State Drug Crime Policy


Criminal drug policy is an important and perennial issue for state legislatures. Recently lawmakers have re-examined their approach to diversion policies and how certain drug crimes are penalized. Below you will find information and links to NCSL resources on some of the most pressing drug policy issues of interest to lawmakers and their constituents. For an overview of recent state actions listen to our Drug Crime Policy podcast.

Drug Sentencing

States are rethinking how they punish drug offenders. Legislative trends have included amending criminal penalties and providing funding and oversight to ensure effective community supervision and treatment options. Read more on our Drug Sentencing Trends page.


Voters in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of marijuana for adult recreational use. For more detailed information on legalization and pending legislation visit our Marijuana Overview page.

Heroin and Opiates

Heroin-related deaths nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013, and prescription opioid overdoses now kill more Americans than all other drugs combined. Every state has addressed both heroin and prescription opiate abuse but policy makers continue to look for solutions in the face of rising overdose deaths. For information on the rescue drug naloxone or Good Samaritan laws visit our Overdose Immunity page.

Pretrial Diverison

At least 44 states statutorily provide pretrial diversion alternatives to traditional criminal justice proceedings for persons charged with criminal offenses. Twenty-six states have diversion alternatives that specifically address substance use. These programs and treatment courts are available to defendants charged with drug or alcohol related offenses as well as defendants identified as having substance use or addiction needs. Read more on our Pretrial Diversion page.

Synthetic Drugs

Since 2011, all 50 states have enacted legislation aimed at banning synthetic substances. However, new synthetic substances continue to be synthesized making this an issue of continuing importance for policymakers. For more information on specific substances and state laws visit our Synthetic Drug Threats page. Substances addressed by this page include synthetic cannabinoids (synthetic marijuana), synthetic cathinones (a.k.a. bath salts), acetyl fentanyl (synthetic heroin), and select other designer drugs.

Additional Resources