Information About Drug Crimes

Drug Crimes

The federal government, along with each state, has drug laws against the manufacturing, distribution, and possession of a controlled substance, such as marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, "club drugs," and heroin, as well as laws against the abuse of prescription drugs. This type of criminal offense is sometimes referred to as drug-defined crime. The drug-defined offenses that result in the greatest punishments include producing, manufacturing, selling illegal drugs, although the ultimate punishment for a drug offense depends upon the type of the drug, the quantity of the drugs, and the geographic location of the offense.

Drug Cultivation and Manufacturing

Drug cultivation and manufacturing laws make it a crime to 1) grow, produce, and possess certain plants and other naturally occurring elements used in the production of unlawful controlled substances, such as cannabis seeds and marijuana plants; or 2) to produce illegal controlled substances like cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD, and Ecstasy (MDMA), which require use of certain chemicals and laboratory equipment in their production. Repackaging or labeling a drug product can also be considered drug manufacture. Federal and state drug cultivation and manufacturing laws vary according to drug type and the amount produced.

Distribution and Trafficking

Drug distribution laws penalize the sale, transportation, and delivery of illegal controlled substances. A person can be charged with “Actual” distribution if he or she is caught physically transferring an illegal product to another person. “Attempted” distribution is when a person is attempting to sell an illegal drug, but is prevented from doing so. Federal and state drug distribution laws and punishments vary according to drug type, quantity of the drugs, the amount of money paid for the exchanges, geographic area of distribution, and whether minors were sold to or targeted.

In recent years, the distribution of drugs across US borders has been a hot topic in the media. The term “drug trafficking” has become the accepted term for this activity. To clarify, trafficking has to do with the weight of a controlled substance and not necessarily the movement of that substance throughout the country or across borders. Drug possession could be considered trafficking if the weight of the drug is high enough.


Federal and state laws state that a person can be arrested for knowingly possessing an illegal controlled substance or unauthorized prescription. Usually in order to be charged with this crime, a person has to be aware of the presence of the illegal drug and have physical control of its use. These laws also criminalize the possession of "precursor" chemicals used in drug cultivation and manufacturing, as well as drug related paraphernalia, including but not limited to, crack pies, bongs, rolling papers, and syringes. Sometimes proximity to any one of these illegal substances can result in an arrest and/or criminal charges. Some states consider this “constructive possession.” In this type of case, it is usually up to the arresting officers or the jury to determine if the illegal substance belonged to the defendant.

Drug possession laws vary according to drug type, amount, and geographic area of the offense. Possession of small quantities may be deemed "simple" possession, while possession of large amounts may result in a charge of presumed "possession with intent to distribute”, which is a much more serious crime. When does a drug possession charge risk becoming ‘intent to distribute’? The total weight of the substance is usually the determining factor. For example, anything greater than a gram of cocaine or an ounce of marijuana can be considered “intent to distribute”, at least when it comes to meriting a court trial.

Drug-Related Crime

Drug crimes include a wide range of activities involving illegal drugs. Often, drug use is closely linked to other criminal behavior. The mental effects of drug use or the need for money to support a drug habit can cause a person to be involved in a number of illegal activities. These crimes are considered drug-related offences. It is difficult to determine the degree to which drugs and crime influence one another. Criminal activity is often defined by many different factors, including personality, socioeconomic background, and situational circumstances.

People guilty of drug-related crimes can be charged with a variety of criminal offenses. US Census findings determined that over 20% of federal prisoners were under the influence of drugs when they committed their offense. These prisoners were officially charged with crimes that are not necessarily associated with drug use (i.e. assault, robbery, weapons possession). A similar statistic shows that 10% of federal prisoners committed crimes that were motivated by the desire to support a drug habit. These prisoners were also incarcerated for crimes that cover the various offense categories.

Drug related crimes can also include violent crimes motivated by drug trafficking or distribution. The illegal drug market is a competitive and violent industry. Disputes can erupt over the quality of a drug, territory, customers, and drug money. According to the FBI’s Crime in the United States: Uniform Crime Report, drug violence is one of the leading causes for murder charges in the US.

Drug Crime Penalties

The penalties for drug crimes are determined by several different factors. These factors include the type of drug, the quantity of the substance, and the purpose of possession. Also, as with other crimes, a person with prior convictions will be punished far more severely than a first time offender. Penalties for drug crimes vary from state to state, so you should consult a criminal defense lawyer who is familiar with your state’s laws. Whether a crime was committed under state or federal jurisdiction also determines the type of punishment.

Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act

In 1970 Congress passed the Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. This piece of legislation separated illegal drugs into categories called schedules. Crimes involving drugs in Schedules One and Two are the most severely punished. Schedule One drugs are substances that have a high potential for abuse and have no medical purpose (i.e. ecstasy). Schedule Two drugs include substances that have a high potential for abuse and may be available for medicinal reasons (i.e. morphine). Schedule Three drugs have medical uses and less of a potential for addiction (i.e. anabolic steroids). Schedule Four drugs are most often non-addictive prescription drugs (i.e. valium). Schedule Five drugs are abused much less than drugs in Schedule Four and have a lower chance of side effects. These drugs are often sold over-the-counter (i.e. cough medicines with codeine). Some states have added a Schedule Six that include substances that are not necessarily drugs, but are abused recreationally (i.e. toluene in spray paint).

Federal vs. State Jurisdiction

A drug crime is considered a federal offense when trafficking or distribution occurs across state or national borders, large quantities of a drug are involved, or when drugs are transported by plane, postal service, or boat. The sale of illegal drugs or unauthorized prescription drugs over the internet is also considered a federal crime.

If a drug crime is considered a federal offense, the investigation of the case will take much longer than a state investigation. Oftentimes federal drug laws are stricter than their counterparts at the state level. Punishments often include jail sentences without bond or bail. If you have been charged with a federal drug crime, it is important to find a criminal defense lawyer that is familiar with the federal justice system and is allowed to argue in federal court.

On the state level, there are laws in place that cover possession, use, sale, manufacture, and trafficking within state limits. Sometimes penalties are enhanced for offenders who commit drug crimes involving minors. If an offender sells drugs near a school or uses a minor to distribute illegal products, they may receive a more severe punishment. It is important to note that some states have mandatory minimum drug possession laws. In these states, courts ignore the specific circumstances of a case and base charges entirely on the severity of the drug.

Types of Penalties

Each of these factors determine the type of penalty you will receive if you are charged with a drug crime. Any number of these factors can affect your case’s outcome. For lesser offenses you may have to pay a fine or attend a drug awareness course. More serious offenses can lead to probation or incarceration.

In recent years, there has been a movement to lessen penalties for drug related and drug defined crimes. Interest groups have worked to create treatment facilities, rehab centers, and drug counseling clinics that will be used for non-violent offenders only. The idea is that drug rehabilitation rather than incarceration is more effective for people convicted of drug crimes.

Some states have created drug courts for non-violent substance abusers. These drug courts divert prisoners from jail to treatment centers throughout the state. They also ensure that substance abusing offenders are under constant supervision, receive mandatory drug testing, and are monitored by the court. You should consult a drug lawyer to determine if you are eligible to be a drug court participant.

Search and Seizure

The Fourth Amendment of the national Constitution states that government and law enforcement cannot conduct unreasonable searches or seizures. In a drug case, the arresting officer must be able to present probable cause for a search. If you have been charged with a drug crime, it will help your case if you can remember all of the details of the incident. The reasonability of a search is ultimately up to the judge or jury to decide, but a lawyer can argue that the evidence in your case was obtained illegally and is therefore inadmissible.

A search warrant is not necessary in certain cases, so do not assume that any evidence an officer obtains is unlawful. If an illegal drug is in plain sight, for instance, the evidence is admissible. If an officer is searching a person after an arrest or a citizen has given verbal consent to a search, then an officer can claim that all evidence was obtained legally.

Hiring an Attorney

If you have been charged with a drug crime, it is important that you contact a criminal defense attorney. There are some that specialize in drug crimes but all should be aware of both state and federal drug laws.

Over ninety percent of drug cases do not go to trial. These cases are either dismissed by a judge or settled with a guilty plea. Do not assume that your case will be thrown out. It is best to consult an attorney who can assess your situation and determine the validity of the evidence. Most importantly, a criminal defense attorney will work to keep you out of jail. Even if you are found guilty, having alawyer could mean the difference between a rehab center and a jail sentence.

Your attorney should be well versed in alternative punishments and familiar with drug courts if they are available in your state. Also, if you have been charged with a federal drug crime, it is important that your attorney is allowed to argue in federal court and understands federal procedure. You may want a more experienced attorney in a federal case. Any criminal defense attorney should be well equipped to handle a lesser drug charge.