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Drug Sales and Drug Dealing Charges

Drug dealing or drug sale charges are criminal charges for the sale or attempted sale of any type of illegal controlled substance, such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or meth. State laws sometimes refer to drug selling as "possession with the intent to distribute." Drug dealing charges are more limited than charges for drug trafficking, which includes any part in the chain of the making, transporting, and selling of drugs.

Generally, the penalties for drug dealing are determined by the type of drug sold, the amount of the drug that was sold, and the number of prior offenses of the defendant, if any. In some cases, even if a person didn’t intend to sell drugs, they will be presumed to be selling if they have over a certain amount of the drug in their possession.

Marijuana Laws

Many states have legalized marijuana for medical and recreational use. However, marijuana is illegal and categorized as a Schedule I controlled substance under the federal law. This presents an obvious conflict between state law and federal law because marijuana might be legal in your home state, but it's still illegal under federal law. Therefore, you could still be charged with a drug offense including drug dealing charges, depending on the amount.

Drug Sales Punishment Ranges

The penalties for drug sale charges are based on the applicable state or federal law and therefore can differ. Drug sales are typically considered felony offenses, whereas drug possession without the intent to sell may only be a misdemeanor, or even an infraction like a minor traffic ticket in states that have decriminalized marijuana.

As an example of how different levels of drug dealing charges are treated, Texas law assigns penalties based on the weight of certain types of drugs. Different drugs are divided into "penalty groups" to determine the type of felony and punishment range that applies. For cocaine, heroin, and other penalty group 1 drugs, the range of penalties includes:

  • Less than 1 gram: a state jail felony with possible punishment of up to 2 years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000
  • 1-4 grams: a 2nd degree felony with possible punishment of 2-20 years and fine of up to $10,000
  • 4-200 grams: a 1st degree felony with a possible punishment of 5-99 years and up to a $10,000 fine
  • 200-400 grams: a 1st degree enhanced felony punishable by 10-99 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000
  • 400 grams or more: a 1st degree enhanced felony punishable by life in prison or 15-99 years and a fine of up to $250,000

Whether a defendant has committed a prior drug crime will also affect punishment. If a first time offender is caught by the federal government with 200 grams of heroin for sale, he or she faces 5 to 40 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $5 million. A second time offender arrested with the same 200 grams of heroin faces 20 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $20 million. Remember, the federal government and the states have different laws, so it’s important to check on the specific law in your state or territory.

Mandatory Minimums

The federal government and many states have mandatory minimums for drug offenses, including drug trafficking. Mandatory minimums are inflexible laws that require a prison term of a particular length for people convicted of certain crimes. For example, federal law dictates the minimum prison sentence permitted if a drug deal occurs near a school or if drugs are intentionally sold to a pregnant person or a person under 21 years old.


Drug dealing while possessing or using a gun can also trigger state or federal mandatory minimum laws. This is a very serious offense and is usually classified as a felony. Additionally, you may suffer additional consequences, including: having a lifetime ban on firearms ownership and mandatory disclosure of conviction when applying for employment.

Federal vs. State Drug Selling Laws

Each state has its own drug sales or trafficking laws. The state laws generally apply when the drug sale occurs in that state. However, federal laws can apply when the drug sale occurs on federal land, such as in D.C. or on a military base, or if any part of the drug sale involved activity crossing state or international borders.

Getting Legal Help with Your Drug Dealing Charges

Although there are efforts to reduce penalties for certain drug offenses in various states, drug-related charges remain very serious offenses at both the state and federal level. If you're facing drug dealing or drug sales charges, it's in your best interest to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your rights and decide your best strategy going forward.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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