Illinois, just like every other state, has laws surrounding the use of illegal drugs. Anyone who is facing charges for a drug crime can potentially be subject to incredibly harsh penalties. This is why It’s vital for every Illinois citizen to understand what the drug laws are in our state as well as the penalties associated with them.
Below, you will find information on Illinois drug laws, the penalties that can be faced if convicted of certain drug crimes, and how you can fight back against these charges with the help of an experienced attorney.
What Kinds of Drug Crimes Does Illinois Experience — and Who Gets Charged?
Every year, people in our state are arrested on all kinds of drug charges involving a wide variety of illegal substances.
As you can see on the chart below from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA), the most common drug crime arrests are for controlled substances and cannabis, followed by drug paraphernalia, then methamphetamine, and finally hypodermic syringes and needles.
Illinois Arrests for Drugs Source: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority 2019
That picture largely stays the same when looking at what people are actually admitted to prison for in our state where drug crimes are concerned:
Prison Admissions for Drug Offenses Source: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority 2017
However, it does get a bit more interesting if you break down prison admissions for drug crimes based on race and gender:
Prison Admissions for Drug Offenses Source: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority 2017
As you can see, black residents and men in particular make up the bulk of the population being admitted to prison after facing a drug charge.
How are people getting charged in the first place, though, and what determines the level of charges you might face?
The Illinois Controlled Substances Act
In the state of Illinois, the Controlled Substances Act makes it a crime for someone to have illegal drugs. If you are caught with illegal drugs or drugs without a prescription, then you will face criminal charges as a result.
However, not all drugs are treated equally under this law. There are different classifications for different types of drugs in Illinois. The law divides different drugs into different “schedules.”
The state understands that drug abuse is a complicated issue, so it uses the Controlled Substances Act to help provide a system under which these substances can attempt to be controlled. It uses the system to:
- Deter abuse or unlawful use of controlled substances
- Limit the access to these substances to those with a legitimate use for them
- Provide law enforcement with guidance and resources
- Define the differences between substances
- Work toward making the state and federal regulatory systems more unified
The penalties under the Act focus on heavy consequences for those who traffic or profit from controlled substances rather than those who abuse them.
The laws surrounding the regulation of controlled substances in the state are complex, which is why you need an attorney to help guide you through them if you are charged with a drug-related crime in Illinois.
The Different Types of Drug Charges in Illinois
There are various ways you can be charged for crimes related to drugs in Illinois. Possessing, selling, and manufacturing drugs are all illegal in the state, as is possession of drug paraphernalia. The charges someone can potentially face in Illinois include:
Drug possession is defined as the willful possession of an illegal substance by someone who knows it to be illegal and has the intent to use it or distribute it to others.
Anyone in Illinois who is in possession of an illegal substance can be charged with this. How severe the charges are depends on how much of the substance you are found with and what the substance is.
Drug Trafficking and Distribution
Drug trafficking is when someone illegally transports substances into the state for the purpose of selling the drugs or manufacturing them. Distribution involves the illegal sale or transfer of drugs.
These crimes often fall under the same umbrella, and the terms are frequently used interchangeably. The severity of the charges, just as with drug possession, depends on the type of drug involved in the case and in what amounts it is found.
If someone makes, provides to others, or transports controlled substances in Illinois, then they can face a drug manufacturing charge.
It is a very serious crime to manufacture illegal drugs. As mentioned above, these drugs are on what is called a schedule, where they are rated on a scale of one to five.
These ratings are based on criteria such as if they have any medical use and how addictive they are. Schedule I drugs are the most serious, while Schedule V drugs are the least serious.
If you are charged with manufacturing drugs in Illinois, the schedule the drugs are on has a direct impact on the severity of the charges.
How the Drug Schedules in Illinois Break Down
The schedule a drug is on in Illinois can have a huge impact on what someone is charged with as well as the consequences for a conviction. It’s important to understand the different drug schedules in the state and what drugs are under each schedule.
These are the most dangerous substances because they have a significant potential for abuse and have no medical benefit to their use. The drugs on this schedule include:
- Hallucinogenic mushrooms
Schedule II drugs also have a high potential for abuse and dependence but do have some approved medical uses. The drugs on this schedule include:
The drugs on this schedule still have a risk for dependence and abuse but are now as high as the previous two schedules. They also have some approved medical use under the direction of a physician. The drugs on this schedule include:
- Anabolic steroids
The drugs on this schedule have a lower risk of abuse and dependency as well as an approved medical use. They include:
The drugs on this schedule have a low potential for abuse or dependency and are used for medical purposes. They include:
- Cough syrups with codeine
What About Marijuana in Illinois?
Since January of 2020, marijuana has been legal recreationally in Illinois. That means that Illinois residents 21 and older can legally purchase and possess marijuana products in certain amounts.
Specifically, a qualified resident can have tinctures or edibles with up to 500 milligrams of THC, one ounce of flower marijuana, or five grams of concentrate, such as hashish. Additionally, any visitor in the state can legally possess up to half that amount.
Even though marijuana is legal in the state, though, there are still other restrictions that apply. For example, you can only consume the products at home or in approved establishments. Your landlord, any business, or a school such as a college can refuse to allow it on their premises as well.
