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Drug Charges

Drug cases are often more complex than they appear and can sometimes hinge on various other areas of the law, including search and seizure issues. If you have been arrested in Harris or any of the surrounding counties on drug charges, it is important that you speak as soon as possible with a qualified attorney regarding your case.

Houston attorney Matt Horak is available to discuss your case in any one of the following areas:

Houston Drug Crimes Attorney

An arrest on drug charges can have a major impact on your life. It can affect your employment, your personal life, your financial life, and even your freedom. Securing the representation of a criminal defense attorney can help mitigate your sentence or have your charges dropped completely. If you’ve been charged with a drug-related crime anywhere in the greater Houston area, call Mr. Horak at (713) 225-8000 or toll-free at (800) 225-8009.

Drug Crimes Information Center

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Drug Crime Statistics

America’s war on drugs has resulted in billions spent to fight drugs, millions of people incarcerated, and hundreds of thousands of people arrested every year for drug crimes. The actual statistics are overwhelming and paint a picture of just how seriously the federal government and state governments take drug offenses.

According to FBI statistics, it is estimated that the United States spends over $47 billion dollars every year to fight drug crimes across the country. The money spent results in a million and a half drug crime arrests per year. In 2017 alone there were 1.6 million drug related arrests.

The majority of arrests are for possession offenses. In fact, 85 percent of all drug related arrests are for possession only. Nearly half of that number is arrests for marijuana possession. In 2017 there were 599,282 marijuana possession arrests. That means 37 percent of all drug arrests in the country are for marijuana possession.

Drug offenses are easily the most arrested for crimes in the country. You would have to combine arrests for murders, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, and thefts to even reach the number of drug crime arrests in the U.S.  Needless to say, your odds of being arrested for a drug crime are higher than for any other offense and as of 2016 there were 456,000 people incarcerated for drug offenses.

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Dangerous Drugs and Controlled Substances

Texas law differentiates between possession of a “dangerous drug” and possession of a “controlled substance.” A dangerous drug is defined as any drug that is unsafe for self-medication AND that is not included in Schedules I through V or Penalty Groups 1 through 4 as listed in the Texas Controlled Substances Act. Dangerous drugs include, but are not limited to, the following substances:

  • Sudafed/Phenylephrine
  • Pseudoephedrine, in OTC medications like Claritin D
  • Dextromethorphan, a common ingredient in over-the-counter cold medicines

On the other hand, controlled substances are drugs that are included in Schedules I through V or Penalty Groups 1 through 4 as listed in the Texas Controlled Substances Act. The term controlled substance includes the drug and any dilutant or adulterant. The use and distribution of these drugs are highly regulated because of the heightened abuse potential. Some examples of controlled substances are:

  • Schedule I (Heavily Controlled, No Medical Use)
    • Tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) – Cannabis, Marijuana, “pot”, “weed”, “ganja”, “bud”, “chronic”
    • Diacetylmorphine – Heroin
    • Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) – Ecstasy
    • Psilocybin – Mushrooms
    • Lysergic acid diethylamide – LSD, “acid”
    • Mescaline – Peyote, San Pedro, Achuma, Peruvian Torch cacti
  • Schedule II (Heavily Controlled, Limited Medical Use)
    • Benzoylmethylecgonine – Cocaine
    • Methylphendiate – Ritalin, Concerta
    • Opium
    • Methadone
    • Oxycodone – OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan
    • Morphine
    • Pure Codeine
    • Pure Hydrocodone
    • Amphetamines – Methamphetamine
    • Phenylcyclidine (PCP)
    • Short-acting Barbiturates – Pentobarbital
  • Schedule III (Moderately Controlled, Accepted Medical Use)
    • Anabolic Steroids
    • Ketamine
    • Marinol
    • Codeine or Hydrocodone with a NSAID or acetaminophen – Vicodin, Lortab, Lorcet
  • Schedule IV (Lightly Controlled, Limited Dependency Risk)
    • Benzodiazepines – alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium)
    • Dextropropoxyphene – Darvon, Darvocet
  • Schedule V (Very Light Control)
    • Cough suppressants with codeine
    • Some anti-diarrheal treatments

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Possession Defined

Under Texas law, the word “possession” has a very special meaning, and it can differ from the general understanding of the word. In order to be found guilty of possession of a drug, an individual must intentionally and knowingly possess the drug.

Intentionally possessing means that it is the conscious objective of the individual to engage in the conduct or cause the result. Knowingly possessing means the individual is aware of the nature of the possession and the circumstances that exist.

