What Is the Federal Controlled Substances Act?

The Controlled Substances Act is the federal legislation that identifies and regulates proscribed drugs and chemicals, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The law gives the U.S. Department of Justice the authority to define what constitutes an illegal substance, and it provides specific penalties for offenders. Controlled substances include prescription drugs and narcotics that have a legitimate medical use.

The Controlled Substances Act divides regulated substances into five categories, known as schedules, using criteria such as potential for abuse and accepted medical uses, notes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Schedule I substances have the highest risk for abuse and dependence; these include opiates, marijuana and hallucinogenic drugs such as peyote. Schedule V substances are the least dangerous; narcotics such as codeine and opium are in this category, but only when mixed with nonnarcotic medicinal ingredients.

The Controlled Substances Act recognizes that certain chemicals and drugs possess research and medicinal value, so it establishes guidelines and regulations for individuals and businesses that manufacture, distribute and dispense these substances, states the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Convicted violators of this law face severe penalties, including life imprisonment. The law mandates a minimum 20-year sentence for anyone who commits a second felony violation and a minimum sentence of life imprisonment for anyone convicted of a third violation. It also provides particularly severe sentences for violations involving minors.