Drug dealing or drug trafficking charges are criminal charges for the sale or attempted sale of any type of illegal controlled substance, such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamines. 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 did not intend to sell drugs, they will be presumed to be selling if they have more than a specified amount of the drug in their possession.
This article provides a general overview of drug sales and drug dealing charges.
Many states have legalized marijuana for medical and recreational use. However, marijuana is illegal and categorized as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law. This presents an obvious conflict between state law and federal law because even in states where marijuana has been decriminalized, it remains illegal under federal law. However, it is unlikely that anyone would be charged with a federal drug offense for selling marijuana in such a state, according to Department of Justice policy.
Drug Trafficking Punishment Ranges
The penalties for drug sale charges are based on the applicable state or federal law and therefore can differ. Most drug sales are typically categorized as 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 (minimum 180 days) in jail and a fine of up to $10,000
- 1-4 grams: a 2nd degree felony punishable by a minimum of 2 years in prison and fine of up to $10,000
- 4-200 grams: a 1st-degree felony punishable by a minimum of 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000
- 200-400 grams: a 1st-degree enhanced felony punishable by a minimum of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000
- 400 grams or more: a 1st-degree enhanced felony punishable by a minimum of 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000
Defendants who have been convicted of a prior drug crime will face harsher punishment. If a first-time offender is caught by the federal government with 200 grams of heroin for sale, they face 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 10 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $8 million. Remember, the federal government and the states have different laws, so it is necessary to note the specific rules for each state or territory.
The federal government and many states have mandatory minimum sentences 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 of not less than one year in cases where 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 lead to enhanced penalties because of state or federal mandatory minimum laws. These offenses are often taken more seriously by prosecuting authorities and usually charged as felonies. Additionally, convicted drug dealers may suffer additional consequences, such as a lifetime ban on firearms ownership, denial of certain professional licenses, or mandatory disclosure of conviction when applying for certain types of employment.
Federal vs. State Drug Trafficking 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 administered by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) can apply when the drug sale occurs on federal land such as in Washington D.C., on a military base, or if any part of the drug trafficking activity involved crossing state or international borders.
Getting Legal Help with Your Drug Dealing Charges
Although there are widespread efforts to reduce penalties for certain drug offenses across the United States, drug-related charges remain very serious offenses at both the state and federal level.
If you are facing drug dealing or drug sales charges, it is in your best interest to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your rights and decide your best strategy going forward.