What Makes a Drug Legal or Illegal?

The Legislation and Laws on Legal and Illegal Drugs: A Criminal Defense Lawyer | Attorney’s Perspective. What makes a Drug Legal or Illegal? Washington Drug, Controlled Substance and Narcotics’ Policy.

Drug Policy | Legislation Washington State

pillsFrom a defense minded attorney | lawyer’s perspective that considers drug cases from criminal and administrative perspectives, our society via the Washington legislature is the driving force behind deciding which drugs, narcotics or controlled substances are legal and which drugs, narcotics or controlled substances are deemed illegal.  The decision as to what is and is not legal has changed over the years and the pendulum continues to shift on almost a yearly basis depending on who is in control of the legislature and who is in control of public opinion.  As we deal with the daily application of these laws in a courtroom | administrative setting, the prevailing policy is more dependent on which political party is in power and on the available resources than on the logic and science behind the policies that are being passed into law.  Marijuana is a classic example.

In the 1700s and early 1800s hemp was legal as the shipping industry used hemp for rope, sails and the oil for fuel for their lanterns.  Then, other interests such as the textile industries and prohibition politicians decided to lobby congress and films such as Reefer Madness were produced that ended up fueling the hysteria to have the laws changed.  In the early 1900s cocaine was a legitimate legal ingredient of Coca Cola and now it not only is not in any products, it is seriously illegal and requires a prescription to possess or you will end up in jail.  Similar problems can be found in use of peyote for spiritual purposes and studies surrounding psychedelics. As criminal and defense attorneys who practice throughout the state, where you live has a huge impact on what society deems acceptable and not acceptable as well as the severity of the penalties associated with various crimes.  The punishment in Washington can be a lot different depending on where you get charged.  The availability of Drug Court, a diversionary program for those who have fallen into the black hole of addiction varies with which county you are in. Similar discrepancies can be found in the drug, narcotic and controlled substances laws when comparing various states.

We have been dealing with the criminal justice system for more than 45+ years so the criminal  and administrative  lawyers in our firm have substantial expertise handling drug offenses and dealing with individuals and their families who get caught up in the spider-web of rules and regulations when they are charged with violating one or more of the numerous provisions of the Revised Code of Washington or the United States Criminal Code.  There are numerous times when the laws just don’t seem to make sense, tend to conflict with one another or their application in a particular situation must be questioned.  Drug cases, especially when involving professional licenses, schools, careers and family, need special attention if you wish the equity of a case to be considered.  You need a firm with our experience to advocate for the best result and help guide you through the system so you don’t waste your time, money, or life in jail or prison.  Contact us and we can help counsel and lead you through Washington’s labyrinth of drug law.

What is a Legal Drug?

From a defense attorney | lawyer’s perspective that looks at drug cases from the perspective of those who are charged, legal drugs are ones that the Washington legislature or the Federal legislature has considered and said it is OK for you to possess provided you do it within the parameters and guidelines that have been set forth by the legislature.  You can still get into plenty of trouble by abusing legal drugs BUT it doesn’t typically start off with a criminal investigation or an arrest for possession.

Legal drugs can be ones that are over the counter or ones that a doctor prescribes for you so you are allowed/authorized to possess them.  Beware, however, that simply because you have been given the ability to possess these drugs, often via a prescription or purchase, it is not a caveat to do as you wish with the drugs.  Over the counter medications as well as prescription drugs are abused every day and people do end up being charged with various crimes for abusing, misusing, dealing, and becoming addicted to them.  Typically, these problems result in clients committing crimes because of money and addiction or while under the influence of what they thought were drugs that are legal.  Typically you are relatively safe possessing legal drugs as authorized by the statutes BUT you can still end up going to jail if you do not follow the rules.  A great part of our roll and service as lawyers and counselors at law is to assure clients understand their situation so they can help us properly try, defend or mitigate the problem.

Most people do not realize that simply because a drug has been “accepted” as being legal, you can still get into some very serious trouble by abusing the drug.  The classic example is opioid painkillers.  As lawyers who have handled a wide variety of criminal and administrative issues for clients over the decades, we can comfortably say there is not a legal drug out there that someone, somewhere, has not been pulled over for or stopped by the police based on irrational behavior and subsequently questioned.  Drugs are simply that; they can be natural or non-natural mood altering substances that are taken recreationally or used to try and improve one’s medical condition, attitude or have been found useful for treatment.  How and why they are used in a particular situation is the question.

Washington state and the federal government have decided there are a number of drugs that need to be regulated: some from a laboratory and some directly from nature.  The basis for the regulation comes from the belief that the product can and will cause harm to either society or the individual himself or herself if it is left unregulated.  This is why you will see age restrictions on some products and why a doctor’s prescription is necessary for others.  The thought process is that regulation and law make everyone feel better with the promise that if drugs are made unavailable or subject to medical supervision, we as a society are safer.  As criminal defense attorneys | lawyers who directly handle the criminal, administrative and civil fallout of these laws in criminal and administrative actions, we can also say that regulation and law will never make substances unavailable, they will just make them more expensive.

