Offenses involving Schedule III controlled substances are more likely to be prosecuted in state courts than in federal courts. Federal law enforcement officials tend to concentrate on Schedule I and II drugs. If federal authorities believe that a dealer is trafficking a significant quantity of a Schedule III drug, however, they might decide a federal prosecution is worthwhile.

One of the most commonly prescribed Schedule III drugs is hydrocodone, a pain reliever that is marketed (in combination with acetaminophen) as Vicodin® and Lortab®, among other products. Illicit distributors generally acquire the drug through doctor shopping, forged prescriptions, or theft from pharmacies. Another common Schedule III drug, although less frequently abused, is Tylenol® with Codeine. Like hydrocodone, codeine is used for pain relief and as a cough suppressant.

The other Schedule III substances most likely to result in a federal prosecution are anabolic steroids. Most anabolic steroids prescribed in the United States are testosterone-based. They are used to treat testosterone deficiency, anemia, breast cancer, and a few other conditions. Unlike most other illegally distributed drugs, steroids are not ingested recreationally for the purpose of getting high. Most steroid abusers are body builders, weight lifters, and athletes who seek the competitive advantage or muscular appearance that steroids help them attain. Most anabolic steroids that are sold illegally in the United States are manufactured in other countries, usually in higher dosages than are prescribed by doctors.

Penalties

A federal sentence for distributing (or possessing with intent to distribute) a Schedule III drug, or for a conspiracy to distribute a Schedule III drug, depends upon whether the defendant has a prior drug conviction under state or federal law and whether a serious injury or death resulted from use of the distributed drug. If serious injury or death results from the distribution of a Schedule III drug, a mandatory minimumpenalty applies.

  • No injury
  • First offense:  Maximum sentence of 10 years.
  • Second or subsequent offense: Maximum sentence of 15 years.
  • Serious injury or death:
  • First offense:  Minimum sentence of 20 years, maximum of life.
  • Second or subsequent offense:  Minimum sentence of 30 years, maximum of life.

The maximum penalties described above may increase substantially and different mandatory minimum penalties may apply if:

  • the drug was distributed to a person under the age of 21;
  • the drug was distributed to a pregnant woman;
  • minors were employed to assist in the commission of the offense; or
  • distribution occurred near a protected area.

In addition to a potential prison sentence, fines and costs can be imposed, as well as a term of supervised release.

Penalties (simple possession)

Simple possession is the term used to describe possession of a drug for personal use, not with the intent to distribute the drug to others. The range of sentences available for simple possession of a Schedule III drug depends upon whether the defendant has a prior conviction for a drug offense under state or federal law.

  • First offense:  Maximum sentence of 1 year.
  • Second offense:  Minimum sentence of 15 days, maximum of 2 years.
  • Third or subsequent offense:  Minimum sentence of 90 days, maximum of 3 years.