If you are convicted of a drug crime, even a low-level, nonviolent offense such as possession, you could face fines and imprisonment, along with other judicial consequences like court fees and court-ordered drug treatment. Those are only the short-term, immediate consequences of a drug conviction.
Beyond those immediate consequences are “collateral consequences,” which are those that result from some other rule or regulation besides the direct criminal penalty. For example, if you have been convicted of a drug offense, you might not be eligible for a federal security clearance.
The major problems you might face involve losing your job, your housing, and potentially your kids. There may be many others that matter to you, however, such as the loss of your right to bear arms, voting privileges, or use of federal programs. Your business or professional license could be lost. You may also have trouble finding a new job and housing as well.
In 2016, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) tried to figure out just how many collateral consequences there might be from a nonviolent drug conviction. It found at least 641 such consequences in federal statutes and regulations alone. Of those, 78% could potentially last a lifetime.
Here are the main types of collateral consequences from nonviolent drug convictions, according to the GAO:
- Employment restrictions
- Restrictions on business licensure and property rights
- Restrictions on occupational or professional licenses and certification
- Restrictions on government contracting and program participation
- Ineligibility for certain government loans and grants
- Ineligibility for government benefits
- Registration, notification, and residency restrictions, such as drug-free housing rules
- Restrictions on political and civic participation, such as the right to vote
- Housing limitations, like the inability to access Section 8 vouchers
- Education restrictions, such as ineligibility for federal student loans, in some cases
- Effects on your family and domestic rights, such as loss of child custody
- Restrictions on recreational licenses, including firearms
- Effects on motor vehicle licensure, such as license suspension
- Effects on your citizenship rights
We tend to think that a minor drug offense is no big deal. Yet, even a misdemeanor conviction could involve some of these consequences.
Don’t assume you should plead guilty. Before you take any action on a drug charge, speak with an experienced, compassionate attorney about the real costs of a conviction. You need an attorney who will go the extra mile to minimize the potential damage.