The actual term possession means actual care, custody, control or management. This means that the drug would physically be on your person or among your possessions. This could include drugs in the glove compartment of your vehicle, in your pocket or purse, or in some other way located on your person. You may also be deemed to possess a drug even if it is not on your person, but only under special circumstances. The prosecution would have to show that you:

  • Knew of the presence of the drugs, and
  • Knew that the drugs present were illegal, and
  • Had some kind of control over the drugs

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Defenses to Possession

The element of possession is extremely important in many drug cases. Possession is defined in Texas as having actual care, custody, control or management of the drug. The primary defense to the charge of possession is that the drug was received directly from or with the valid prescription of a practitioner operating in the course of their professional practice. This can include a receipt from or under a prescription from a physician, dentist, nurse practitioner, psychiatrist, or podiatrist.

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Prescription Drugs

The charges relating to prescription drugs are far-ranging and far-reaching. They can include charges as simple as failing to maintain records, to forging or altering a prescription, to refilling a prescription without authorization, to unlawful manufacture with intent to deliver a simulated controlled substance. In cases relating to prescription medication, it is not always the individual who possess the illegally obtained substance who is punished.

Other accused individuals can include physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare providers who face not only criminal charges, but possible suspension or loss of licensure to practice. This is why immediate representation by an experienced drug crimes attorney is so important in prescription drug cases. You should not have to face criminal charges and possible loss of licensure alone.

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Drug Charges Related to Minors

Texas state law recognizes a difference between providing drugs or drug paraphernalia to an adult (an individual 18 years of age or older) and providing drugs or paraphernalia to a minor (any individual under the age of 18). There are harsher penalties if a defendant is found guilty of these crimes than if it is just a standard distribution case. However, the law also allows for a greater number of defenses in these cases as well, including whether or not the defendant knew that the individual was a minor.

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If You’ve Been Pulled Over or Arrested

A typical case begins with an individual being pulled over. The officer comes to have a suspicion about the individual in the vehicle based on something like the driver’s appearance, demeanor, or manner of speaking. The office orders the individual to step out of the vehicle. The officer then performs a search of the vehicle and finds illegal drugs. How the individual acts from the moment he or she is stopped can have a large impact on the future case.

The first thing to remember is that you have the Constitutional right to remain silent. You do not have to answer any questions by the police officer. The only information that you are required to provide is identifying information, such as your name, address, and/or driver’s license or other state identification. If the police officer continues to question you after you invoke your right to remain silent, he is actually violating your rights. However, if you elect to begin answering the officer’s questions, or begin to offer information after invoking your right to remain silent, that information can be used against you in court.

The second thing to remember is that you do not have to consent to any search by the police officer. You do not have to consent to a search of your vehicle. You do not have to consent to a search of your person. While an officer may threaten to arrest you if you do not consent, the officer actually cannot do that. Your refusal should always be respectful and clear. The thing to keep in mind is that if you do not consent to a search, it cannot be performed. If a search is not performed, then the officer may not locate additional information that may be required to make his case.

The third thing to remember is that you do not have to perform any field sobriety tests if requested. The tests that an officer may attempt to have you take could include:

  • A Breathalyzer test
  • Walking the line
  • The HGN test

The officer may couch his request in a threat to arrest if you do not comply, or even an attempt to clear the case or let you go. If you perform any of the tests, you may again be providing the officer with additional information to possibly make an arrest, and additional information for a prosecuting attorney to make a case against you. Again, your refusal should always be respectful and clear, but always remember that you are able to refuse these tests.

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Constitutional Challenges in Drug Cases

The Constitution offers many protections to individuals. Of particular note in drug cases are the Fourth Amendment guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure and the Fifth Amendment guarantee against self-incrimination.

The Fourth Amendment protects individuals against unreasonable search and seizure of their property by the government. In drug cases, this is particularly important. If information is obtained by the officers on the case in any way in violation of this right, that information can be challenged. If the challenge is successful, it may be that the prosecution will no longer have enough information to prosecute the case, which may result in the case being dismissed.

The Fifth Amendment provides protection for individuals against self-incrimination. A suspect cannot be forced to incriminate himself under any circumstances. If it can be determined that information was obtained from a suspect in violation of this right, the information could be thrown out by the court. If it is crucial information, it may be that the prosecution no longer can prove its case, and the case could be dismissed.

