Do Drug Trafficking Penalties Depend on the Type of Drug?

Drug trafficking is the process of transporting, selling, manufacturing, or importing illegal drugs, and is a Federal crime with high penalties. Trafficking is a more serious crime than drug possession, and the penalties you may face depend on the type of drug, the amount of drug, and the extent to which you have organized a scheme or operation (a conspiracy). 

Drug trafficking penalties can reach up to life in prison, and fines of up to millions of dollars. These charges are treated extremely seriously, and you need a good defense lawyer to plan and carry out your defense if your charge ends up in court.


How is Drug Trafficking Proven?

The law under Title 21 U.S. Code § 841 sets out “Prohibited Acts” under the Controlled Substances Act. This section states that:

It is unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally— 

  1. to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance; or
  2. to create, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to distribute or dispense, a counterfeit substance

Intentionality is Key

First, it has to be proven that you knowingly or intentionally manufactured, distributed, or dispensed a controlled substance (or possessed with intention to do so). This means that, for example, if you rented a car or borrowed a car from a friend, and the police later find drugs in the trunk of the car, you could argue that you did not knowingly or intentionally possess those drugs. 

Manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing includes selling, but as noted above possession can also be sufficient if it is proven that you possessed the drugs with intention to distribute or manufacture in some way.

If you only have a small amount of something, you can potentially defend against trafficking charges by proving that the drugs were only for personal use.

What about counterfeit or fake drugs?

Counterfeit substances are those that could copy a legitimate drug, such as by putting a fake label, trademark, number, trade name, or other identifying mark on the drugs or drug container. This means that if you are making a legal drug, but distributing it under false pretenses, you can still be charged with drug trafficking. 

Do Penalties Depend on the Type of Drug?

Title 21 U.S. Code § 812 (part of the Controlled Substances Act) sets out five schedules of controlled substances.

Different drugs are classified into these different schedules, depending on whether the drug is addictive, has medicinal uses (or not), and whether the drug is safe to take.

Schedule I drugs are those that have:

  • high potential for abuse;
  • no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; and
  • a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug.

Drugs on this Schedule include:

  • Heroin
  • Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
  • Marijuana
  • Ecstasy
  • Methaqualone
  • Peyote

Schedule II drugs are those that have:

  • high potential for abuse.
  • a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; and
  • abuse of the drug may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.

Drugs on this Schedule include:

  • Vicodin
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Methadone
  • Dilaudid
  • Demerol
  • OxyContin
  • Fentanyl
  • Dexedrine
  • Adderall and Ritalin

The remaining schedules relate to drugs that are seen to be less addictive, harmful, or have limited risk of physical or psychological dependence. 

Depending on which Schedule the drug comes under, you may face different penalties. In addition, penalties will also depend on how much of a certain drug you have

Some examples include:

  • If you are caught trafficking:
    • 1 kilogram or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of heroin; or 
    • 1000 kilograms or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of marijuana, or 1,000 or more marihuana plants; or 
    • 5 kilograms or more of a mixture or substance containing cocaine, coca leaves, ecgonine, or derivatives
  • you can be sentenced from between 10 years to life in prison.

Additional Drug Trafficking Penalties

You can also face fines from $10,000,000 or up to $50,000,000 if you are running an organized crime ring or are using a business to conduct trafficking. For other drugs, you may face similar penalties and fines, and each drug has its own “amount” threshold.

For drugs in Schedule IV, for example, you may still face up to 5 years in prison. If you are found in possession of large amounts of drugs or are operating with other people you can face extremely serious penalties. It is critical that you contact a defense lawyer to help you with your case.

Although some states have legalized marijuana, Federal trafficking laws will still apply if you are caught transporting it to other states, or are caught with large amounts even in states where possession or medical use is legal

Call Stechschulte Nell For Help 

If you have been charged with drug trafficking or other drug-related crime, the attorneys of Stechschulte Nell can advise you. Call our top-rated Tampa, FL law firm at (813) 280-1244 to speak to an experienced federal defense attorney. We’re available 24/7 to take your call.

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