DFZ Laws





Drug Free Zone Laws: Mission, History, Effect, and Challenges

Mission of Drug Free Zones
History of Drug Free Zone Laws in the United States and Indiana
How Drug Free Zones Affect Sentencing in Indiana
Legal Challenges to Indiana's Drug Free Zones

Mission of Drug Free Zones

The mission of Drug Free Zones is to provide special protection for children from drugs and drug dealers.  By sharply enhancing penalties for using, dealing and/or manufacturing drugs close to schools and other designated areas, the expectation is that drug users and dealers will make rational decisions to use, deal and/or manufacture prohibited substances outside the zones, thus keeping them and their drugs away from children. 

History of Drug Free Zones* 

The first Drug Free Zone (DFZ) law was passed in rudimentary form in 1970 as part of the federal "Comprehensive Drug Abuse, Prevention and Control Act."  As later amended and expanded in 1984, the law doubled the maximum sentence for drug distribution or manufacture within 1,000 feet of a school, college or playground, and 100 feet of a swimming pool, video arcade or youth center.  

By 2000, all states had passed their own versions of DFZ laws.  These varied widely in

  • the size of the zones:  from 100 feet to 3 miles
  • designation of protected areas:  all laws designate schools and most designate parks and public housing developments; some also designate such public and private entities as day care centers, churches, youth programs, bus stops, drug treatment centers, and shopping malls.
  • type of offense:  all target drug distribution and manufacture; a few (including Indiana) include simple possession
  • type of penalty:  many states impose mandatory minimums or sentence enhancements of two or three years; a few (including Indiana) increase the felony class of the offense (see below), thus greatly increasing the length of the potential sentence.
The Indiana General Assembly passed the state's first DFZ in 1987, establishing 1,000 foot zones around "school property." In 1995 and 1996, the law was extended to include "public parks" and "family housing complexes," and in 2001 "youth program centers."  Legislation introduced in 2007 to include churches and bus stops was rejected.   The law also applies to drug possession or dealing on school buses, but not to zones around school buses.

Extent: How Drug Free Zones Affect Sentencing in Indiana

Indiana law stipulates five felony levels: murder, felony A (20-50 years), felony B (6-20 years), felony C (2-8 years) and felony D (6 months-3 years).  Dealing, possessing or manufacturing drugs within a Drug Free Zone (DFZ) can increase the felony level of the offense, as illustrated by the table below:

Table of Indiana Drug Offenses


Dealing (regular)

Dealing in DFZ
(or on School bus)


Possession in DFZ (or on school bus)



A (or to person <18, or 3+ grams)

D (<3g);
C (3+g or firearm)

B (<3 grams);
A (3+ grams)

Schedule I,II,III


A (or to person <18)



Schedule IV


B (or to person <18)



V drug


B (or to person <18)


No DFZ enhancement


or D

C (or if 10+ pounds marijuana or 300+ grams hashish)

D (>30g marijuana or >2 grams hashish)

No DFZ enhancement





C (or firearm)

Thus, dealing cocaine, narcotics, or meth is a Class A felony (as opposed to a Class B felony) if it takes place within a DFZ.  It is also a Class A felony if the drugs are sold on a school bus, or to someone under 18 years old who is at least 3 years younger than the dealer, or involves 3 or more grams of the drug.  Possession of cocaine or narcotic drug or meth, meanwhile, is a Class D felony (if less than 3 grams) or C felony (3 grams or more, or in possession of a firearm) unless it takes place in a DFZ, in which case it is Class B (less than 3 grams) or Class A (3 grams or more).

Similarly, dealing a schedule I, II, or III controlled substance becomes a Class A felony if undertaken within a DFZ or on a school bus or to someone under 18 who is at least 3 years younger than the dealer.  (The amount of a controlled substance, however, does not affect felony level).  Dealing in a schedule IV or V substance in a DFZ (or on a school bus or to someone under 18) raises the felony level from C to B.  Possessing a I, II, III, or IV controlled substance in a DFZ (or on a school bus) raises the level from D to C. 

Oddly, dealing a Schedule V drug is a class D felony unless it takes place in a DFZ (or on a school bus or to someone under 18), in which case it jumps two felony levels and becomes a B felony. Yet, possession of a schedule V drug is unaffected by being in a DFZ.

Dealing marijuana or hashish or certain “drug precursors” in a DFZ can also raise the felony level under certain circumstances. Dealing marijuana/hashish is a misdemeanor, not a felony, unless the recipient is less than 18, or the amount is between 30 grams and 10 pounds of marijuana or between 2 and 300 grams of hash oil or hashish, in which case it is a D felony. Possessing marijuana/hashish is a misdemeanor unless the amount is more than 30 grams of marijuana or 2 grams of hashish in which case it is a D felony.  Possession of marijuana is not affected by Drug Free Zones. 

Legal Challenges to Indiana's Drug Free Zones

Pridgeon v. State, 569 N.E.2d 722 (Ind. App. 1991)

A college or university is not a “school” and thus drug free zones do not apply to them. 

In 1988, Luke Pridgeon, a student at Ball State University, was caught dealing a total of 13.9 grams of marijuana on two occasions in his campus dormitory room.  He was charged with a C felony rather than an A misdemeanor because he was on “school property.”  The appeals court reversed the conviction because “defendants’s dormitory room was not school property.  The legislature intended to afford special protection to children from the perils of drug trafficking by providing harsher penalties to defendants who peddled drugs on or near school property.”  The court reasoned that “inclusion of a college or university within the marijuana statute would result in a broader interpretation than intended by the legislature.”

Steelman v. State, 602 N.E.2d 152 (Ind. App. 1992)

One thousand feet is measured as the crow flies.

In 1990, Monte Steelman sold 6 marijuana joints for $24 in his second-story apartment with no children present.  He was convicted of a Class C felony because his apartment was 959 feet from a school.  Steelman appealed the conviction, noting that the school was not visible from his apartment and, due to “obstacles such as buildings, homes, fences, concrete barriers, creeks, and the like,” one would have to traverse much further than 1,000 feet to get from the school to his apartment. The Appeals Court upheld the conviction, noting that “the legislative intent is plain: to punish those who deal drugs within 1,000 feet of school property.”







*Discussion of the history of drug free zones outside of Indiana is based primarily on Disparity byDesign, Judith Greene, Kevin Pranis, Jason Ziedenberg, Justice Policy Institute, 2006