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After you have been arrested and charged with a drug crime, you likely will have many questions about the charges you are facing, the criminal justice system, and the penalties you could face. This page will give a general overview of drug crimes as well as discuss the penalties that an individual may be subject to if he or she is convicted of one of these crimes. As Mike Lombardi & Associates represents clients in state and federal court in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, the discussion will be limited to these jurisdictions.

If you are facing drug charges, please do not hesitate to contact Mike Lombardi & Associates today to discuss your case. It is important to take all drug charges seriously, even one for possession of marijuana, as a criminal conviction can have a significant impact on your life.

With 40 years of combined experience, we are ready to help you.
Contact our office at 401-600-0000 or click here to fill out our online form.

What Is A Drug?

The definition of what is considered to be a drug, also called a controlled substance, depends on the jurisdiction. Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), a controlled substance is defined as “a drug or other substance, or immediate precursor, included in schedule I, II, III, IV, or V of part B of this subchapter.” In Massachusetts, the legislature has defined a controlled substance as “a drug, substance, controlled substance analogue or immediate precursor in any schedule or class referred to in this chapter.” In Rhode Island, on the other hand, controlled substances are considered to be “means a drug, substance, immediate precursor, or synthetic drug in schedules I to V of this chapter.” What constitutes a controlled substances will vary from state to state as well as from the state to federal system.

How Are Controlled Substances Categorized?

Most jurisdictions have separated the various controlled substances that people can use or abuse into different schedules. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, as known as the DEA, “[d]rugs, substances, and certain chemicals used to make drugs are classified into five (5) distinct categories or schedules depending upon the drug’s acceptable medical use and the drug’s abuse or dependency potential.” The drugs that are the most dangerous and have the highest risk of abuse are classified as Schedule I drugs, while those that are Schedule V have the “least potential for abuse.” As a note, Massachusetts calls its categories “Classes” instead of “Schedules.” There are five classes, with Class A drugs considered the most dangerous and Class E the least.

The drugs that each jurisdiction has placed in each schedule or class varies, however, there are few that are commonly placed in each category. For example, under the law of Rhode Island and federal law, heroin is categorized as a Schedule I drug and a Class A drug in Massachusetts. Cocaine is considered to be a Schedule II and Class B drug, as are methamphetamines and hydromorphone.

Penalties for Drug Offenses

There are different penalties for different drug offenses. In addition, penalties vary depending on the state and whether the charges were brought in state or federal court. As a note, this section does not cover marijuana.

Possession of a Controlled Substance in Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, a person who is convicted of possession of a controlled substance, other than marijuana, can face up to three years in prison and may have to pay a fine of between $500 and $5,000. In addition, the individual must “attend and complete a drug counseling and education program.” R.I.G.L. 21-28-4.01(c)(2)(i); (c)(4)(i)-(ii).

Possession of a Controlled Substance in Massachusetts

The penalty in Massachusetts varies depending on the controlled substance in question. If a person is found to be possession of a substance that is categorized as a Class B or Class C substance, then the punishment can be up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. G.L. c. 94C, § 34. If a person is found guilty of possessing heroin, he or she can face up to two years in prison and a $2,000 fine. In addition, a person convicted of heroin possession may have his or her license suspended for a year.

Possession of a Controlled Substance under Federal Law

A person convicted of possessing a controlled substance under Federal Law can face up to a year in prison and a fine of $1,000. 21 U.S.C. § 844(a). The exception is if the controlled substance is flunitrazepam, also called Rohypnol. A person found guilty of possessing this substance can be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison and pay up to a $1,000 fine. Id.

Possession with Intent to Distribute in Rhode Island

There are different penalties for selling schedule I and II controlled substances depending on whether or not the person who has been convicted is drug addicted or not. If a person has an addiction, then the penalty is somewhat less but still considerable. Below is a general overview:

In addition, it is important to be aware that there are minimum penalties for intending to sell certain quantities of schedule I and II substances. The severity of the applicable penalty depends on the type of drug and the quantity involved.

The penalty for possession with intent to deliver a schedule III or IV drug faces a maximum penalty of up to 20 years behind bars and a fine of $40,000. R.I.G.L. 21-28-4.01(a)(4)(ii). There is an exception if the drug is an anabolic steroid or a human growth hormone. In that case, the maximum penalty if up to five years in prison and a $20,000 fine. There are no separate penalties for drug-addicted individuals with respect to schedule III or IV drugs. Finally, being convicted of intent to deliver a schedule V drug can result in up to a year in prison and a $10,000 fine. R.I.G.L. 21-28-4.01(a)(4)(iii).

Possession with Intent to Distribute in Massachusetts

Under the law of Massachusetts, the penalty for a conviction for intent to distribute will depend on which class the drug being sold falls into. Below is a quick overview of the maximum penalties for each class:

Possession with Intent to Distribute under Federal Law

Federal penalties tend to be harsher than state penalties. The penalty at the federal level for possession with intent to distribute, or trafficking, depends on the type of drug as well as the quantity of the drug involved. For example, a conviction for intent to distribute between 100-999 grams of heroin can lead to a prison sentence of ranging from five years to forty years and an individual fine of $5 million. If the quantity of heroin is a kilogram or more, then the penalty is ten years in prison up to life in prison and a fine of $10 million for an individual. However, if the quantity of heroin is less than a 100 grams, then the fine is up to $1 million and up to 20 years imprisonment.

To learn more about federal trafficking penalties, click here to visit the DEA’s website.


The general attitude towards marijuana has changed considerably in the last decade. A number of states have legalized the drug for medical purposes and a handful of states have decided to permit their citizens to use a limited amount of marijuana recreationally. Under federal law, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance and remains illegal. However, both Rhode Island and Massachusetts have decriminalized possessing under an ounce of marijuana. In both states having this small quantity is considered a civil offense. An individual caught with an ounce or less of marijuana can be subject to a fine as well as forfeiture of the drug.

Both states still criminalize the possession of more than an ounce of marijuana. In Rhode Island, possession of more than an ounce of weed can face up to a year in prison and a fine between $200 and $500. R.I.G.L. 21-28-4.01(c)(2)(ii). In Massachusetts, the law on recreational marijuana recently changed. Voters in the 2016 election opted for legalization.

Consult a Providence Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been arrested and charged with a drug offense in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, or in federal court, please do not hesitate to contact Mike Lombardi & Associates today. Our defense attorneys in Providence have extensive experience defending those accused of various drug crimes.

Let our dedication and knowledge work for you. You can call our office at 401-600-0000 or online. Contact us to schedule an initial consultation free of charge.



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