When it comes to crimes involving drugs and controlled substances, you could find yourself finding a variety of potential charges. One of the most serious, however, is drug trafficking. A drug trafficking charge covers more than possession of the drug itself. This offense could include behavior such as the possession, manufacture, sale, purchase, or delivery of illegal or controlled substances. Essentially, if you are involved in the illegal sale, transport, or importing of an illegal drug or controlled substance, or if you intended to sell or deliver the drug, you could face trafficking charges.   Additionally, while many people may immediately think of illegal drugs when they hear the term "drug trafficking," the charge is not limited to the sale and distribution of illegal drugs. It can also apply to the illegal sale and distribution of prescription drugs, such as pain killers, opioids, and hydrocodone products.   Trafficking is generally considered to be one of the most serious drug offenses, more so than drug possession. It usually results in felony charges instead of misdemeanors. If you live in a jurisdiction where felonies are categorized by degree, trafficking charges can result in first degree felony charges.

How Much Drugs Do I Need to Carry to Be Guilty of Trafficking?

In many cases, drug trafficking may depend on the amount of the drug involved and the type of the drug involved. While one or two grams of a substance could result in a simple possession charge, 50 grams could have you facing a trafficking charge. Also, the punishment for carrying 10 kg of marijuana compared to 10 kg of heroin can result in very different levels of punishment.   You can be charged with drug trafficking if the police believe you were intending to sell the drugs in your possession, which may include taking into account the circumstances of the arrest in addition to the possession of the drugs. The presence of a scale, plastic baggies, or a large amount of cash at the time of arrest may be considered evidence of intent to sell or distribute, which could lead to a drug trafficking charge.

Is Drug Trafficking a State or Federal Crime?

Put simply: yes. There are both state and federal laws regarding drug trafficking. Many state laws are modeled on the federal laws, and trafficking is often prosecuted as a federal crime in cases when they can prove that the drugs crossed state lines.   It can also be considered a federal crime if it is a very large quantity of drugs, a federal officer made the find/arrest, and if it involved any other aspect of federal law or government (like money laundering). In general, federal drug charges tend to carry harsher penalties and longer sentences than state laws, but this will always vary from state to state.

What are Some Examples of Drug Trafficking Penalties?

Trafficking usually has harsher penalties than simple possession. Some drug trafficking charges will result in more serious penalties than others. Severity depends on the type of drug involved—drugs that have been deemed more dangerous to society at large usually carry bigger sentences.   Of course, the punishments for drug trafficking can largely depend on your jurisdiction, and whether you are facing state penalties or federal penalties (or perhaps both).  
  • Marijuana: In cases of marijuana trafficking (depending on the amount), a defendant can face anywhere from 3-15 years in prison and fines of over $100,000.
  • Cocaine: Penalties for cocaine trafficking (depending on the amount) can involve prison time between 3-15 years as well as fines of up to $250,000.
  • Heroin: In cases of heroin trafficking (depending on the amount), a defendant can face up to 25 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000.
  In all three of these examples, the amount of the drug involved in the offense can determine how much jail time or how high a fine the defendant will receive. These sentences can be even higher if there are certain aggravating factors, sometimes called “enhancements” involved in the case. For example, selling drugs in a school zone or to a minor child are enhancements that can take a trafficking sentence and make it even harsher.

Are there Other Penalties or Punishments for Drug Trafficking?

More than just jail time or fines, you can also have other consequences tacked to a drug trafficking conviction. Consequences like:

After Drug Trafficking Conviction: Loss of Rights and Benefits

A drug trafficking conviction, since it is a felony, can result in your losing several civil rights and federal benefits. For example, convicted felons may lose the right to carry firearms, lose access to federal school loans, and in some jurisdictions may lose or have limits imposed on their voting rights.   While some of these rights can be reinstated if the defendant fulfills certain requirements, multiple felony convictions may result in these rights being lost permanently.  

After Drug Trafficking Conviction: Forfeiture of Assets

If you have been convicted of drug trafficking, you may be required to give up any assets, money, and property that was obtained in connection with the drug trafficking. Seizure of assets is usually required for many felony drug offenses.

After Drug Trafficking Conviction: Immigration Consequences

Felony convictions, including drug trafficking convictions, can have serious implications for a person’s immigration status. For example, a drug trafficking offense on a person’s record can make them subject to immediate deportation, and a history of drug trafficking can make them ineligible for entry or re-entry into the United States.   A history of drug trafficking can also make a person ineligible to apply for U.S. citizenship, even if they have family living in the country. It is important to understand the charges you're facing and the possible penalties that could be applied to you.   These penalties can have huge ramifications if you are convicted. Depending on your jurisdiction you may be eligible for alternative sentencing measures. However, alternative sentencing is usually subject to very strict eligibility requirements.

Do I Need a Lawyer If I am Facing Drug Trafficking Charges?

Drug trafficking is a very serious offense. If you are facing drug trafficking charges, it is in your best interests to consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.   A lawyer can help you protect your rights and explain the penalties you may be facing. They can also help you figure out the best defense, and may be able to help reduce the charges or have them dropped altogether.