Common Drug Law Terms and Laws

Person being arrested

Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

While using drugs can have a significant negative impact on your mental and physical health, using or owning drugs can put you at serious risk of legal action. 

Many addictive drugs, including medications available by prescription, are “controlled substances,” which means that there are laws in place that control the use and even possession of these drugs. Having these drugs without a doctor's prescription and supervision can land you in real trouble.

Laws vary from state to state, and jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so it's important to familiarize yourself with your state and county's drug laws.

The sentences for different infractions also vary. What might get you a jail sentence in one state may only get you a fine and a ticket in another. 

There are many laws regarding drugs, but below are some of the most common.

“Simple” Possession

"Simple possession of drugs" means you have a small amount of the drug on your person or in your car or home. The amount is limited enough that it is assumed to be for personal use, rather than for distribution or sale.

Possession laws also apply when you don't actually have literal possession of the drug, but you have control over what happens to the drug. For example, you have the key to a locker that contains the drug or if you have drugs stored in a storage locker.

“Trafficking” of Drugs

Trafficking of drugs generally refers to the distribution or selling of drugs, commonly known as drug dealing. It also includes the growing or manufacturing of drugs, for example, growing cannabis or making methamphetamine.

Trafficking also includes possession with intent to supply, which occurs when you possess larger amounts of drugs that would be expected for personal use.

Importing and exporting of drugs are also a form of trafficking, so if you take drugs on holiday with you, it would be trafficking, not simple possession, even if it was for your own personal use.

The amount of a drug you possess is important; if you possess a large amount of the drug, it can be understood that there is an intent for you to supply the drug to other people. This is much more serious than if you possess a small amount of a drug, which appears to be for personal use.

You may be tempted to purchase a larger amount of a drug for personal use in order to save money or to share with friends. If you are found with a larger amount in your possession, you may be seen as possessing with intent to supply, even if it is really for your own use. If you intend to share it with friends, the situation gets worse, as it is not for personal use.

Possession of Drug-Related Items

There are also laws that prohibit other items related to drug use or making drugs. For example, substances used to cultivate or manufacture drugs as well as the paraphernalia used to consume drugs, such as bongs, crack pipes, and syringes.

Where You Are When Possessing Drugs

Laws also take where possession of drugs occurs into account. The seriousness of possession charges increases if you are found to be possessing drugs in locations where you are close to vulnerable people, including schools, assisted living facility, or daycare.

It's important to consult your jurisdiction's laws or with an attorney if you have any questions pertaining to drug laws and their consequences.

1 Source
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The Controlled Substances Act.

Additional Reading

By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.