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Types of Drug Crimes

Federal and state laws cover many types of drug crimes. State drug laws may be narrower as long as they don’t conflict with federal drug laws. Federal drug charges usually result in longer sentences, while state drug charges may involve short-term sentencing or even probation. Whatever type of drug crime is involved, having any kind of drug conviction on your record can have severe consequences. This article provides an overview of some common types of drug crimes.

Paraphernalia

In general, “drug paraphernalia” describes any equipment that’s used to prepare, inject, inhale, or conceal illegal drugs. It also refers to any equipment used to conceal or produce drugs. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, it's against the law for anyone to sell, import, or export any drug paraphernalia. Examples of drug paraphernalia include but are not limited to:

  • Bongs
  • A wide variety of pipes
  • Rolling papers
  • Syringes

The problem that often occurs with drug paraphernalia is that many are made to look as if they are designed for legal purposes. For example, many bongs include labeling stating that they should only be used with tobacco. Even with such a label, you can be charged with drug paraphernalia depending on where you purchased the item or how the item looks.

Possession

The laws on drug possession vary from state to state depending on the type of drug involved and the amount. However, it’s a crime under both federal and state drug laws to possess any illicit controlled substances like marijuana, cocaine, or heroin. A person in possession of an illegal drug may be charged with simple possession or with possession with intent to distribute. Simple possession is usually the charge for someone who has possession of a small quantity of drugs, while a large amount could lead to a charge of possession with the intent to distribute and harsher penalties. The same drug paraphernalia laws above may be included within a drug possession charge as well.

Manufacturing/Delivery

A person may be charged with drug manufacturing if he or she is involved in any step of the production process of an illegal drug. The delivery of any illicit drug is also considered a crime under federal and state laws. Usually prosecutors must prove intent to manufacture and possession in order to convict an alleged drug manufacturer. If convicted, a drug manufacturer could face fines and prison time.

It’s important to note however, that marijuana cultivation or manufacturing is treated differently in certain states because of medical and personal use exceptions. To learn more about marijuana laws, read Findlaw's article on marijuana legalization and decriminalization.

Trafficking

Drug trafficking and distribution laws make it illegal to sell, transport, and import illegal controlled substances like marijuana and cocaine. As a felony, drug trafficking and distribution is a more serious crime than just drug possession because it usually involves the transportation of a large amount of drugs.  However, merely possessing large amounts of an illegal drug may lead police to believe that you intended to sell the narcotics and they may charge you with distribution. If convicted of drug trafficking, the sentence can be anywhere from 3 years to life in prison.

Dealing

“Drug dealing” generally refers to the selling of illegal drugs on a smaller scale. It’s important to remember that trafficking and dealing are defined differently from state to state and under federal law. Since drug dealing usually consists of one person selling a small amount, the punishment is less severe than selling larger amounts. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) which sets federal penalties for drug dealing and trafficking, selling less than 50 grams of marijuana can result in a sentence of up to 5 years and a fine of $250,000. However, a sale of 1,000 kilograms of marijuana can lead to a sentence of 10 years or more than life. 

If you or someone close to you has been charged with a drug crime, it’s in your best interests to contact a criminal defense attorney. Since the penalties for drug crimes can be particularly severe, you shouldn’t delay in seeking legal help.

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