The nation’s criminal justice system has many moving parts that can be confusing and difficult to follow – especially when it comes to drug crime laws.


Here are some of the facts as reported in 2013 by the recovery village:


  • The black market drugs in the U.S. is a $200 to $750 billion annual industry;
  • America is experiencing the largest per person illicit drug usage per year in its history;
  • The top leading illicit drugs used by Americans are: powdered cocaine (24.1 percent), methamphetamine (24%), marijuana (21.5%), crack cocaine (13.5%), heroin (9.8%), and oxycodone (4.6%);
  • Illegal drug abuse costs Americans $181 billion a year in health care costs;
  • In 2012, more than 300,000 people were incarcerated in the U.S. for drug offenses; and
  • In 2013, 30 percent of all new criminal offenses in this country were drug-related.


These figures show that illicit drug use, and its associated criminal activity, is the most dominant component in our criminal justice system.


Not all charges are what they appear. For example, how can you be arrested on distribution charges when you were only caught holding drugs? Is distribution different from trafficking? Which one is more serious?


In this post we will highlight the specifics of drug distribution and trafficking, as well as the penalties associated with these drug charges.


How Distribution Charges Work


Distribution is the act of selling, transferring, or importing controlled substances. If law enforcement catches you attempting to move drugs in any way, you may face distribution charges.


But you do not have to be caught in the act of exchanging cash for drugs to be arrested on distribution charges. If you are caught carrying a large amount of drugs (and an inordinate amount of cash), you may face charges of possession with intent to distribute.


The penalties for distribution and possession with intent to distribute will vary based on the type and amount of drugs that were involved at the time of your arrest. Other factors may include the age of the person receiving the drugs, whether your actions caused bodily injury, or any past convictions that you might have served for drug crimes. In any case, these are felony charges and typically involve a sentence of between 2 and 5 years in prison.


How Drug Trafficking Charges Work



Distribution is a charge that is determined by the movement of drugs. Trafficking is a charge that is determined by the weight of drugs. The controlled substances do not have to be going anywhere. As long as they reach a certain weight, you can find yourself facing trafficking charges.


Under federal law, the following can fall under the umbrella of drug trafficking (provided the substances involved hit a certain weight):


  • Manufacturing (unlawfully making controlled substances)
  • Distributing
  • Possessing with intent to distribute


It’s commonly believed that drug trafficking involves crossing borders (state or national). This is not necessarily true. Getting caught with drugs in larger amounts — even if you are not moving them across borders – may still result in drug trafficking charges.


However, if drugs are moved across state or national borders, then it is far more likely that federal charges will be brought. In these cases, you will not only face national organizations like the FBI that can collect more evidence against you, but you will also face mandatory jail time if convicted. We recently wrote a blog post that highlights these mandatory minimums for all kinds of federal drug crimes.


Some states do not have trafficking charges at the state level for this reason, but Texas does. Our distribution and trafficking charges are based on the amount and type of drugs that are involved. Penalties vary depending on the type of charge, which could range from a state jail felony (180 days to 2 years in prison) to a first degree felony (15-99 years in prison).  Quite a difference.


Mandatory minimums for federal drug charges can be just as harsh – if not more so. Depending on the amount of drugs involved, minimum jail sentences can range from 5 years to 25 years. And if you are convicted on three drug trafficking charges, you will be sent to prison for the rest of your life.


What it comes down to is the fact that drug charges are extremely serious, and if you are arrested you need to start worrying about going to jail. In fact, drug offenders make up the majority of individuals serving time in prisons today.


Avoid jail time and protect your future by hiring a serious federal drug crimes lawyer today.