Amphetamine Possession Charge: Penalties, Evidence and Defense

Bennies, Dexies, Black Beauties—if you have seen "The Valley of the Dolls," you may remember these slang terms for what another generation called "speed" or "uppers." These days, college students sometimes use "Addy" or "Ritz" to pull all-nighters or amp up study performance. All of these substances fall within a classification of drugs known as amphetamines.

This article discusses amphetamine possession law in the U.S. generally. For information about methamphetamine possession, see Crystal Meth Possession: Penalties and Defense.

What Is Amphetamine?

Amphetamine is a type of alkaloid, an organic compound. Amphetamine is a class of drugs that raise mood, energy, dopamine levels in the brain, and suppress appetite. They are also used to enhance mental and physical performance and to focus attention. Repeated use can lead to paranoia, delusions, and even psychosis. Among the physical side-effects are heart palpitations, arrhythmia and insomnia.

Where did amphetamines come from?

In 1933, the pharmaceutical company Smith Kline and French patented the base form of amphetamine that a biochemist discovered while researching decongestant drugs. Shortly thereafter, Smith Kline marketed amphetamine as the "Benzedrine Inhaler." The American Medical Association approved Smith Kline's Benzedrine Sulfate for treatment of depression, narcolepsy, and Parkinson's disease.

Annual sales of legal amphetamines skyrocketed for the next two decades and continue in legal and illegal forms. Throughout the next forty years, amphetamine sales were driven by the marketing efforts of pharmaceutical companies—magazine ads for trade-name amphetamines in the 1950's showed smiling people beside the words "cheerfulness, "optimism," and "mental alertness."

During World War II, over 16 million people first encountered the drug during military service or work for the war effort, according to the National Institute of Health. Servicemen stayed awake for hours thanks to freely-available speed, and women working in factories back home did the same. Many people used the drugs to slim down as well. By 1962, pharmaceutical companies were producing 80,000 kilograms of amphetamines in the U.S., according to the Food and Drug Administration. This amounted to 43 standard doses per U.S. citizen per year!

Studies conducted in the early 1960's reported the negative health and psychological effects of the drug, including paranoia and psychosis. But amphetamines remained very popular among users, because they reliably boost mood and energy and also because they effectively suppress appetite.

Current pharmaceutical and recreational use

In the last several years, a new use for amphetamines has come to light. Physicians have been prescribing certain amphetamines, such as Ritalin and Adderall, to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"). Many people take these drugs for "off-label" purposes, ingesting them as study aids, stimulants, and mood enhancers. Students and others swear by Addy (slang for Adderall) and Ritz (slang for Ritalin) to sharpen cognitive skills and stave off fatigue. However, both drugs are classified as Schedule II amphetamines. Only their prescribed use is legal, although a healthy black market for both drugs is in full flower.

U.S. Law

Although the U.S. government began enacting ever-stricter drug laws in the 1970's, it caved to pressure from pharmaceutical companies and listed the most popular forms of amphetamines in the least-strictly controlled ranking of controlled substances (Schedule III), while marijuana, psilocybin, and cocaine were listed in the highest schedule.

In 1971, the predecessor to the Drug Enforcement Agency used its authority to move amphetamines to Schedule II status, restricting their use to non-refillable, prescription-only.

At present, amphetamines are a controlled substance under federal and state law. (21 USC § 802 (9).)


A conviction for simple possession requires that the prosecution show that the defendant had the substance in his or her possession without a prescription, and that the substance belonged to the defendant. A showing of possession does not require that the defendant had the substance on his or her person. If the defendant had control over the substance (what is known as "constructive possession") even though it was not physically on his or her person, that will support a conviction.

For information about "constructive possession," see the section, "What is "Possession"? in Heroin Possession: Charges, Penalties and Defense.


Certain defenses are available to a person charged with simple possession of amphetamines. Here are a couple of them.

Prescribed use

Although amphetamine is a controlled substance, it may be legally possessed by one who holds a valid prescription. However, under federal law the prescription may not be renewed automatically.

Lack of "possession"

As discussed above, possession may be either actual possession or "constructive" possession.

Where a person is arrested for the presence of a controlled substance in a shared space, such as a dorm room, the state must prove that the person arrested was the one in possession of the substance. Where the state cannot show that the defendant had the power and intent to control the substance (for example, because the substance was in a dresser drawer used exclusively by her roommate), the defendant should be acquitted.

How is Possession of Amphetamine Punished?

Under federal law, a first offense of simple possession of amphetamine is generally treated as a misdemeanor and a person convicted of that crime faces a potential sentence of up to one year in prison, a fine of at least $1,000, or both. (21 U.S.C. § 844.) Subsequent convictions for simple possession will subject an individual to greater potential prison time and fines. State amphetamine possession laws vary but most treat a first offense as a misdemeanor with a maximum one-year prison term.

A court sentencing a person convicted of methamphetamine possession may also order the person to attend a diversionary program to treat substance abuse/addiction.

For more information about how controlled substance crimes are punished, see Drug Possession Laws & Drug Charges.

See a Lawyer

If you have been charged with amphetamine possession or have questions about the crime, see an experienced criminal defense lawyer in your state. Conviction of even a misdemeanor drug possession crime can follow you and limit your ability to work in certain jobs, such as those in the medical profession.

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