is a buzz concept that is often used to refer to the archetypal unnecessarily imprisoned person. However, it is a fundamentally non-controversial way to refer to a group of people (as indicated by its use in US Department of Justice documents in 2004, for example).

One basic way that drug abuse and crime are connected is obvious: abusing a drug requires you to be in possession of it, so the drug abuser is committing a crime simply by having it. Actually, though, there’s a broader way in which drug abuse is tied to crime: substance abuse is common among people who disregard the law. According to statistics from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), about 3 in 5 people test positive for illegal drugs at the time of their arrest. How many drug addicts are in prison? That requires combining two sets of statistics. NCADD data indicates that almost half of people who are incarcerated in the United States can be medically categorized as addicted to either illegal drugs or alcohol. Looking at those numbers alongside figures from the Prison Policy Initiative that show the total prison population at 2.3 million, we can derive that the total number of addicts incarcerated in the United States is close to 1.15 million. However, other research, from the (nonprofit, nonpartisan) National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, reports that the number is higher: 1.5 million inmates – 65% of the total incarcerated population.

Out of the 14,831 murders that occurred in the United States during 2007, 3.9% were drug-related, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCRP). Homicides that took place while a narcotics felony (trafficking, manufacturing, etc.) was underway are considered drug-related.

Drug crime puts many people into prison in Florida – as indicated by data from the Florida Department of Corrections. How many people are in prison or jail for drugs? At the state level, drug crime is the 3rd-most common primary offense of inmates at 14.5%, behind property crime (21.2%) and violent crime (55.3%). Out of the 97,521 inmates incarcerated at that point, the primary offense for 5.5% of them was drug trafficking, while the primary offense for 6.7% was drug purchase, sale, or manufacture. How many prisoners are in jail for drug-related crimes? According to the Prison Policy Initiative, there are nearly 500,000 people imprisoned in the United States for a drug offense – meaning that 1 in 5 inmates are behind bars for this type of crime (many of them at the federal level).

Drugs are the primary reason that arrests are made nationwide. 1.55 million of the 12.2 million arrests (12.7%) in 2012 were for drug crime. According to FBI data, more than 4 in 5 of these arrests (82.2%) were for possession, while fewer than 1 in 5 (17.8%) were for sale or manufacturing. That is one way to look at how much crime is drug-related. Another is to look at the motivations that cause people to commit crimes – which answers the question, “How do drugs cause crime?” The basic answer is that they have enough value to individuals and on the market that people will commit crimes to get them; in fact, 18% of federal prisoners and 17% of state inmates in the US said they broke the law to buy drugs (2004). To be clear, the number of arrests does not tell us what percentage of crime is drug-related because a criminal act may not be detected or punished; specifically, if lawmakers and/or law enforcement agencies prioritize narcotics, that leads to more drug arrests, giving a false sense of its proportion of criminal instances.

The way that felony drug charges are determined is specific to the amount and type of controlled substance. To consider the types of offenses, it is helpful to first look at how someone can be put in jail for drugs – and that is, in large part, through state and federal legislation. Per Florida Statutes Section 893.13, it is a third-degree felony to possess more than 20 grams and less than 25 pounds of marijuana; 28 grams or less of cocaine; 10 grams or less of ecstasy/MDMA/molly; 1 gram or less of LSD; or 4 grams or less of heroin or other opiates. First-degree felony possession refers to offenses in which there is greater than 25 pounds of marijuana; 28 grams of cocaine; 10 grams of ecstasy/molly/MDMA; 1 gram of LSD; or 4 grams of opiates such as heroin. Felony charges can also result related to manufacture/cultivation or trafficking of controlled substances. Marijuana cultivation can be a third-degree felony. The manufacture of other types of drugs is prosecuted as a second-degree felony. It can be a third-degree felony if you rent any space with the plan to make drugs in it. Distribution of controlled substances can lead to a felony charge subject to mandatory minimum sentencing for set drug quantities and classifications. There are also set times of incarceration that are mandatory minimums for certain drug types and amounts. It is also possible to get a second or third-degree felony for distribution activities. Plus, there are felony federal trafficking penalties for drugs classified as controlled – with “schedules” (categories) through which penalty limits of as much as life in prison are assigned.

Crime is acts or omissions that can be prosecuted and punished by the government. Drug crime is violation of laws that are related to the unlawful manufacture, distribution, or possession of drugs that the jurisdiction (i.e., state and federal government) defines as controlled substances. A controlled substance, as its name suggests, is a certain variety of plant or chemical compound that is being controlled by lawmakers and law enforcement. The manufacture, distribution, or possession of these drugs must specifically be unlawful because some substances are legal as medical prescriptions, doled out at strict dosages, but not otherwise. When looking at a specific act, you might ask, “What is a drug offense or offender?” A drug offense is a single instance of drug crime, and a drug offender is someone who commits a drug offense. What are drug laws? The key ones specific to Florida are contained within Florida Statutes Chapter 893: Drug Abuse Prevention and Control. That section of law provides the state law, while the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) is the key statute for federal regulation of substances classified as threats to public health and safety. The CSA was signed into law by President Richard Nixon nearly a half-century ago, as part of a broader bill; it was Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970.

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