Drugs

Guide to Drug Laws in the United States


Laws related to drugs are made at the federal, state, and local level. Be sure to check your state and local laws. For California, see our guide here.

Which drugs are illegal in the U.S.?

Most drugs are illegal in the U.S. under the federal Controlled Substances Act, except for medications prescribed to you by a medical doctor.1Controlled Substances Act of 1970

The federal government can prosecute you for possessing (including for personal use), selling or distributing any amount of an illegal drug, including but not limited to heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, psychedelics or hallucinogens like LSD, and more.

Even marijuana is technically illegal under federal law, although several states have “legalized” it, creating a conflict in the law that has yet to be resolved. See our Guide to Marijuana Laws in the U.S.

What about CBD?

See our Guide to CBD Law.

What is “decriminalization” of drugs?

Many states and cities also have additional laws prohibiting these drugs, meaning that local law enforcement can prosecute you for possessing or selling drugs. But some cities and states have “decriminalized” such activities. This means local law enforcement cannot prosecute you for minor drug crimes (although it may still be considered an “infraction.”) However, this does NOT stop the federal government from enforcing federal law.

Denver recently became the first city to decriminalize “magic mushrooms” aka psilocybin mushrooms. The city will no longer penalize adults 21 or older for the use and possession of small amounts of the drug. Oakland became the second city to do so, along with all plant-based “entheogenic” hallucinogen drugs. Washington, D.C. is also considering similar decriminalization.

As mentioned above, the state and federal governments can still enforce these laws.

What about driving while high on drugs?

While it is generally illegal in itself to simply do drugs, it is an additional crime to operate a vehicle while high or intoxicated on a drug. Depending on the state, this may be considered a DUI (driving under the influence) or DWI (driving while intoxicated).

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