In 1970, the United States unified the hundreds of drug laws that were on the books into a single, unifying law called the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. This is the federal law that regulates drug use, cultivation, distribution and possession. What it did is it created five "schedules" -- which are basically classifications -- of drugs, and based on the schedule of a drug, the punishment involved in the crime would be more (higher schedule) or less (lower schedule) severe.
So what are these schedules?
They go from five (V) at the lowest end of the system to one (I) at the highest end of the system The higher the schedule, the more potential for abuse and harm the substance presents.
Schedule 5 substances are things such as cough suppressants, and Schedule 4 substances are fairly similar but a bit more potent, such as Valium and Ambien.
Schedule 3 substances are drugs such as anabolic steroids and Vicodin. Schedule 2 includes things such as morphine and cocaine.
Schedule 1 are the drugs and substances you would think of first in relation to drug charges: heroin, marijuana, LSD and ecstasy are all examples of the highest scheduled substance.
The scheduling system is important because it sets a standard of punishment based on what substance a person accused of possessing or distributing a drug faces. No matter who you are or what drug charge you face, though, you should should always consult with a criminal defense attorney first to ensure your rights are protected.