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State Drug Crimes and Penalties

Possession and trafficking don’t pay

In the United States, you can be charged for drug crimes at both the state and federal levels. This means that both the state and federal governments carry their own respective punishments for committing drug crimes. Generally, federal charges tend to be more severe and arise when defendants are alleged to have trafficked in high quantities of illegal drugs or moved drugs across state lines.

Still, you can face serious criminal repercussions for violating drug charges at the state level. People face criminal drug charges when they are found to be in the illegal possession of a controlled substance. Controlled substances are drugs that the federal and state governments have deemed to pose a risk of addiction or harm when abused or misused.

Keep reading to learn about the differences between state and federal drug crimes.

What You Need To Know

  • Drug laws are created and enforced at both the state and federal levels.
  • Federal law differs from state law in that it typically punishes larger, interstate drug trafficking operations.
  • States draft their own laws to punish drug offenses, so, while similar, these crimes and their resulting penalties can vary by state.
  • It is best to contact a criminal defense attorney who has experience fighting drug charges in your local area, as they will be familiar with your jurisdiction’s laws.

The Difference Between State and Federal Drug Charges

The federal government enforces U.S. drug laws primarily through the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Whereas the DEA is concerned with punishing more sophisticated drug operations across state lines, state drug crimes tend to focus more on possession than the trafficking of large quantities.

Suppose you reside in a state where marijuana is still an illegal, Schedule I narcotic. You are pulled over by law enforcement for speeding 5 mph over the limit in your local town. The police officer that pulls you over smells an odor of marijuana as they approach your motor vehicle. In plain view, they notice a small baggy of the substance sitting in your car’s cup holder next to a pipe. The district attorney in your county charges you with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

Indeed, this is an unfortunate development, but it could be worse. Here, you weren’t crossing state lines or trafficking large quantities of drugs. As such, you won’t be charged with any federal crimes. If it’s your first offense, you’ll likely be charged with simple possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor. You’ll pay a small fine and be on your way. While this is one example of a lesser state crime, that does not mean that state drug charges cannot involve serious criminal penalties.

Common State Drug Crimes

Here are two drug crimes that are commonly charged at the state level, along with their inherent penalties:

  • Possession of a Controlled Substance: Being accused of possession of drugs can be a scary, trying time. The punishments for violating state drug laws run the gamut from fines to significant prison time, depending on the type of drug, the amount in your possession, and whether this is your first offense or if you have prior convictions.
  • Drug Trafficking: Drug trafficking is not limited solely to federal law. State law enforcement can use the weight of the seized drugs to say that you had the intent to distribute. Like federal law, drug trafficking tends to invoke harsher prison sentences. However, unlike federal courts, state judges have more discretion in determining penalties for drug crimes.

Keep in mind that all states have different laws and sentencing guidelines. Drug convictions are no different. For this reason, it’s essential to speak to an attorney with experience in the jurisdiction where you’ve been charged. Many attorneys hold free consultations where they will gather the necessary facts, and you can determine if they are the right fit for your legal needs.

Finding the Right Criminal Defense Attorney

You must seek the right attorney from the outset of a possession charge—someone with experienced legal know-how in defending drug charges. The right attorney will look at the facts of your case and determine the best course of action, often helping you avoid a felony conviction. Your attorney will present you with their informed legal advice as they work to resolve your case. Visit the Super Lawyers directory and search based on your legal issue or location to begin your search.

You can search for a Drug & Alcohol Violations attorney in or around your local area.

Should I Speak With a Drug Lawyer?

The benefit of a solid attorney-client relationship cannot be underestimated. It is always good to speak with an experienced attorney when you’re facing legal repercussions for a drug charge. An experienced criminal defense lawyer versed in drug charges can look at the facts of your case and provide you with invaluable legal advice. Your defense attorney can assist you in dealing with the prosecution and any potential plea agreements to be negotiated.

A skillful drug offense attorney knows the ins and outs of the legal process, providing you essential peace of mind during a difficult time in your life.

To learn more about this area of law, see our overview on drug and alcohol violations.

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