Your Guide to Understanding Drug Classification and Its Impact on Legal Charges

Posted: June 15, 2024 at 12:00 am

Although all drug offenses are illegal, some are penalized more harshly than others. This comes down to a number of factors, one of which is drug classification. With a wealth of experience on the team at Billam & Henderson, LLC, in Overland Park, KS, and serving clients in Lenexa, KS, Shawnee, KS, and elsewhere, with us you’ll have a defense lawyer who knows all about drug law and how best to defend their clients.

Your Guide To Understanding Drug Classification and Its Impact on Legal Charges

Illegal drugs are classified into different schedules at both state and federal levels. Drug classification systems are used to categorize substances based on their potential for abuse, medical use, and safety. These classifications influence the severity of legal penalties for possession, distribution, and manufacturing offenses.

Severity of Penalties

Higher Schedules (I and II)

Drugs classified under Schedules I and II typically carry the harshest penalties due to their high potential for abuse and, in the case of Schedule I, lack of accepted medical use. Penalties can include lengthy prison sentences, hefty fines, and long-term impacts on an individual’s criminal record.

Lower Schedules (III, IV, and V)

These substances generally incur lighter penalties. However, penalties can still be severe depending on the quantity involved, the nature of the offense and prior criminal history.

Type of Offense


Simple possession charges are influenced by the drug’s classification. Possession of Schedule I or II substances usually results in more severe charges due to their high potential for abuse and, for Schedule I, lack of medical use. Possession of these substances generally results in less severe penalties, though significant fines and imprisonment are still possible, especially for larger quantities or repeat offenses.

Aggravating Factors

Factors such as possessing drugs near schools, involving minors, or possessing large quantities can enhance charges and penalties.

Distribution and Trafficking

Charges related to the distribution, trafficking, or manufacturing of controlled substances are significantly more serious and carry harsher penalties, especially for higher-schedule drugs. These offenses are most often charged as felonies and have the potential for long-term incarceration and high fines.

Prescription Drug Offenses

These offenses include prescription fraud, such as possessing prescription drugs without a valid prescription, doctor shopping (obtaining multiple prescriptions from different doctors), or forging prescriptions. These are serious offenses. Strict regulations govern how doctors prescribe and pharmacies dispense controlled substances, particularly those in Schedules II through V.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Some drug offenses carry mandatory minimum sentences, particularly those involving Schedule I and II substances. These mandatory minimums limit judicial discretion and result in predetermined sentences for specific offenses. Crimes involving these drugs leave slightly less room for maneuver when it comes to a defense, but this does not mean that clients are left without options.

Drug Classification Systems

In the United States, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) classifies drugs into five schedules. This classification is managed by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Kansas State Drug Classifications

States have their own drug classification systems and schedules, which can sometimes differ from federal schedules, and here in Kansas, drug classifications are organized similarly to the federal system into five schedules but with some state-specific distinctions. The Kansas Uniform Controlled Substances Act (K.S.A. 65-4101 et seq.) outlines the classification of controlled substances, categorizing them into five schedules based on their potential for abuse, medical use, and safety.

Schedule I

Substances with a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use even when under medical supervision. Examples include heroin, LSD, and other hallucinogens such as peyote and psilocybin, MDMA (Ecstasy), mescaline, methaqualone, and cannabis (marijuana, despite its legality for medical use in some states, remains Schedule I under Kansas law). Kansas also counts fentanyl as a Schedule I substance outside of very strict hospital settings.

Schedule II

These are substances with a high potential for abuse, with abuse potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence, but also having currently accepted medical uses with severe restrictions. Examples include cocaine, coca leaves and any coca plant derivatives, methamphetamine, and any form of opium or opioid including codeine, oxycodone, and morphine.

Schedule III

Schedule III substances have less potential for abuse than Schedule I and II substances, currently accepted medical uses, and moderate to low physical dependence or psychological dependence. Examples include anabolic steroids, ketamine, nalorphine, and certain barbiturates including amobarbital, secobarbital, and pentobarbital.

Schedule IV

These are substances with a low potential for abuse relative to Schedule III, a currently accepted medical use, and limited physical or psychological dependence relative to Schedule III substances. Examples include the benzodiazepines alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin), triazolam (Halcion), zolpidem (Ambien), and the opiate tramadol.

Schedule V

Schedule V drugs are substances with lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV and consist of preparations containing limited quantities of certain narcotics. Many of these drugs are legal to own and use as long as you do so according to the manufacturer’s stated dose but can be abused or used to manufacture other drugs. Examples include cough preparations with less than 200 milligrams of codeine per 100 milliliters, and certain antidiarrheals.

How Can a Drug Crime Defense Lawyer in Shawnee, KS, Lenexa, KS, Help?

Kansas takes drug offenses very seriously, and it’s very important to act fast if you’ve been charged with any sort of drug crime. There are many avenues that we can explore to find the best possible defense strategy for your case. Defending against drug charges involves several strategies, which we will tailor to the specifics of the case. Be assured that we will leave no stone unturned in our fight to advocate for you.

Often we will begin by challenging the evidence, for example, by contesting the legality of the search and seizure, questioning the chain of custody of the evidence, or disputing the accuracy of drug tests. In some cases, demonstrating that the substance was used for a legitimate medical purpose can be a defense, though this is more challenging with Schedule I substances. If you are currently being prescribed medication or have been in the past, then we may be able to argue that this is a case of medical necessity.

If you did not know that you were in possession of a controlled substance, then we may be able to advocate for you from that angle. If law enforcement induced you to commit a crime they otherwise would not have committed, then we may take the line that this is a case of entrapment. In addition to these measures, we may negotiate plea deals; working with prosecutors to reduce charges or penalties, potentially by cooperating or entering rehabilitation programs.

Kansas classifies controlled substances into five schedules, and these classifications impact the severity of legal penalties for drug-related offenses, including possession, distribution, and manufacturing. If you’re facing drug charges in Shawnee, KS, Lenexa, KS, or further afield, consult with an experienced drug crime defense lawyer from Billam & Henderson, LLC, in Overland Park, KS, to explore all possible defenses and mitigate potential penalties.