What are the penalties for illegal sale or possession of prescription drugs?

What are the penalties for illegal sale or possession of prescription drugs?

Sale or possession of prescription drugs is a serious crime in Florida, punishable by imprisonment — sometimes a mandatory minimum sentence — and fines. The severity of the potential penalties depends on the type and amount of prescription drugs involved in the case.

There are several valid defenses that can you can use against charges of illegal possession or sale of prescription drugs. The best way to approach your case will depend on your unique circumstances. It is vital to build a strong defense as early on as possible in order to protect your best interests. If you were recently arrested or charged with a drug crime in Florida, contact Goldman Wetzel to get started on your case straightaway: 727-828-3900.

The state handles prescription drug charges according to whether or not the drug in question is a controlled substance under Florida law. Charges and penalties for controlled substances like Hydrocodone and Xanax are more severe than they are for other non-controlled prescription drugs.

Below we discuss these two categories of charges, as well as the potential penalties and defenses.

How does Florida categorize prescription drugs?

Florida Statute § 893.03 provides a list of drugs that the state deems as “controlled substances,” categorized under five different schedules. The first category, Schedule I drugs, has a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the U.S. so a doctor will not prescribe them. They include drugs like heroin, LSD, marijuana, and Ecstasy.

There are, however many types of prescription drugs listed in other schedules:

Schedule II drugs: high potential for abuse; has a currently accepted but severely restricted medical use in treatment in the U.S.; abuse of the substance may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. Examples: hydrocodone, hydromorphone, Demerol, OxyContin/oxycodone, Percocet, Adderall, and Ritalin

Schedule III drugs: lesser potential for abuse; has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the U.S.; abuse of the substance may lead to moderate or low physical dependence, high psychological dependence, or physical damage. Examples: anabolic steroids, ketamine, Tylenol with Codeine, and Suboxone, and Didrex

Schedule IV drugs: low potential for abuse relative to the substances in Schedule III; has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the U.S.; abuse of the substance may lead to limited physical or psychological dependence. Examples: Xanax, Soma, Klonopin, Valium, and lorazepam.

Schedule V drugs: low potential for abuse relative to other drugs; has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the U.S.; and has potential to lead to limited dependency. Examples: Robitussin AC®, Phenergan with Codeine, and ezogabine.

Charges for possession or sale of prescription drugs not found in these schedules are handled according to a different set of rules, detailed in Florida Statute § 499.03. This includes a wide range of medicines, which can include anything from birth control pills to blood thinners.

What are the penalties for controlled substance prescription drug charges?

Possession/intent to sell

If law enforcement finds you in unlawful possession of a prescription drug on the controlled substances list, such as Valium or Xanax, you will be facing at least a third-degree felony, punishable by five years’ imprisonment and a $5,000 fine.

However, the schedule that the drug falls under and the amount found in your possession will determine the severity of the penalties.

Possession with intent of certain drugs in Schedule I is a first-degree felony; other drugs in Schedule I bring second-degree felony charges.

Possession of drugs (with the intent to sell) in schedules II, III, or IV is a second- or third- degree felony depending on specific type of drug.

Possession of drugs (with the intent to sell) in schedule V is a first-degree misdemeanor.

Hydrocodone, for instance, is a schedule II controlled substance. Possession (with intent) of less than 14 grams is a second-degree felony, up to 15 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

Note: For all types of illegal prescription drug charges, the penalties are higher if you sold or distributed near schools, places of worship, community parks, or daycare.


When you are found in possession of a substantial amount of illegal prescriptions that are controlled substances, officers will likely charge you with trafficking, rather than possession or intent to sell. Similar to possession charges, the penalties for trafficking depend on the schedule and amount of the drug.

For example, if you are found in possession of 14 grams or more of hydrocodone, officers will charge you with trafficking, a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. There will also be a mandatory term of imprisonment and fine, each of which depends on the amount.

As per Florida Statute § 893.135, the penalties for hydrocodone trafficking are as follows:

  • 14 grams to less than 28 grams: mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of three years and a $50,000 fine
  • 28 grams to less than 50 grams: mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of seven years and a $100,000 fine
  • 50 grams to less than 200 grams: mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 15 years and a $500,000 fine
  • 200 grams to less than 30 kilograms: mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 25 years and a $750,000 fine

To determine exactly what types of penalties you face, call Goldman Wetzel at 727-828-3900.

What are the penalties for other types of prescription drug charges?

Per Florida Statute § 499.03, possession of all other types of prescription drugs that are not controlled substances is a second-degree misdemeanor. The potential penalties include:

  • Up to 60 days in jail;
  • A $500 fine; and
  • Probation.

Possession with intent to sell is a third-degree felony.

What defenses can I use to defend against possession of prescription drug charges?

Charges for possession of prescription drugs are not always warranted. For instance, if you are pulled over by an officer who finds your friend’s prescription that he left in your car, you can be arrested on the spot.

You can also be arrested for and possibly later charged with possession of a controlled substance without a prescription if the officer finds your pills in a container other than the original bottle they came in.

In cases of this nature, proof from your doctor or pharmacy that you (or your friend) did have a valid prescription might be enough to get the prosecutor to drop the charges.

In other types of situations, your defense may be based on the fact the evidence against you was improperly obtained, i.e., the police violated your fourth amendment rights with an unlawful search and seizure.

Or we may be able to prove you did not have actual or constructive possession of the drug. Actual possession of a substance means you have the drug on your person or within reach. Constructive possession means you knew of the substance, had dominion over the place it was located, and had control over the substance.

Through an examination of your case, our attorneys can figure out exactly what defense to use.

Where can I find a defense attorney who will defend against my charges?

Our defense attorneys at Goldman Wetzel have helped numerous people in Florida with their prescription drug-related crime cases. We know how to negotiate with prosecutors, collect evidence in our clients’ favor, and help defendants navigate the court process. When you retain us for your case, we will protect your rights as we push for dropped or reduced charges.

Call us today at 727-828-3900.