Many incorrect assumptions are often made about drug crimes in Memphis. Some may simply believe that if one is caught in possession of an illicit drug or controlled substance, they are automatically looking at jail. Yet given the number of drug arrests that are reported each year in the U.S. (1.63 million in 2017 alone, according to the Drug Policy Alliance), assigning a prison an extended prison sentence to everyone charged with a drug crime would result in a great many people being incarcerated. The penalty that one may face when charged with a drug crime will often depend on the circumstances of their arrest, yet even more influential is the type of substance involved. 

Title 39 of Tennessee’s Criminal Code shows that the state categorizes controlled substances into five different schedules. These schedules are defined by the potential that the drugs included in them present for abuse, the likelihood that those who use them will develop a dependency on them, and whether any have any recognized medical uses. Schedules I and II contain narcotics that are opiate-based, while the lower-level schedules include more common drugs such as marijuana, steroids and common prescription medications. The lowest schedule (Schedule VII) includes only one substance (butyl nitrite, commonly known as “poppers”). 

The maximum criminal penalties associated with each of Tennessee’s drug schedules are as follows: 

  • Schedule I: Class B felony, 8-12 years in prison, fines up t0 $200,000
  • Schedule II: Class A felony, 15-25 years in prison, fines up to $500,000
  • Schedules III and IV: Class D felony, 2-4 years in prison, fines up to $50,000
  • Schedule V and VII: Class E felony, 1-2 years in prison, fines up to $5,000

Standard offenses involving Schedule VI substances typically result in misdemeanor charges, yet one could face up to a Class A felony depending on the amount of substance allegedly found in their possession.