In this paper, I will present the findings of an interview I had with a Federal drug law enforcement officer about the challenges of enforcing existing laws relating to the sale and consumption of illegal drugs in the United States. Discussions also explored possible solutions that could improve their efficacy based on implementation gaps identified. The insights that will be outlined in this paper will be useful in improving policy enforcement objectives and inform future enforcement activities aimed at protecting communities from the negative effects of illegal drugs.
In the paper, I will explore federal and state statutes on drugs, with a specific emphasis on the enforcement of laws pertaining to the possession and distribution of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. Towards the end of the paper, I will also mention key points derived from the interview findings with the aim of establishing the effectiveness of existing plans to enforce drug laws and finding solutions for improving current enforcement standards.
Under Federal Law, the possession, sale, distribution, and consumption of heroin, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine is illegal. Cocaine and methamphetamine are schedule 2 drugs, while heroin is classified as a schedule 1 drug. Marijuana is also deemed a schedule 1 drug under federal law, but there are considerations to decriminalize it at this level because different states have either legalized its use or approved its sale for medical use.
Persons who are found in contravention of federal guidelines on any of the above classified substances are liable for penalties of up to one year in prison and could pay fines of between $1,000 and $100,000, depending on the quantity of substances recovered and prior history of convictions. For example, the possession of more than one kilogram of heroine or 5 kilograms of methamphetamine could attract a first time conviction of a minimum of 10 years and fines of up to $4 million for individuals. Therefore, different classifications of substances attract varied penalties. In subsequent slides, I will further delve deeper into the details of federal laws governing the possession and distribution of the aforementioned controlled substances.
Heroin and Cocaine (Federal Law Guidelines)
Under the Federal Controlled Substances Act, the possession, use or distribution of heroin is illegal in the United States. The fines and penalties relating to its use are influenced by the defendant’s conviction history and quantity of drugs possessed. For example, Possessing 100 – 999 grams of its mixture attracts an imprisonment term of not less than 10 years for first time offenders and 20 years for second time offenders. Individuals are also liable to pay a fine of up to $4 million, while corporations could be fined up to $10 million. The fines and sentences could double on second or third convictions.
Also, Federal law states that the sale, possession, or use of cocaine is illegal in the United States. The fines and penalties of possessing 500 – 4999 grams of the controlled substance attracts similar penalties as I have described above for heroin possession. In the next one, we will also see that federal laws impose similar fines and penalties for the sale and use of methamphetamine.
Methamphetamine (Federal Law Guidelines)
Methamphetamine is classified as a schedule 1 drug under Federal Law, and its fines and penalties are dictated by a person’s history of conviction and quantity of drugs found in their possession. Penalties relating to the possession of 5 – 49 grams pure or 50 – 499 grams mixture of methamphetamine attract imprisonment of not less than 10 years for first time offenders and not less than 20 years for second time offenders. Those convicted could also be liable to pay up to $4 million in fines for individuals and $10 million for corporations.
Marijuana (Federal Law Guidelines)
Federal laws still consider marijuana an illegal substance. However, states have enacted their own legislations that allow for the varied use of the controlled substance. This means that there is a clash in law between state and federal legislations. Although this issue remains an evolving area of law, federal legislations should ideally supersede state laws on the same. Nonetheless, federal laws on marijuana use are mostly implemented at an interstate level, thereby meaning that the implementation of its laws within states remains a “grey” area. In subsequent slides, I will further explain developments in the implementation of state and federal laws on marijuana possession.
The possession, sale, and use of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine remains illegal in my state. However, marijuana use is legal in specific contexts.
Marijuana (State Law Guidelines)
The use of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes is legal at the state level. However, the substance is only sold to people who are above 21 years of age and they are allowed to smoke nearly everywhere a person who smokes tobacco can.
Cocaine (State Law Guidelines)
The possession of cocaine is illegal in my state. The fines and penalties imposed on offenders varies according to the history of conviction and quantity of drugs recovered. Unlike other drugs mentioned in this presentation, state laws also criminalize the possession of substances used to make cocaine and imposes nearly similar fines and penalties as heroin and methamphetamine.
Methamphetamine (State Law Guidelines)
The legal status of methamphetamine possession is similar to cocaine, as I have alluded in the previous slide. First time convicted persons are liable to pay a $1,000 fine, while third time offenders may be required to pay a minimum fine of $5,000. Other considerations are consistent with heroin, and cocaine.
Heroine (State Law Guidelines)
The sale, possession or use of heroin is illegal at a state level because of its high potential of abuse. The sentences imposed on individuals vary according to state law and no mandatory minimum sentences are imposed for first or third time offenders. However, there has been a recent shift in policy direction aimed at targeting implementation activities towards rehabilitation as opposed to punishment.
Are Laws Effective? (Interview Findings)
In my interview with a federal law enforcement officer, I discovered that federal prosecutions on marijuana possessions are rare but cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine possession are common. The federal government also rarely interferes with marijuana businesses in states that have legalized its use but are aggressive at following up on cases that involve interstate sale of the controlled substance. The enforcement of laws relating to the other three drugs has remained consistent across all levels of implementation.
Aggressiveness in enforcement of laws depends on where the political wind blows. For example, the interviewee noted significant differences in enforcement of marijuana laws at the federal level in the Obama and Trump administrations. Therefore, differences in enforcement of state and federal laws remains an evolving area of law but there needs to be more harmony between the two levels of implementation on marijuana use because the other controlled substances have fairly consistent implementation records at state and federal levels of enforcement.
Challenges in Law Enforcement
The respondent also mentioned that one of the main challenges in the enforcement of drug laws at a federal level is the tendency for federal officers to only pursue cases where drug proceeds are used to fund crime, gangs, or terrorism. This practice leaves other areas of enforcement unaddressed and lacking the will and resources to secure convictions. Part of the problem was also traced to state officials who only want to focus on cases that could result in convictions. Nonetheless, the difficulty in tracing drug money emerged as the weakest link in the enforcement of drug laws at the federal level.
Jurisdictional and Cooperation Issues
The conflict between state and federal laws was highlighted as a destabilizing force in the enforcement of drug laws at the federal level. The willingness of federal and state officers to collaborate with one another was also dependent on the approaches taken by different administrations to address the matter. Incidentally, the interstate war on drugs did not suffer the same problem. These findings show that there is a bias in the implementation of drug laws both at federal and state levels.
What can be done to Improve?
The discretion of state officers to pursue cases, involving federal crimes, should be eliminated because many cases have collapsed due to the unwillingness of some officers to collaborate with state officers in pursuit of drug-related charges. The legal policy direction should also be targeted at rehabilitating victims as opposed to punishing them. This initiative may be supported by programs to educate vulnerable populations on the danger of drug abuse to reduce the likelihood that young people engage in criminal activities. Legislation should also be updated to involve the use of technology in gathering and developing evidence to increase conviction rates across the board.
The findings of my investigation show that marijuana laws vary the most across states. This is because more than 33 jurisdictions have legalized it, at least for medicinal use, while it remains illegal in the other states and at a federal level. This disparity creates a problem in the implementation of drug enforcement laws, thereby leaving most federal officers to focus on interstate drug crimes and only cases that involve proceeds used to fund criminal gangs. Comparatively, drug laws relating to the sale, distribution, and use of methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine remain consistent at federal and state levels. The same harmony should be seen in the enforcement of marijuana laws as well.
Boston University. (2020). State and federal laws and sanctions concerning drugs and alcohol. Web.
Indiana Wesleyan University. (2020). Federal drug penalties. Web.