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Substance Abuse in College: Fighting Charges

Substance abuse in college is more than common. With the easy availability of controlled substances on campuses in the triangle area, we often see experimentation with alcohol, marijuana, ecstasy, and cocaine as a rite of passage for college students. Prescription drugs for depression, anxiety, or ADHD are also commonly passed around to relieve stress about grades and relationships. Let’s look at the legal consequences of getting caught abusing a substance in college.

Is Substance Abuse in College Normal?

Statistics bear out that drug abuse on college campuses is so common that most think of it as normal. However, if you are the one caught with the baggie and facing charges, it won’t matter anymore who else is using substances. You’ll be the one facing the criminal consequences for everyone else’s behavior.

Check out these statistics from FinancesOnline to see the college drug issue more clearly:

  • One in four college students meets the standard for substance abuse (ACPA, 2018).
  • More than two out of five college students used an illegal drug over a 12-month span (Turnbridge, 2019).
  • Male students have higher rates of substance use compared to female students (Indiana University, 2019).
  • 35.4% of students who use alcohol and marijuana also take illicit drugs (The Conversation, 2020).
  • 77.7% of students addicted to alcohol and marijuana are also addicted to other illicit drugs (The Conversation, 2020).

If you get caught with illegal substances, you could face a conviction for “possession of a controlled substance” or even “possession with intent to sell or deliver.”  A charge like this could put your college degree and future career in jeopardy if convicted.

Legal Schedule of Substances 

A first-time marijuana possession charge for less than ½ an ounce brings a fine of $200 and a criminal record with a Class 3 misdemeanor. A criminal record can have untold consequences in college, including loss of: 

  • jobs on campus
  • volunteer positions
  • ability to rent a home
  • future employment opportunities

Other substances carry much stricter consequences. Many drug charges carry mandatory minimum sentencing requirements. These charges can bring time in jail or prison, depending on the drug charge. The law categorizes drugs into a Schedule according to their addiction potential and uses.

NC Drug Schedule:

  • I – LSD, heroin, and ecstasy
  • II – Addictive substances such as cocaine, opium, and methamphetamine
  • III – Addictive, but also with medical use such as ketamine and steroids
  • IV – Prescriptions like valium and Xanax
  • V – Prescriptions that aren’t as addictive but still have the potential for abuse
  • VI – Marijuana is the most notable drug in this category

What Legal Charges Could I Face?

Schedule 1 substances are the most addictive and harmful to individuals. They carry the heaviest penalties for possession or other charges. However, some of the charges you could face for possessing or using any controlled substances include:

  • Possession: For marijuana, if you have .5 oz or less, there is usually a fine of up to $200 associated. For more than .5 oz, you could face jail time and a fine of up to $1000.
  • Prescription Fraud: Possessing or selling a prescription drug that you don’t have a prescription for.
  • Possession with the Intent to Sell (PWISD): Possessing a significant amount of a specific drug. Law enforcement can charge you with intent to sell or deliver.
  • Possession of Paraphernalia: Having things to make or sell drugs in your possession
  • Manufacturing or Cultivating Illegal Substances: Growing or making an illegal subtance

Facing College Security

Depending on the college you attend and the type of drug, the consequences may vary widely. If you are at a private university, the private campus security team might catch you smoking a joint. They could then refer you to an internal school disciplinary board. Alternatively, they might ask you to do some type of volunteer service at the school, attend counseling, or take future drug testing. 

However, if you are at a public university, it is much more likely that getting caught with a joint could earn you a misdemeanor charge. At a public university, the involvement of town law enforcement brings in the possibility of a criminal conviction.

Finding Your Way Through 

Before speaking with anyone at your University, contact an attorney to help you see what is at stake. Because criminal defense attorneys deal with these types of charges daily, they understand what prosecutors are looking for when thinking about reducing or dismissing charges. They also usually have experience helping you navigate university administration. 

Making sure you have representation is important because according to US News and World Report, “A federal or state conviction for possession of illegal drugs, conspiring to sell them or selling them may disqualify you from receiving federal student aid, including grants and new student loans.” 

However, you can still apply for Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, federal work-study, and federal student loans. Always talk with your financial aid office about what you are dealing with so that they can help you make the best decisions and receive the most aid. Some aid may still be available to those on probation, parole, or living in a halfway house.

Working with an attorney to negotiate the reduction or dismissal of charges and handle college administration could result in never missing a beat in your college experience.

Be Careful What You Say

The possible defenses for drug charges depend on what you say to law enforcement. Hemp smells like marijuana and yet is legal. Often law enforcement cannot prove that you were smoking or using an illegal drug. Admitting that you were smoking marijuana to law enforcement is never a smart move.

Prosecutors may also reduce other types of charges for paraphernalia or prescription fraud, depending on what you say about the items. Speaking with friends, family, or fellow inmates about what is happening without your attorney present can also make you look guilty. An attorney can help you think clearly about explaining your situation without further incriminating yourself. 

How to Move Forward

Your best path forward is to find a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense lawyer who understands drug crimes in depth. A defense can look at whether law enforcement violated your rights in the search and seizure. Many prosecutors are also willing to negotiate if you have no prior criminal record. It is often possible to get your charges reduced or dismissed entirely with the help of a criminal defense attorney.

We Can Help

At Scharff Law, we know how drug charges work in university systems. With a former prosecutor on our team, we understand what is at stake for you and how to get charges reduced or dropped. We go with you to college board disciplinary meetings, work with scholarship boards, and negotiate with prosecutors for you. 

Fighting a drug charge is not easy, but we investigate what happened from all angles, including whether law enforcement violated your rights in the process. Our extensive work on college campuses gives us an edge in helping you keep scholarships and other opportunities so that your future remains bright. Contact us today and find out how we can help you.