It is also important to note that if you have a THC blood concentration of more than five nanograms per milliliter, it is illegal to drive. Doing so can get you charged with driving under the influence — even if you do not appear impaired.
Bottom line? Even with changes to marijuana laws, you can still commit a violation that can lead to serious legal issues.
Drug Penalties in Illinois
The type of drug involved in a drug crimes case in Illinois will directly impact the penalties for that crime. More precisely, the schedule of the drug involved in the crime matters a lot.
Schedule I and II Drug Penalties
If you are found in possession of a Schedule I or II drug, the amount of the drug found in your possession will impact the penalty. For example, If you have anywhere from 15 to 99 grams of heroin in your possession, then you can face up to 15 years in prison. However, having 900 grams or more in your possession could send you to prison for up to 50 years.
In general, the amounts of a Schedule I or II drug in your possession will result in the following sentences:
- 15 to 99 grams – Up to 15 years in prison
- 100 to 399 grams – Up to 30 years in prison
- 400 to 899 grams – Up to 40 years in prison
- 900 grams and up – Up to 50 years in prison
In any case involving 100 grams or more, you can be subject to a fine as well as a prison sentence. The fine is normally the street value of the drug or $200,000, whichever amount is greater.
Possessing 200 grams or more of a narcotic on Schedule I or Schedule II is considered a Class I felony. This is punishable by as many as 15 years behind bars and fines of up to $200,000.
Possession of Schedule III, IV, or V Drugs
In general, it is illegal to possess a drug on Schedules III, IV, or V without a valid prescription. If you are found in possession of them without a prescription, you’ll likely face a Class 4 felony. This is punishable by up to three years in prison and fines of as much as $25,000.
Possession of Ketamine is considered more significant and has harsher penalties as a result. If you have 30 grams or more of Ketamine, you could face a Class 1 felony that sends you to prison for up to 15 years and makes you responsible for fines of up to $200,000.
An exception to these schedules is the possession of anabolic steroids. That is a misdemeanor charge that is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and fines of as much as $1,500.
Penalties for Drug Trafficking in Illinois
Drug trafficking is punished quite severely in Illinois. The Illinois Controlled Substances Act allows a judge to impose a sentence that is double what someone would face for possession of the substance.
For example, if someone is convicted of trafficking 15 grams of heroin, then they can face up to 30 years in prison. If they are found with 900 grams, they can face 100 years or more. Fines can also be assessed for up to $1 million in these cases.
Penalties for Manufacturing a Controlled Substance
This is another drug crime with quite severe penalties. If you are convicted of manufacturing drugs, then in most cases you will face penalties related to the type and amount of drugs you manufactured. In most cases that translates to:
- Less than one gram – Up to seven years in prison and fines of $200,000
- Between one and 15 grams – Up to 15 years in prison and fines of $250,000
- Between 15 and 99 grams – Up to 30 years behind bars and fines of $500,000
- Between 100 and 399 grams – Up to 40 years in prison and fines of $500,000
- Between 400 and 899 grams – Up to 50 years in prison and fines of $500,000
- 900 grams and above – Up to 60 years in prison and fines of $500,000
In some cases, the penalties can be even harsher. For example, if you are convicted of manufacturing a controlled substance in close proximity to a school, then you can face additional consequences.
Defenses to Illinois Drug Crimes
The defenses available to someone accused of drug crimes in Illinois depend on the circumstances of their particular case. Some of the most common defenses used include:
Violations of Constitutional Rights
All Americans have rights under the Constitution and if those are violated at any point, then it could be grounds to have your case dismissed or charges reduced.
For example, in cases involving drug possession, an officer may violate the Fourth Amendment, which says that everyone is free from unlawful search and seizure of their property by a police officer.
In order for police to stop someone and search them, they must have probable cause to do so. If the police can not justify why you were stopped and searched, then it may be a violation of your rights.
You Had a Prescription
If you were arrested for possession of a substance such as Percocet or OxyContin, it’s not a crime if you had a legal prescription for it. If you have this prescription, make sure that evidence is shown to your attorney so they can make a case that you had a right to possess the substance.
The Drugs Were Not Yours
In some cases, someone can be charged for possession, manufacture, or trafficking of drugs that were not theirs. For example, if you borrowed someone’s car and were unaware that they had drugs in it, then were pulled over and searched, then you may be charged with possession. But if the drugs were not yours to begin with, then that’s a solid defense against the charges if it can be reasonably proven in court.
If you’re facing charges for a drug crime in Illinois, then it’s important to work with someone who not only understands your rights and the seriousness of the charges against you, but knows how to fight for your future and freedom. These types of crimes can send you to prison for many years, so understanding what you may be facing is vital to ensure you are given a fair trial and have the best chance at the most positive outcome.
About the Author
Sami Azhari has been working as a lawyer since 2007, after receiving his Juris Doctor from the Michigan State University College of Law. He has handled numerous state and federal cases, and is known throughout the Chicago and Rolling Meadows area for providing his clients with high-quality, skilled representation. He has been recognized by Avvo (2013 and 2018), SuperLawyers (2015-2020), The National Trial Lawyers, and other notable organizations, and has spoken at a number of legal conferences.