Is drug trafficking a federal crime?

Is drug trafficking a federal crime?

Yes, drug trafficking is a federal offense, punishable by fines and time in a federal prison. However, most drug cases are tried on a state level and local law enforcement agencies are typically the ones that make drug arrests.

Whether the drug trafficking case will travel through the federal or state system is a significant factor for offenders. Why? Because the sentencing for federal cases is harsher and longer than those for state cases. The decision of whether to sort a drug trafficking case into the state or federal system is left either to the investigating agency or the prosecuting lawyer, depending on the district.

If you are under investigation or have been arrested for drug trafficking, call Goldman Wetzel to talk to our criminal defense lawyers. Our attorneys have represented clients in both state and federal court, and we can counsel you accordingly. Call 727-828-3900 for immediate assistance.

When does a drug trafficking case become federal?

Drug trafficking is both a federal and state offense. Usually, the states maintain jurisdiction and try the cases in state court. The federal government only gets involved when there are certain factors, such as:

  • Exceptionally large quantities of drugs
  • A federal officer made the arrest, e.g., a federal wildlife agency officer made an arrest for drugs at a national park
  • Large quantities of drugs moved from one jurisdiction to another
  • Drug cases involving large amounts of money or money laundering
  • Deaths outside the state’s jurisdiction
  • Drug cases involving Medicare or Medicaid fraud
  • Widescale, interstate illegal prescription schemes

“Prosecutors more frequently may pursue charges in the system of their choice,” explains the American Bar Association. “And the choice between the systems matters enormously because a severity gap exists between federal and state sentencing. Roughly speaking, federal sentences are tougher than state sentences for most overlapping crimes.”

What are the Federal Drug Trafficking Sentencing Guidelines?

Like state drug trafficking crimes, the severity of the penalties depends on 1) the type of substance, 2) the amount of the substance, 3) the existence of aggravating factors, and 4) any past offenses on the defendant’s criminal record. Many federal drug trafficking offenses have mandatory minimum sentences.

Here are a few examples of prison penalties for common federal drug trafficking cases:


Amount 1 Offense 2 Offense
Less than 100 g Up to 20 years Up to 30 years
100 to 999 g Five to 40 years 10 years to life
1 kg or more 10 years to life 20 years to life


or Crack

Amount 1 Offense 2 Offense
Less than 500 g of cocaine or less than 28 g of crack Up to 20 years Up to 30 years
500 to 499 g or cocaine or 28 to 279 g of crack Five to 40 years 10 years to life
5 kg or more or 280 g or more of crack 10 years to life 20 years to life


Amount 1 Offense 2 Offense
Less than 5 g Up to 20 years Up to 30 years
5 to 49 g Five to 40 years 10 years to life
50 g more 10 years to life 20 years to life

What is the difference between state and federal drug trafficking penalties?

As aforementioned, federal sentencing guidelines usually entail longer prison sentences and stiffer fines and trigger mandatory minimums more often than state sentencing guidelines. To demonstrate the differences, let us take federal versus Florida marijuana trafficking as an example:

Federal penalties for marijuana trafficking

Amount Imprisonment Fines
50 to 99 g or 50 to 99 plants Up to 20 years $1 million (for individuals)/$5 million (non-individual)
100 to 999 g or 100 to 999 plants Five to 40 years $5 million(for individuals)/$25 million (non-individual)
1,000 kg+ marijuana or 1,000+ marijuana plants 10 years to life $10 million (for individuals)/$50 million (non-individual)

Florida penalties for marijuana trafficking

Amount Imprisonment Fines
25 to 1,999 lbs or 300 to 1,999 plants Three to 30 years $25,000
2,000 to 9,999 lbs or 2,000 to 9,999 plants Seven to 30 years $50,000
10,000+ lbs or 10,000+ plants 15 to 30 years $200,000

What are some defenses to federal drug trafficking charges?

According to the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC), there were over 22,000 drug trafficking cases in 2013 and the vast majority of offenders (96.3 percent) received prison sentences.

While the conviction rate is high, there are viable defenses that you and your attorney can use. The way you approach your case depends on the situation. Discuss your case, one-on-one, with the defense attorneys at Goldman Wetzel. In cases where avoiding a conviction is unlikely, we can try to negotiate with the prosecutor for reduced charges or penalties.

Much depends on the specifics of your case. Below are just a few examples of ways defendants have fought (and won) drug cases:

  • Officers had a lack of probable cause to conduct a search.
  • Law enforcement conducted an unlawful search and seizure.
  • The defendant had an alibi.
  • The defendant was in the wrong place at the wrong time (e.g., the defendant was not involved, he was merely there).
  • The drugs did not belong to the defendant.
  • The defendant was coerced or threatened to participate in the illegal activity or was not aware he was participating in the activity, e.g., a smuggler putting drugs in your luggage.
  • The officers used unlawful entrapment to make the arrest.

Speak to a federal criminal defense attorney in St. Petersburg today.

Goldman Wetzel represents defendants charged with all types of federal and state drug offenses, including drug trafficking, sale, and possession. Let our team of determined defense attorneys help you fight your charges and protect your best interests. Call us today at 727-828-3900 for a free consultation.