Drug trafficking or drug distribution involves the sale, transportation, and illegal import of illegal drugs and controlled substances. While many people may think that drug trafficking and drug dealing are the same thing, there is a little bit of a nuance that separates the two. 

For example, because drug trafficking also involves the manufacture, transportation and import of illegal drugs, you don’t have to actually be caught selling the substances in order to face trafficking charges if you are involved in other related activities. Knowingly possessing the drugs is enough to support a drug trafficking charge if the surrounding circumstances are right.

Specific activities that can be classified as drug trafficking can include

  • Cultivation
  • Intent or conspiracy to sell and possession of a large amount of drugs
  • Manufacturing of illegal drugs and controlled substances
  • Distributing a specified amount of drugs
  • Financing a drug-selling operation
  • Smuggling drugs across state lines and national borders

How Much of the Substance Must Be Present for a Drug Trafficking Charge?

It depends on the circumstances of the case. Whether an offense will be charged as simple possession or as drug trafficking can depend on the amount of drug involved as well as the type of drug involved. 

For example, being in possession of three grams of marijuana may result in a possession charge, while being in possession of 25 pounds of marijuana may result in a trafficking charge. At the same time, being in possession of as little as a few grams of cocaine or heroin could result in trafficking charges, depending on the rules of the state you’re in.

Can You Traffic Legalized Marijuana?

Some states have legalized the possession and use of marijuana for recreational and/or medicinal use, which makes things a little more complicated. Under federal law, marijuana is still illegal, even in states that have legalized it on a local level. 

This means that federal trafficking charges can still occur even if you are located in a state that has legalized marijuana. If you find yourself in this situation, you should consult an experienced attorney for advice about your case.

Is Drug Trafficking a Federal or State Crime?

Depending on the circumstances of the case, it can be both. Each state has its own laws regarding drug trafficking, and many state laws are modeled on the federal trafficking laws. 

Trafficking is also often prosecuted as a federal crime in cases where authorities can prove that the drugs in question were transported across state lines. If the drug trafficking activities occurred only within the boundaries of one state, that state’s laws will apply.

Trafficking can also be considered a federal crime if it involves a very large amount of drugs, if a federal officer made the discovery or arrest, or if the circumstances of the case involve another aspect of federal law (for example, if the drug trafficking was just part of a larger money laundering or racketeering operation).

What are the Penalties for Drug Trafficking?

Drug trafficking is a felony, and is a more serious crime than mere possession. As such, the penalties for trafficking are more serious than for simple possession crimes. In general, federal drug trafficking charges tend to carry heavier penalties and longer sentences than state penalties. However, no matter what law you are charged under, if you are convicted of drug trafficking, you can find yourself facing quite a hefty sentence.

The punishments for drug trafficking charges can largely depend on your jurisdiction and whether you are facing state penalties, federal penalties, or both. However, common penalties for drug trafficking can include:

  • Prison: Even for first time offenders, prison sentences in cases of drug trafficking can be for more than a year. It is common for a trafficking conviction to result in sentences of 10 years or more, depending on the state laws.
  • Fines: Fines associated with drug trafficking offenses are also pretty hefty. 
    • State convictions can commonly result in fines of $25,000 to $100,000 or more. 
    • Federal drug trafficking convictions can see fines in the hundreds of thousands at the least.
  • Probation: Probation can be possible in some drug trafficking cases, but this is usually only an option as part of a plea bargain, where the offender agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge.

The penalty could also be a combination of any of the above, so keep in mind that it is unlikely for you to get just one of the above as a punishment. 

What Other Consequences are there for Drug Trafficking?

Beyond prison time and fines, convictions for drug trafficking convictions can have other consequences, as well. A felony conviction can result in loss of civil rights and federal benefits, and the offender may be required to give up any assets or property that was obtained in connection with the drug trafficking. Felony convictions, such as a drug trafficking conviction, can also have a detrimental effect on a person’s immigration status if they are not a U.S. citizen.

Should I Talk to a Lawyer If I Am Facing Charges of Drug Trafficking?

Drug trafficking is a serious offense, and a conviction can have serious consequences. If you are facing drug trafficking charges, it is in your best interests to talk to a qualified criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

Your lawyer can discuss the specific circumstances of your case with you, explain the penalties you may be facing, and help you protect your rights. They can also help you figure out the best way forward with your case, represent you in court, and even may be able to help reduce the charges you’re facing.