Harrisonburg, Va: Synthetic marijuana and prescription drugs on the rise

A recent spike in drug overdoses in the area provides an opportunity to review the penalties that come with illegal possession of substances like prescription drugs and synthetic marijuana.

According to a recent report, Harrisonburg High School in Virginia is experiencing an increase in drug overdoses. A local ABC affiliate recently reported on the story, noting that local authorities are referring to the increase as a "major spike." Of the current reported overdoses, two involved high school students who overdosed from use of synthetic marijuana and two additional students are reported to have overdosed from use of prescription medications.

Many students and their parents may not realize that possession of synthetic marijuana is illegal in Virginia and many more are unaware of the severity of possessing prescriptions pills that have not been prescribed directly to them by a doctor. If convicted of a drug crime such as these, the penalties can be harsh.

Virginia state law and synthetic marijuana

Synthetic marijuana, also known as spice, is illegal in Virginia. A law was passed in 2014 that expanded the definition of synthetic marijuana, and made it easier for the Commonwealth to make the possession, sale and manufacturing of chemically altered versions of the drug illegal in the future.

Virginia state law and prescription drugs

The American Medical Association's Journal of Ethics states that "prescription drug abuse is an epidemic in the United States". Federal and state laws have been passed across the country to deter and punish those who abuse these substances.

Virginia uses a schedule of controlled substances to determine which penalties apply. More serious penalties are tied to drugs that are deemed to be more dangerous than others. The Schedules, as listed by the Office of the Attorney General, contain both substances that may be used for medical purposes (prescriptions) and commonly known illegal drugs. They are as follows:

  • Schedule I: substances that are determined to have high potential for abuse with no acceptable medicinal purposes. Examples include ecstasy, heroin and LSD. Violations are categorized as a Class 5 felony and can come with up to 10 years imprisonment and up to a $2,500 fine.
  • Schedule II: also have a high potential for abuse but have a currently accepted medical purpose. Examples include methadone, cocaine and methamphetamine. Violations are categorized as a Class 5 felony. It is important to note that more common prescription substances like Dilaudid, Percocet, OxyContin, Adderall, Ritalin and Sublimaze are all categorized as Schedule II controlled substances.
  • Schedule III: moderate potential for abuse and have a medical purpose. Examples include Vicodin, anabolic steroids and codeine. Categorized as a Class 1 misdemeanor. Penalties can include up to 12 months imprisonment and a fine of up to $2,500.
  • Schedule IV: drugs with less potential for abuse. Examples include tranquilizers and sedatives like Valium and Xanax. Categorized as a Class 2 misdemeanor. Violations can come with up to six months imprisonment and a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Schedule V: low potential for abuse with accepted medical purpose. Examples include some cough medicines that contain codeine. Categorized as a Class 3 misdemeanor. Violations can come with a fine of up to $500.
  • Schedule VI: substances that are not technically considered drugs, but are abused recreationally. Examples can include inhalants like toluene, found in spray paint, nitrous oxide, found in aerosol cans. Categorized as a Class 4 misdemeanor can come with a fine of up to $250.

This schedule shows how these laws apply not only to the possession of marijuana, spice and other well known illegal drugs, but also to the illegal possession of prescription drugs.

Defenses are available

It is important for students and their parents to understand that even minor drug crimes can come with serious penalties. More importantly, the subsequent gifting or distribution of these drugs, whether "for profit" or not can carry even harsher penalties, some of which can include decades in prison.

As a result, those who are accused of possessing, distributing or manufacturing a controlled substance are wise to seek the counsel of an experienced Harrisonburg criminal law attorney. Defenses to these allegations are available and an experienced attorney can help guide those who find themselves in trouble through the legal system and toward a more favorable outcome of their case.