Currently, it is illegal to possess or distribute cocaine. Cocaine is considered a Schedule II drug, a classification found in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). A Schedule II Drug is defined as a drug which:

  • Has a potential for abuse.
  • Has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions.
  • Abuse of the drug or other substance may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.

Typically, the Department of Justice does not prosecute simple, minor possessions, leaving that up to the respective municipality in which the crime occurred. Federal prosecutions normally focus on the sale, cultivation, manufacture, and distribution of illicit drugs.

Federal Trafficking Penalties

Federal laws hinge on a set of guidelines. For cocaine possession, when the amount is 500-4999 grams (mixed), the following is the extent of penalties:

  • Fine: For the first offense, up to $5 million if an individual, $25 million if not an individual. For the second offense, a fine of up to $8 million if an individual, $50 million if not an individual.
  • Prison Time: At least 5 years, and not more than 40 years. For a second offense, at least 10 years, and not more than life. For a first offense, if death or serious bodily injury is a result of the crime, not less than 20 years but not more than life. For a second offense, if death or serious bodily injury, life imprisonment.

State Law and Scheduling

State law typically penalizes for a wider variety of offenses than the federal system, ranging from minor possession to the smuggling and distribution of large quantities. States for the most part mirror the CSA, and classify most drugs according to federal guidelines. Cocaine is considered a Schedule II in most states, but carries with it a wide variety of fines and prison terms for possession and sale:

  • State Possession Penalties – State drug laws have distinct penalties for both the possession and sale of illicit drugs. For cocaine possession, most states do not have a quantity requirement, but most recognize increased penalties for possession over 28.0 g, and then again over 200.0 g. The following figures demonstrate to the extent of penalties for cocaine possession in U.S. states (varies in many states based on quantity):
    • Possession Fine – $1,000 – $500,000
    • Possession Prison Time – 4 month – 15 years
  • State Sales Penalties – While many incidents of the sale of illicit drugs also have federal penalties, state courts assess fines and prison time that is independent of any federal prosecution.
    • Sale Fine – $2,500-$1,000,000
    • Sale Prison Time – 1 year – Life in Prison

Crack vs. Cocaine

At the federal level, there is a huge disparity between the sentencing penalties for cocaine in powder form and crack cocaine. States, for the most part, do not reflect this federal sentencing disparity. However, it is important to remember that even though states may not have defined different penalties between the different forms of cocaine, this does not mean that judges, juries, and the criminal system deal with offenders equally.

Do I Need a Criminal Defense Attorney?

If you have been accused of or arrested for the possession or sale of cocaine, you may want to seek the counsel of a drug lawyer in preparation for any phase of the criminal process. If found guilty, there are often many factors a court will take into consideration when assessing whether to impose maximum or minimum penalties, and a criminal defense attorney can aid considerably in explaining and helping in this process.