Federal Drug Trafficking

Federal law prohibits the possession, transportation, sale, or manufacture of many substances, and uses harsh penalties to act as a deterrent and aid in enforcement. While federal drug trafficking often involves crossing state lines, entry into the United States at airports or seaports, and international organized crime, these are not required before federal drug trafficking charges may present themselves.

These illegal substances are arranged into schedules, and have varying penalties based on where the drug in question lies in the scheduling scheme, weights possessed or manufactured, and a defendant’s criminal history.

This is in addition to any state charges that apply, and contrary to popular myth, are not merely “cancelled out” by the double jeopardy clause of the United States Constitution.

Drug Schedules

Schedule I and II Drugs

Schedule I drugs are identified as those with no currently accepted medical use that have a high potential for abuse. Schedule II drugs may have medical uses, but have a high potential for abuse and/or high risk of mental or physical dependency.

Schedule I drugs include:

  • Heroin
  • LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide)
  • Marijuana and other substances derived from it
  • Ecstasy (methylenedioxymethamphetamine)
  • And others

Schedule II drugs include:

  • Oxycontin
  • Fentanyl
  • Ritalin
  • Methamphetamine
  • Cocaine
  • And others

Possession, transport, and sale of Schedule I and II drugs carry penalties based on weight, and whether or not a person has been convicted of trafficking in the past. However, penalties can be as high as life in prison, will always be punished by at least 5 years in prison, are often as high as 40 years in prison, and are punished by fines in the millions of dollars.

Schedule III

Schedule III drugs still have a risk of creating mental or physical dependence, but the risks are not as high as schedule I and II drugs.

Schedule III drugs include:

  • Ketamine
  • Anabolic Steroids
  • Testosterone
  • Some drugs containing codeine
  • And others

Schedule III drugs carry penalties of up to 3 years in federal prison, a fine of $250,000, or both, depending on the circumstances.

What is Trafficking?

Trafficking is more than the mere movement of controlled substances across imaginary lines. Any possession, manufacture, or sale of controlled substances is unlawful.

However, there are a few requirements that the government will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. That you possessed a controlled substances intentionally. This means that accidental possession is not enough e.g. simply being present in a car with drugs in the trunk.
  2. That you possessed a certain weight of the controlled substance in question. If a specific law states that 28 ounces or more of cocaine is trafficking, then the government must prove that you actually possessed that amount.

However, evidence related to revenues, assets, firearm possession, money laundering, and form of travel could also be relevant to how the government prosecutes drug trafficking and how a licensed criminal defense attorney responds.


Since conviction and penalties require proof of specific drug types in specific amounts, the range of defenses are heavily fact dependent, meaning you want a licensed criminal defense attorney to examine your case. Defenses could include issues with how alleged drugs were tested for identification, contamination, mistakes in weighing, issues with purity, and potential constitutional issues related to how law enforcement searched and/or seized alleged drugs.

Your licensed criminal defense attorney will spend the time explaining the facts and your options.

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