Drug dealing or drug sales charges are criminal charges for the sale or attempted sale of any type of illegal controlled substance, such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or meth. State laws sometimes refer to drug selling as "possession with the intent to distribute." Drug dealing or selling is more limited than 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 didn’t intend to sell drugs, they will be presumed to be selling if they have over a certain amount of the drug in their possession.
Drug Sales Punishment Ranges
The penalties for drug sale crimes are based on the applicable state or federal law and therefore can differ. Drug sales are typically considered 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 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:
Whether a defendant has committed a prior drug crime will also affect punishment. If a first time offender is caught by the federal government with 200 grams of heroin for sale, he or she faces 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 20 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $20 million. Remember, the federal government and the states have different laws, so it’s important to check on the specific law in your state or territory.
As part of the War on Drugs, the federal government and many states have mandatory minimums 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 permitted if 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 trigger state or federal mandatory minimum laws. In 1999, Florida enacted a strict gun law referred to as the "10-20-Life" law. Under the law, if a gun is pulled during the commission of a drug crime, the minimum sentence is 10 years in prison. Alternatively, if a gun is fired during a crime, the minimum sentence is 20 years. Finally, if someone is shot during the crime, the minimum sentence is 25 years to life.
Federal vs. State Drug Selling 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 can apply when the drug sale occurs on federal land, such as in D.C. or on a military base, or if any part of the drug sale involved activity crossing state or international borders.
Getting Legal Help with Your Drug Case
Although there are efforts to reduce penalties for certain drug offenses in various states, drug-related charges remain very serious offenses at both the state and federal level. If you're facing drug dealing or drug sales charges, it's in your best interest to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your rights and decide your best strategy going forward.