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Details on State Heroin Laws

River Phoenix. Janis Joplin. Jim Morrison. Phillip Seymour Hoffman. What do all these celebrities have in common? They all died of a heroin overdose. Despite heroin references in movies and TV that may glamorize the drug, heroin is illegal under federal and state law. Indeed, heroin laws in the United States are strict. So if you're wondering just how much trouble you can get into for either having or dealing "just a little" heroin, you've come to the right place.

Primarily due to the increased violence surrounding certain drugs, authorities crack down heavily on both the sale and possession of heroin. But many states also provide addicts with the option of drug treatment instead of prison in some cases.

Where Does Heroin Come From?

Heroin is manufactured from opium poppies cultivated in four (4) primary source areas:

  • South America,
  • Southeast and Southwest Asia, and
  • Mexico

Although Afghanistan produces the majority of the world's heroin, South American heroin has become the most prevalent type available in the U.S., particularly in the Northeast, South, and Midwest. The particular form known as "black tar" from Mexico, a less-pure form of heroin, is more commonly found in the western and southwestern United States. It may be sticky like roofing tar or hard like coal, with its color varying from dark brown to black.

State Laws and Heroin Possession

In many states, such as Virginia, heroin need not be found directly on the defendant for him or her to be considered in possession of the drug. If the drug is found to be in the defendant's exclusive control (only the defendant has access to it or it is in a place only the defendant would place it -- e.g. in the backseat of his or her automobile), the defendant may still be found in possession.

Heroin Classifications

Drug laws are among the most complex criminal laws on the books. Often certain offenses are given "class" designations into which any number of specific drug offenses are grouped, and sentences are prescribed according to mandated ranges (called "sentencing guidelines "). Drug sentencing guidelines set absolute minimum and maximum sentences for specific crimes and take much of the discretion for setting sentences away from judges.


One recent trend in drug legislation is the growing incorporation of "special enhancements" directed at selling to or from minors. Several states have recently amended these particular laws by incorporating mandatory sentencing to adults selling drugs like heroin to minors. For example, California drug laws specifically state that enhancements attach when the seller is over 18 and the buyer is a minor at least 4 years younger than the seller.

Note: Heroin charges are very serious, and with them come very stiff penalties. If you find yourself arrested or accused of a heroin crime, the advice and counsel of a drug crime attorney can be essential. Additionally, there are a wide variety of factors involved in these cases, including the practices of your jurisdiction. An attorney can be beneficial in explaining the true nature of the existing law in the U.S.

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