What Is a Drug Schedule? 4 Things to Know

Posted: December 1, 2021 at 12:00 am

Drug crimes are common all over the United States. Minor offenses like misdemeanor marijuana possession to major offenses like felony drug trafficking happen every day, and there is a lot to know. What is a drug schedule and how does that impact potential federal penalties? How do you pick an appropriate drug defense attorney? Keep reading to learn 4 important things to know!

What Is a Drug Schedule and How Do You Select a Drug Defense Attorney? 4 Things to Know

1. Drug Schedule Types

Simply put, drugs are classified into “schedules”. These schedules are defined by the U.S. Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Drugs are grouped based on the drug’s accepted medical use, the potential to abuse the drug, and its safety liability. The drug’s schedule is primarily dependent on each drug’s dependency and abuse rate. Drugs are rated on a scale of 1 (I) to 5 (V). The schedule number does not dictate the degree of danger or abuse rate.

It’s possible for a drug to fall into multiple schedules, as some drugs are manufactured into different forms. For instance, Fentanyl is normally a Schedule II drug. However, Fentanyl Analogue (a synthetic, designer version) is a Schedule I drug. The different schedule classifications will impact the federal penalty.

Schedule I Drugs

Schedule I drugs are defined as those with no accepted medical use but a high potential for abuse. They may only be used in the U.S. for research. Examples of Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD, marijuana, ecstasy, and peyote.

Schedule II Drugs

Schedule II drugs are those with a higher potential for abuse and are potentially dangerous. They have an accepted medical use in the U.S. Except for an emergency, prescriptions for this type of drug must be written and signed by a doctor and cannot be called into a pharmacy. These drugs cannot be refilled. Common examples of Schedule II drugs include cocaine, oxycodone, Vicodin, methamphetamine, fentanyl, Ritalin, and Adderall.

Schedule III Drugs

Schedule III drugs are those with moderate to low dependence. They have an accepted medical use in treatment in the U.S. Prescriptions for this type of drug can be written or oral. They can also be refilled up to 5 times within 6 months from the date it was prescribed. Schedule III drugs have an abuse rate that’s lower than Schedule I and II drugs. Common examples of Schedule III drugs include steroids, codeine, ketamine, and testosterone.

Schedule IV Drugs

Schedule IV drugs are those with a low potential for abuse and dependence. They have an accepted medical use in the United States. Prescriptions for this type of drug can be written or oral. They can also be refilled up to 5 times within 6 months from the date it was prescribed. Common examples of Schedule IV drugs include Valium, Xanax, and Ambien.

Schedule V Drugs

Schedule V drugs are those with an even lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV drugs. They have an accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. Schedule V drugs can include over-the-counter medications used for anti-diarrheal and pain relief purposes. A consumer must be at least 18 years of age to purchase it, and their name must be entered into the pharmacy’s special record. Common examples of Schedule V drugs include Lyrica, Robitussin AC, and Motofen.

2. The Differences Between Narcotics and Other Drugs

Every drug is recorded by the U.S. DEA, given an ID, determined to be a narcotic or not, and then classified into a schedule. Narcotics are only one class of drugs and are generally classified as illegal drugs. They’re not used for any type of medical purpose but instead created for illegal use.

The other classes of drugs, as defined by the Controlled Substances Act, include depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, inhalants, and steroids. Note that drug class and drug schedule are completely different methods of classifying drugs. In the five drug schedules, some drugs are classified as narcotics. However, many are not.

3. Federal Penalties

The Controlled Substances Act also provides federal penalties for the criminal manufacturing, distribution, and dispensing of the drugs found in the 5 schedules. Penalties for drug offenses often include jail or prison time, as well as fines.

Federal Penalties for Drug Trafficking

The drug schedule and name primarily determine the federal penalty. Penalties may also change depending on the number of previous offenses that have occurred and how much of the drug was found on the person convicted. The first and second offenses are more lenient and may incur less time in prison. A lower quantity of a drug may also carry lighter sentencing and smaller fines. However, there is not a one-size-fits-all standard based on drug schedule.

Minimum Sentences for Drug Trafficking

The minimum sentence for first offenses can range from 1 to 20 years, depending on the schedule and quantity of the drug in possession. The minimum sentence for second offenses can range from 4 to 30 years, also depending on the schedule and quantity of the drug in possession. The minimum sentence for third and higher offenses, no matter which drug schedule, is mandatory life imprisonment and a fine that can go up to $20-$75 million.

4. Selecting a Defense Attorney

An effective defense attorney is responsive, trustworthy, thorough, and very experienced. The selection of your defense lawyer should be seen as the most critical element of the court proceedings. The lawyer will be the difference between a win or loss.


First, a defense attorney should be responsive to you. The hands of Justice can move both fast and slow. There are deadlines that must be abided by, so it’s important to select a defense attorney who understands the criticality of those and responds appropriately. If a deadline slips, it could cost you valuable time (and potentially, behind bars).


You also need someone you can trust. This will be someone who will both take direction from you and guide you on the legal proceedings. The best lawyers have reputable sources. Read online reviews, check out their discipline record on the state bar, and ask for referrals. All good lawyers have word-of-mouth referrals. Your friends and family may have recommendations.


The third critical element in selecting a defense attorney is someone who will work hard for you and conduct a thorough investigation. They will know when it’s best to go to trial vs. having you accept a plea deal. They are also sincerely interested in your case and doing the right thing for you.


Finally, your defense attorney should be someone who is experienced in drug offenses, local courts, court proceedings, and potential outcomes. They should be confident and able to recall the basics without having to look them up. They should know what questions to ask you to understand how your case nuances will impact your proceedings. In addition, a lawyer with a strong local network and relationships could make or break your case.

Have you or someone you know been recently convicted of a drug offense in Johnson County, KS? Visit Henderson Legal Defense, LLC law firm today to get help fast. Our experienced attorneys understand your potential outcomes and the court-recommended treatment programs. The best first thing you can do is arm yourself with information so you can be given the best defense. Let us give you the chance you deserve in criminal court.