Ohio drug laws have changed significantly over the past few years, reflecting a shifting attitude toward drug crime and addiction. Like many states, Ohio has emphasized addressing drug-related issues, like dispensing less severe punishments for minor drug offenses, increasing access to expungement, and offering treatment for those struggling with addiction.
Unfortunately, the criminalization of controlled substances still clogs Ohio courts and jails. It also leaves too many with serious damage to their records. This stems from Ohio’s law prescribes specific penalties for drug offenses, ranging from misdemeanors to felony drug charges. These laws are intended to punish offenders and deter drug offenses appropriately. Still, the consequences of a felony drug conviction outside of jail and fines often lead to gratuitous barriers to employment, housing, and other opportunities.
Here we will examine the factors influencing a drug charge becoming a felony in Ohio. Hopefully, by understanding when drug charges rise to the felony level, you can avoid or mitigate the potential harm if you or a loved one face a Cincinnati drug charge.
Ohio Drug Felonies
Felony drug charges in Ohio generally target significant drug crimes, like those involving drug trafficking, manufacturing, or possession with the intent to distribute. That being said, the type of drug, the quantity of drugs involved, the intent of those charged, and other circumstances related to the offense are all considered to determine if felony drug charges are warranted.
What Type of Drug is Involved?
Some drugs are more severe than others under the law, and the type of drug involved in a crime is a crucial factor in whether an offense is classified as a felony in Ohio. Ohio categorizes controlled substances into five schedules based on their potential for abuse and medicinal value.
- Schedule I drugs have the highest potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. They are the most severe and include illegal drugs like heroin, LSD, and MDMA. Possession, sale, or distribution of Schedule I drugs is usually classified as a felony.
- Schedule II drugs, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and fentanyl, have a high potential for abuse but have accepted medical uses. Offenses involving Schedule II drugs are generally felonies, although some may be reduced to misdemeanors under certain circumstances.
- Schedule III, IV, and V drugs have a lower potential for abuse and accepted medical uses. These include ketamine, prescriptions like ketamine, Xanax, and Valium, and cough syrups with codeine. Depending on the details, offenses may result in misdemeanor or felony drug charges.
The weight of the drug involved is another significant factor in determining whether someone is charged with a felony. Ohio law establishes different weight thresholds for different types of drugs, with larger quantities generally resulting in more severe penalties.
For instance, if you are arrested for a relatively small amount of cocaine in your pocket, it could be argued that you only had enough for your personal use. This may constitute a less serious offense. However, possessing large quantities of drugs can put individuals at risk of addiction, overdose, and other health issues. So, if you had a significant amount in the truck of your car, it may suggest you are a bigger threat to the public or had plans to disturb drugs to others.
Here are some common illegal drugs and the quantities that would usually justify a felony charge:
|Drug||Felony Level||Quantity for Felony|
|Cocaine||Fifth Degree||100g or more|
|Heroin||First Degree||5g or more|
|Methamphetamine||First Degree||5g or more|
|Fentanyl||Fifth Degree||5g or more|
|LSD||Fifth Degree||50 or more doses|
|MDMA (Ecstasy)||Fifth Degree||25g or more|
|Marijuana||Third Degree||1,000g or more|
|Marijuana||Fifth Degree||200g to 1,000g|
|Marijuana||Fourth Degree||100g to 200g|
Individual Intent & Circumstances
The intent of the individual accused of a drug offense is also crucial in determining whether it’ll be pursued as a felony. Generally, offenses involving the sale, distribution, or manufacture of illegal drugs will be treated as felonies, regardless of the quantity.
For example, felony drug charges are common when people are found with narcotics, scales, baggies, and other items associated with selling illegal drugs. Similarly, if you are arrested following a raid on a known drug house or meth lab, felony charges are likely.
Other circumstances that can affect whether drug charges are classified as felonies include the location of the offense, the individual’s criminal history, and whether the offense involved the use of weapons or violence. Examples of when felony drug charges may apply would be if you commit a drug crime near a school or park, have a prior drug crime on your record, or had a weapon in your possession at the time of your arrest.
Ohio Drug Felonies & Penalties
With all these factors, it’s easy to see how a drug offense can be elevated to a felony in Ohio.
Proponents of these laws maintain that they provide flexibility in dealing with complex drug issues, allowing law enforcement officers and prosecutors to use their judgment to make decisions based on the specific circumstances of each case. But critics of Ohio’s drug laws argue that subjective drug laws often result in unequal treatment and can be used to target specific communities or individuals unfairly.
Here are the most-seen felony drug charges in Ohio, their corresponding felony level, and the associated penalties.
- Drug Trafficking – First Degree Felony – Up to 11 years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines
- Drug Possession with Intent to Distribute – Second or Third Degree Felony – Up to 8 years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines
- Drug Manufacturing – First or Second Degree – Up to 11 years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines
- Illegal Possession of Prescription Drugs – Fourth or Fifth Degree – Up to 18 months in prison and up to $5,000 in fines
- Felony Drug Possession – Third, Fourth, or Fifth Degree – Up to 5 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines (third-degree), up to 18 months in prison and up to $5,000 in fines (fourth and fifth-degree)
Challenging Ohio Drug Felonies
Fighting felony drug charges can be difficult, but it’s possible to achieve a reduction to a misdemeanor or complete dismissal. Just like the charges against you in a felony drug case are based on the type, quantity, and circumstances, that’s where an effective defense strategy begins.
Some ways to challenge drug charges include arguing that the police lacked probable cause to search or arrest you, disputing the quantity of drugs involved, or negotiating a plea to lesser charges based on mitigating factors that work in your favor.
Felony Drug Defenses
For instance, your lawyer may illustrate that any drugs found were discovered by violating your constitutional rights. Without the drugs, it’s hard to move forward with a felony drug case.
While the amount of drugs in question may feel like concrete evidence, getting exact measurements in real-world scenarios is more complex than most expect. If the prosecution cannot establish the exact weight or purity of the drug, the defense may be able to argue that the charges should be reduced to a lower felony level. An experienced defense lawyer can usually find flaws in how the evidence was measured, transported, or stored.
Finally, your attorney can also bring up considerations that may help your case. If you were arrested near a school, maybe it was an honest mistake, or you only had a large amount of drugs because you were forced into it. This can result in a significant reduction in penalties and can help avoid the long-term consequences associated with a felony drug conviction.
Contact an Experienced Drug Lawyer
While much progress has been made in how Ohio treats drug offenses, being accused of a felony drug crime is still scary and potentially life-changing. It’s essential to have an experienced defense attorney on your side. An attorney can review your case, identify weaknesses, and help you explore options that may allow you to reduce a felony to a misdemeanor or beat the case.
If you are facing felony drug charges in Cincinnati, we encourage you to get legal counsel as soon as possible to protect your rights and achieve the best possible. At Luftman, Heck & Associates, our defense team has had considerable success helping people deal with felony drug charges and can guide you too.
Call LHA at (513) 338-1890 for a free and confidential consultation with a local defense lawyer.