Drug crimes are one of the most common criminal offenses in the United States. According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Prisons, about 46% of all prison inmates are in prison for drug crimes. These offenses can include minor charges for drug possession and paraphernalia as well as more serious offenses such as drug trafficking or manufacturing. Drug crime offenders face varying penalties depending on a number of factors, including the type of drugs the police found, the quantity, past offenses, and any related charges like aggravated assault and homicide.
Despite the drugs heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine being illegal, there is a thriving market for them due to demand. Many factors play into this, but the result is that many drug offenders are seizing a moneymaking opportunity outside the law by preying on addiction. Heroin is a major factor in the ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States, and methamphetamine production has caused untold amounts of devastation throughout American communities. Additionally, criminal organizations including Mexican drug cartels and terrorist cells sell drugs to fund activities that are more nefarious.
Drug laws vary from state to state, and the majority of incarcerated drug offenders are doing time for more than one drug offense. Selling drugs on the black market is a competitive endeavor, and many criminal networks fight over territory. For example, a gang may claim control over a certain area of the city, warning rival gangs not to attempt to conduct similar business in the area. If a rival gang member attempts to move in on this turf, it can easily spark a violent confrontation. Unfortunately, many civilians find themselves in the crossfire between rival gangs and drug operations.
While most drugs reach the United States from other countries in scaleable form, some drug operations make and refine their products in the U.S. using various methods, some of which are very dangerous. For example, methamphetamine production requires a basic knowledge of chemistry and the right equipment. Creating methamphetamine involves chemical processes that can result in toxic fumes and explosions without adequate lab equipment. Unfortunately, most methamphetamine labs are slapdash, often using simple items like soda bottles and crude cooking devices. When meth labs explode, they can cause extreme damage to the surrounding areas as well as health hazards for anyone living nearby.
The Department of Justice released a report in 2015 highlighting a few more trends concerning drug crime in the U.S. According to the report, nearly all (99.5%) incarcerated drug offenders received some type of trafficking charge. About 54% of all drug offenders had charges related to some form of cocaine or crack cocaine. While about one third (35%) of all incarcerated drug offenders had no prior criminal history at the time of sentencing, about one fourth (24%) of all drug offenders used a weapon in their most recent crime. Offenders involved with crack cocaine were more likely to have prior criminal histories, more likely to have used firearms in connection with their drug offenses, and generally serve longer sentences.
As of the Department of Prisons report in September 2017, there were more than 80,000 inmates in the American prison system serving time for drug crimes. While most drug crimes leading to prison sentences are serious in nature, many more citizens have received minor charges for possession for personal use and possession of drug paraphernalia, including bongs, pipes, syringes, and other items used to consume illegal drugs.
If you’ve been arrested for a drug related crime, contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Drug crime is a pervasive issue in the United States, and it is unclear where these trends will go in the future.