Distribution of Amphetamines: Criminal Penalties and Laws

Amphetamines have a legitimate medical use, but are widely misused to elevate mood and create focus. The federal penalties for use and particularly for sale or distribution are very harsh.

Once called "uppers," amphetamines have been retooled for the demands of the modern world. Some amphetamines are prescribed to treat attention disorders but are used without prescriptions (and illegally) as study aids, athletic performance enhancers, and brain boosters. This "off label" use has created a booming black market; however, illegal sale of amphetamines is not kid's stuff—it's a serious crime.

What Is Amphetamine?

Amphetamine is an organic compound known as an alkaloid. Amphetamine is a class of drugs that elevate mood, energy, dopamine levels in the brain, and suppress appetite. They are also used, including by professional athletes, 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, cardiac arrhythmia, and insomnia.

Amphetamine sale and possession is prohibited except by licensed pharmacies.

Pharmaceutical and Recreational Use of Amphetamines

Pharmaceutical companies and medical researchers have proposed a new use for amphetamines in recent years. Ritalin and Adderall, for example, are amphetamines prescribed by physicians to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"). But many people, particular the young, take these drugs for "off-label" purposes, ingesting them as study aids, stimulants, and mood enhancers. "Addy" (slang for Adderall) and "Ritz" (slang for Ritalin) are popular with high school and college students (and others), who use them to sharpen cognitive skills and stave off fatigue. Despite a healthy black market for these drugs, however, both substances are classified as Schedule II amphetamines and only prescribed use is legal.

Controlled Substances Act

Amphetamine is a Schedule II controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act. (21 U.S.C. § 812.) A Schedule II drug is one with a currently-accepted medical use with a high potential for abuse and significant risk of addiction. (21 U.S.C. § 812 (C) (2).) The federal government heavily regulates the manufacture, possession, and distribution of Schedule II drugs.

State laws also regulate this substance (the balance of this article concerns the federal rules and penalties). For information on possessing amphetamines in the each state, see Possession of a Controlled Substance: Drug Possession Laws (click the link to your state).

Selling vs. possession

Amphetamine possession without a valid prescription is a crime, but selling without authorization, or possessing with intent to sell, is a felony and the penalty is much greater than that for simple possession. The prosecution must prove intent to sell in order to convict a person of distribution of amphetamines. The prosecution has a more difficult factual showing to make where a person is caught with amphetamine but not caught in the act of selling it. (21U.S.C. §841.)

The penalties for actual sale of amphetamines may be imposed on a person convicted of attempting or conspiring to sell the drug. (21 U.S.C. § 846.)

Intent to sell

Although the classic "sting" operation in which a drug dealer is caught (often on tape) offering drugs for sale to an undercover officer has great box office appeal, but it is pretty uncommon.

Most drug trafficking charges arise in situations without "smoking gun" evidence of a secretly-recorded drug deal. This means that the prosecution generally must rely on circumstantial evidence of the defendant's intent to sell amphetamines. This is because most defendants will deny that they intended to sell the drug and possessed it only for personal use (which carries a lesser penalty).

Circumstantial evidence of intent to sell a controlled substance like amphetamines includes:

  • amount of the drug in the defendant's possession
  • purity of the drug (purer drugs can be sold to other dealers to "cut" or dilute with other substances and re-sell)
  • drug packaging or other paraphernalia indicating dealing, and/or
  • large amounts of cash from sales.

For example, a person caught in a college dorm with bottles of Addy, stacks of $100 bills in his drawer, and a pharmaceutical scale in his room is going to have a hard time convincing a judge or jury that he possessed the drug for personal use.

Sale or attempted sale near a school or other facility

Under the Controlled Substances Act, a person convicted of selling or attempting to sell amphetamines near a school, including a college, or other areas where young people may be present faces twice the maximum prison sentence, twice the maximum fine, and twice the term of supervised release. (21 U.S.C. 860.)

A person is subject to the enhanced penalties if he or she is convicted of selling or attempting to sell the drug within:

  • 1,000 feet of a public or private elementary, vocational, or secondary school
  • 1,000 feet of a public or private college, junior college, or university
  • 1,000 feet of a playground, or public housing facility, or
  • 100 feet of a public or private youth center, public swimming pool, or video arcade.

(21 U.S.C. § 860.) The distance is measured from the location of the sale or attempted sale and the grounds of the facility. Schools and especially universities often cover acres of land and a drug sale with the specified distance of any edge of that property can lead to the enhanced penalty.

For example, if a dealer sets up a meeting with a buyer on a street corner that just happens to be near an arboretum or field owned by a university, the dealer could face the doubled penalties if convicted of the sale.

How is Selling Amphetamine Punished?

Under federal sentencing guidelines, a person convicted of selling or attempting to sell amphetamines may face five to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 to $5 million fine, or both. As mentioned above, if the defendant is convicted of selling or attempting to sell the drug near a school or one of the other specified facilities, the penalty (both in years in prison and in fine) doubles. And, if anyone dies as a result of the drug sale (from overdose or otherwise), the defendant may face life in prison.

See a Lawyer

Selling or attempting to sell amphetamines is a very serious crime. If you or someone you know has been charged with the crime, find a lawyer with experience in criminal defense right away. An experienced criminal defense lawyer familiar with federal or state law (depending on which law applies) can answer your questions and advise you as to the availability of any defenses.

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