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Federal and state variances on controlled substances

It is likely that many Milwaukee adults have used substances the federal government considers illegal. That's not a criticism of the habits of Wisconsin residents. Many medications doctors prescribe for legitimate health reasons are listed on the same Controlled Substance Schedules as drugs no one is permitted to manufacture, distribute or use -- like heroin.

According to the federal government, the most dangerous controlled substances have a high potential for abuse and little, if any, medical value. The drugs are divided up into five categories or schedules according to the substances' capacity for harm. The range includes Schedule V drugs, like codeine cough syrup, all the way up to Schedule I drugs like aforementioned heroin and ecstasy.

Despite the decriminalization of marijuana in many states, the U.S. government continues to consider marijuana a Schedule I drug. Technically, cannabis is ranked right up there with the most harmful substances known to the Drug Enforcement Administration. A constitutional clause allows federal laws to trump state laws when there is a conflict between the two.

However, each state has the right to decide how or whether to enforce provisions of the federal Controlled Substances Act. Some states abide by the CSA word for word, while others back away from enforcement or pass laws that legalize cannabis use. The federal government has softened its stance by redirecting resources in states where marijuana use is permitted.

Criminal charges can be filed for manufacturing, distributing, selling or possessing a drug on the government's controlled substance list. Punishments include fines, prison time and a criminal record that may rob you of education, housing or employment opportunities.

The nature of drug charges are dependent on the substance, the amount and the drug's intended use. Penalties are lighter for personal possession than they are for drug trafficking. A criminal defense attorney's efforts to reduce charges can make a significant difference for a defendant.

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