What is an Illegal Drug?

Illegal drugs are ones that get you in trouble with the law for and in most circumstances result in your being arrested and then probably taken down to the police station, booked into the jail, fingerprinted and entered into a State database and a Federal database and, of course, often result in being charged with a drug offense.  From a defense attorney | lawyer’s perspective that looks at drug cases from a criminal  and administrative perspective, illegal drugs are the ones that most often result in felony charges.  They include such drugs, controlled substances and narcotics like cocaine, heroine, ecstasy, methamphetamine, crack, molly, psychedelic mushrooms, acid, etc. and are those that you cannot purchase over the counter at a drug store such as a Walgreens, Safeway, Costco, Sam’s, Walmart, etc.  These are the kind of drugs, controlled substances, narcotics that are either labeled flat illegal as they are deemed by the State or Federal Legislature to have zero benefit to society so must be bought and sold on in the black market via the streets, or, require a doctor’s prescription or special license to possess or manufacture.      

Keep in mind that if the police officers | cops feel they can establish either actual or constructive possession of the drugs, it is not a matter  of whether they will charge , it’s a matter of what they will charge(s) and how many counts.  This is where the real fun for law enforcement begins as far as what they want to charge you with, what they can charge you with, the initial threat of consequences and the pressure to create controlled buys and informants.  Cases and situations vary with facts but that is why you need to have an attorney and counselor at law in your corner as this is when people are most vulnerable to undue influence and fear.  As criminal defense lawyers and administrative lawyers, we have no problem with clients choosing to speak with the police or investigative personnel, but, only AFTER you have had the benefit of legal counsel that is looking out for your best interests.  

What if you are contacted by law enforcement?  

 ANY State or Federal police contact regarding illegal drugs, controlled substances, or suspected situations surrounding drugs should be treated by you as a criminal investigation, even if it starts as incidental or administrative in our opinion.  Whether guilty or not, you should immediately request an attorney and refuse to give a statement until you have spoken to an attorney who is aligned with your interests.  In most circumstances, if you are arrested and brought to jail by Washington State personnel, you should be charged or released within 72 hours.  Good defense lawyers regularly meet with clients in jail and advise them of this and other issues that arise in criminal charges.  Depending on the charges you may or may not be arraigned as well in this time period. If you are arrested or even contacted by law enforcement about a drug offense, request a criminal defense attorney immediately and do not talk to law enforcement.  Period.  Their obligation to look out for your interests, not lie to you or not manipulate you is almost zero.  The only boundaries they must respect are those written into the Washington State and Federal constitutions.

Technical Discussions of Washington State Drug Laws, Definitions and Relevant Terms of “Art”
Definitions applicable to drug offenses and policy enforcement terms under Washington Law

In our role as criminal defense lawyers who handle drug crimes, we know that most terms used in drug crimes are often terms of art that have special definitions given to them by the law that are not common to every day use.  The following definitions contain the legislative intent behind the drug laws as they relate to the individuals charged with possession based drug offenses as well as those involving the dispensing of controlled substances and the definition of illegal drugs.

Definitions applicable to drug paraphernalia under Washington Law

The following are the definitions applicable to criminal drug paraphernalia charges under Washington law.

Washington State Tests/Standards/Schedules of Illegal Drugs

 The level and severity of penalty for a criminal drug offense in Washington of an illegal drug/controlled substance listed or to be listed is determined by the tests listed for each specific schedule.  The tests are what factors the legislature utilizes to determine the schedule of a controlled substance.  The controlled substances/illegal drugs are included by whatever official, common, usual, chemical, or trade name is designated.  The schedule of a drug will determine the penalty that is associated with the related criminal drug offense.  Typically, the higher the schedule number, the more severe the penalty.

Schedule I Tests and Schedules

Schedule II Tests and Schedules

Schedule III Tests and Schedules

Schedule IV Tests and Schedules

Schedule V Tests and Schedules

Knowing how to navigate and fight in the legal system and criminal justice process is the most important skill your team of lawyers can possess.  Whether our role is as legal counsel, negotiator or litigator, we have years of experience fighting and resolving cases with our clients’ best interests in mind.  Choosing the right counsel for your case is essential.   Consultations are free but a poor choice in counsel is not.  Call us at 206-708-7852 to set up an appointment to discuss your situation.

Robert Rhodes

With a successful background in law, courtrooms, wrestling, rugby and jujitsu, Robert Rhodes’s nature is well-suited for argument and litigation. Mr. Rhodes knows how to talk clearly and directly to his clients, adversaries and to the Court. His common sense, straight talk and experience put his clients immediately at ease. Mr. Rhodes does not do anything half way and you will sense this when you meet him. Read more >>