Federal vs. State Drug Laws

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Federal and state laws both cover a wide range of criminal offenses including those crimes that are drug-related.  Each entity also has different criteria that are used for the actual crime and different prison systems where serving out sentences is concerned.  Naturally, this depends on whether the federal or state government prosecutes the violation.  However, federal and state drug laws do have one thing in common.  They both prohibit manufacturing, possessing, and selling illegal controlled substances.

Identifying Federal And State Laws

Basically, federal drug laws are enforced by agents or officers who work for one of the following agencies:

  • •    DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency)
  • •    FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation)
  • •    Secret Service
  • •    US Treasury Department

Conversely, county, local, and state police enforce drug laws at the state level.  Offenders are booked at a federal facility when federal agents arrest them.  Additionally, the individual will usually be held in a federal jail until they go to trial or make bail.  If a person gets arrested for a drug offense at the state level, they are taken to their local police department and booked there.  At that point, the person will usually be incarcerated at a county jail where they will await bail or go to trial.

Problems With Jurisdiction Issues

State laws are only enforced in the state where the individual committed the crime whereas federal laws can be enforced anywhere in any state.  Furthermore, when there is a state law that corresponds with a federal law, the federal law can only be enforced if the crime was committed on a federal property.  Occasionally, federal laws may come into conflict with laws at the state level.

For instance, under the laws of California, “medical” marijuana can be grown legally and dispensed for medicinal purposes to persons who have a prescription for it.  However, there is no differentiation involved at the federal level and the growth or possession of marijuana is prohibited under federal law.  As an example of this, marijuana farmers or growers who are licensed in California are raided and arrested by DEA agents on a regular basis.

Legal vs. Illegal

If we put aside controversies regarding the Federal Government’s “war on drugs,” it isn’t difficult to see why there are controversies that exist in certain circumstances such as the medical marijuana issue discussed above.  Nor is it difficult to comprehend why law enforcement and legislators are so concerned about the manufacture, possession, and sale of controlled substances.  Over $110 billion is spent every year such as accidental death, criminal behavior, dependency treatment, health care, and more that are drug-related.

In most cases, the determination of whether a drug is illegal or legal is attributed to the use of that substance.  For example certain mental and physical health issues can be treated by using controlled substances as follows:

  • •    Alleviating cancer-induced nausea with marijuana
  • •    Treating ADD/ADHD with amphetamines
  • •    Treating anxiety issues and panic attacks with barbiturates

However, the consensus is that these substances are dangerous to individuals and society when they are used without being supervised or have not been prescribed.  As a result, the abuse or use, manufacture, and sale of these substances have been regulated by lawmakers and legislators for years.

There are key differences to be aware of when comparing federal laws with those at the local or state level.  For instance, the majority of federal drug cases involve drug trafficking whereas possession charges comprise the majority of those arrests conducted at the local and state level.  Another key difference is that the severity of the consequences as well as punishment and sentencing after a conviction are considerably harsher at the federal level compared to the state level.


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