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Federal Drug Charges

The involvement of the federal government in a drug case automatically adds an additional layer of complications to the case. Federal drug charges often result from one of the following:

  • The crime involves the crossing of state or national borders; or
  • The crime involves a criminal enterprise, like a gang or other organized crime; or
  • The prosecutor has decided to prosecute the crime in the federal court.

Federal drug charges result in the case being tried in federal court, where the court operates under the federal sentencing guidelines. The federal sentencing guidelines were mandatory for a long period of time, and while judges may now use their own judgment for sentencing, most do not. The federal sentencing guidelines contain minimum and maximum sentences for the various criminal charges, and many are more severe than state charges.

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Possible Drug Crime Penalties

Under the Texas Controlled Substances Act, the potential penalty for possession or distribution of a controlled substance depends on which Penalty Group the drug is in, how much of the drug is possessed, the presence of a minor, and a number of other factors.

Below is the standard penalty progression for possession of a Penalty Group I substance, which includes cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines.

Weight Classification Penalty

<1 gram

State jail felony

Sentence: 180 days–2 years in state jail
Fine: Up to $10,000

1–4 grams

Third-degree felony

Sentence: 2–10 years in state prison
Fine: Up to $10,000

4–200 grams

Second-degree felony

Sentence: 2–20 years in state prison
Fine: Up to $10,000

200–400 grams

First-degree felony

Sentence: 5–99 years in state prison
Fine: Up to $10,000

400+ grams

Enhanced first-degree felony

Sentence: 10–99 years in state prison
Fine: Up to $100,000

More information regarding penalties for drug- and marijuana-related offenses is contained within the Texas Controlled Substances Act, Sections 481.115-481.122.

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External Resources


Baker Institute for Public Policy – Rice University’s Baker Institute studies policies of the United States related to both legal and illegal drugs including alcohol and marijuana. The institute has 162 experts at its disposal and the Drug Policy Program is directed by William Martin, Ph.D. The institute also publishes articles about making drug policy more sensible and offers events to inform the public. You can learn more about the Baker Institute at the link including how you can donate. If you would like to reach out to the institute, see their contact information below.

6100 Main Street
Baker Hall MS-40, Suite 120
Houston, TX 77005

Phone: 713-348-4683
Fax: 713-348-5993

Narcotics Anonymous – For many people, addiction to narcotics is a serious problem. Narcotics Anonymous was founded in 1953 and holds 67,000 weekly meetings worldwide to help people kick their addiction to drugs. The twelve step program is similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. Following the link will take you to the main site which will provide general information and research, information on where to find meetings, and information on how to start your own NA meeting. 

Texas Controlled Substances Act – While the federal government has its own controlled substances act, Texas has its own version and criminalizes drug possession, distribution, and manufacturing at the state level. The information provided above is much more easy to digest than reading the statute itself but for a complete picture you can click the link and see just how extensive Texas’ Controlled Substances Act is. 

The Council on Alcohol and Drugs Houston – Like Narcotics Anonymous, the Council on Recovery is another resource for those who are trying to turn their life away from drugs. The Council on Recovery is a non-profit that that provides prevention, education, and outpatient treatment services. Following the link will help you get in touch with a counselor if you or a loved one is in need of help. 

303 Jackson Hill Street
Houston, TX 77007
(713) 942-4100

Memorial Hermann Prevention and Recovery Center – Memorial Hermann’s Prevention and Recovery Center is a professional drug rehab facility in Houston. PaRC provides inpatient and outpatient programs to teens and adults who have drug addiction problems. If you are in need of professional help, visit the link or contact PaRC with the information below. 

3043 Gessner Ave.
Houston, TX 77080
(713) 939 – 7272

Office of National Drug Control Policy – ONDCP establishes policies, priorities, and objectives for the Nation’s drug control program. The goals of the program are to reduce illicit drug use, manufacturing, and trafficking, drug-related crime and violence, and drug-related health consequences. Visit the link to learn more about how the executive branch is working to change drug policy.

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Horak Law | Houston Drug Crimes Lawyer

A drug crime accusation in Houston can have serious direct and indirect consequences that haunt you for years to come, but it doesn’t have to be. Secure the representation of an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney today by contacting Matt Horak at (713) 225-8000, visiting his offices, or using the online contact form on this site and scheduling a case evaluation.

Contributor: Matt Horak

  • Texas Board of Legal Specialization | Criminal Law
  • National College for DUI Defense
  • National Association of Criminal Defense Laywers
  • Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association
  • Matt Horak has earned recognition for community leadership by Lawyer Legion