Drugs, Controlled Substances Drug Trafficking and Distribution Offenses

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  1. What is the difference between drug trafficking, distribution and possession? Criminal law doesn’t make a tremendous distinction between the first two terms. A drug charge of “trafficking” commonly refers to distribution and sale of a certain quantity of a controlled substance. A “distribution” charge generally refers to the illegal sale, delivery and provision of controlled substances. Possession refers to having custody and control of illegal drugs and, when a crime involves personal use, may be considered less severely than distribution related drug crimes.

    Drug Trafficking and Distribution: State and Federal Laws

    When a person is arrested for drug trafficking, both state and federal laws apply with regard to criminal offenses. While federal laws may exist, each state enacts their own criminal code. Some state drug laws may be tailored to deal with regional concerns, for example, drug trafficking over the U.S. border with Mexico. With regard to the mechanics of state law, it is not uncommon for it to resemble federal law, including guidelines and minimum sentencing standards.

    Controlled substances are those drugs whose use and distribution are governed by state or federal law. Statutes that cover controlled substances may be placed into different categories, classifications of “schedules.” The federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) has created five “schedules” along with different qualifications which place each drug into a particular schedule or group. For example, marijuana, LSD and ecstasy are Schedule I substances and are considered the most dangerous and addictive drugs. Cocaine, oxycodone, Adderall and Ritalin are also considered highly dangerous and addictive drugs and are included in Schedule II. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Drug Schedule lists each drug and classifies each drug’s acceptable medical use, potential abuse and dependency.

    Unlawful Possession of Prescription Drugs

    The criminal code also covers the illegal sale of prescription drugs. The most common arrests are for prescription pain killers, anxiety medications and sleeping pills, more specifically being hydrocodone and opiates.

    Possession with Intent to Distribute

    If the police discover that you possess an unusually large quantity of drugs (as well as cash), it is possible that you may be charged with a trafficking and distribution charge if it is believed that you intended to sell them. Obviously all of those drugs were not for personal use and the presence of cash suggests that an exchange was being made.

    Penalties for Drug Trafficking and Distribution

    Drug trafficking laws set forth the requirements and penalties for drug convictions for the unlawful import, transportation and sale of prohibited controlled substances. There may be specific sections concerning the most common drugs such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines in the criminal code although many others are referred to generally. The punishment for drug trafficking is dependent upon the specific facts of each individual case. The most common differentiating factors between criminal drug offenses are:
    • the type of drugs
    • the quantity or amount of drugs
    • the location where the drugs were being distributed
    • whether the sale of drugs targeted children

    Sentences for possession of illegal drugs can begin at under one year in prison, which is not uncommon for those crimes involving small quantities for personal use. Distribution and trafficking offenses are felony crimes and punishes them more severely. Sentences may range from three to five years and even up to life in prison for the most serious offenses.

    If you are facing drug trafficking and distribution charges, the severe penalties warrant every effort being made to retain an experienced criminal attorney. These offenses are taken much more seriously by prosecutors than general drug possession crimes.
    Criminal Law & Procedure:
    Criminal Charges - Drug Crimes
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    Drug Crime

    Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler
    Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of TheLaw.com, A. Research Scholar at Columbia Business School and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at Zedge.net and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.


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