Legal Term Tuesday: Controlled Substance

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Controlled substances: some are more common (and available) than others.

This is the latest entry in BeenVerified’s legal term library designed to help you better understand public record information, criminal records and related terminology. The information in this article is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

A controlled substance is exactly what it sounds like: a product controlled by the government for the protection of the general population. Typically when talking controlled substances we are talking about drugs or chemicals. While there are some legitimate uses for controlled substances, such as a prescription medication, being in possession of one without required permission can lead to criminal charges.

A general definition of a controlled substance is a “drug which has been declared by federal or state law to be illegal for sale or use, but may be dispensed under a physician’s prescription,” according to The Free Dictionary by Farlex.

The federal government maintains a list of controlled substances and categorizes them by “schedules” which were put in place in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA). There are five different schedules, from Schedule I, which includes the most potentially addictive substances such as heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and marijuana, through Schedule V which can include medicines like cough syrup that happen to contain small amounts of narcotics like codeine. You can view the items and full schedules at FindLaw.

According to FindLaw, all items listed on the schedules in the CSA are technically illegal, but some may be permitted with a doctor’s prescription. In fact, many controlled substances are mainstream prescription medications for uses including pain management, improved concentration and sleep, including Adderal, Vicodin, Valium and Atvian.

Possession of illegal drugs can amount to being charged with either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the schedule of drug and amount found in possession. If possession breaches a certain threshold, the person in question could be charged with distribution, a more serious charge.

Penalties for drug possession include fines, incarceration, probation and court-ordered rehabilitation, according to NOLO.com. Conviction of violating a controlled substance law will almost always land on an individual’s public record.

Celebrities who have run afoul of controlled substance laws include Paris Hilton, Robert Downey Jr. and rapper DMX according to The Richest.