In recent years, as drug use increased under policies that encourage incarceration instead of rehabilitation and treatment, experts look at addiction as a mental illness. Unfortunately, drug possession laws have not caught up to this perspective. Even a small amount of an illicit substance can result in jail time, and the topic of addiction is often unaddressed.

According to American Addiction Centers, penalties for possessing drugs vary, depending on the amount and type. The U.S. government has five categories, known as schedules, for prescription and illicit drugs. The assigned group depends on the abuse likelihood and whether they have medical benefits.

Schedule I drugs have little to no medical use, but a high potential for abuse. Considered the most dangerous category, it contains LSD, heroin, GBH and marijuana, although the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency may downgrade cannabis.

Schedule II contains drugs with some approved medical applications and high abuse potential. The highly controlled prescription medications in this category include oxycodone and morphine, while illicit substances include opium, cocaine and methamphetamine.

Schedule III substances may not be physically addictive and encompass a broad range of medical applications. Anabolic steroids, some products containing codeine, Vicodin and ketamine fill this category.

Schedule IV contains primarily prescription medications. While the potential for abuse is low, individuals who do abuse them often become psychologically and physically addicted. Valium, Ativan, Xanax and Klonopin are part of this category.

Schedule V drugs have low abuse potential. It contains medications that include small amounts of a narcotic, such as codeine.

In Pennsylvania, a simple possession conviction involving Schedule I drugs, excluding marijuana, can result in up to $5,000 in fines and a year in prison. More serious charges, such as intent to distribute, often result in felony convictions. This can prevent you from getting specific types of jobs, qualifying for loans and affect your ability to get a lease.