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State and Federal Laws on Drug Trafficking

By San Diego Attorney on January 20, 2021

Given its location on the border of Mexico, California is considered a hotbed for drug trafficking, both into our state from Mexico and to neighboring states like Nevada and Arizona. Despite changes to our state’s laws regarding marijuana, it is still illegal for residents to travel to other states with marijuana, even if those states have also legalized it.

While most people would assume that being caught crossing the border with a single joint would only lead to a possession charge, it is important to understand how drug trafficking is defined on both a state and federal level, as well as how the amount of drugs found can influence the charges.

How Is Drug Trafficking Defined in California?

California has broad laws regarding the transportation and distribution of illegal drugs. When most people hear the term drug trafficking, images come to mind of semi-trucks packed with bricks of cocaine traveling across the country — but you can be charged for simply carrying a small amount of heroin between two counties. Even traveling out of state with unprescribed OxyContin can result in a drug trafficking charge under California’s laws.

California’s specific drug trafficking charge is defined in California Health & Safety Code 11352 HS, which states that any individual “who transports, imports into this state, sells, furnishes, administers, or gives away” or offers to distribute illegal drugs within a single county can be charged with a felony offense and imprisoned in a state prison for three, four, or five years. If you were to travel between non-contiguous counties, meaning three or more counties, then the charges would be enhanced to three, six, or nine years in a state prison.

These charges can also be enhanced by aggravating factors, such as transporting illegal drugs near a rehab facility, soliciting minors to assist in drug trafficking, or having a large quantity of drugs you are accused of transporting. For example, 50 pounds of methamphetamine will lead to significantly more penalties than two bottles of Vicodin.

With regard to the quantity of drugs, there is no official standard in California on how much x drug or y drug you must have in your possession before you are prosecuted for a different crime. Instead, prosecutors will focus on what charge they can prove. If you had a small amount of drugs, a district attorney will likely only charge you with possession, especially if there was only enough for one person to use. If you are accused of possessing enough drugs for multiple people, the charge may be elevated to intent to sell. If you attempted to transport these drugs to another location, whether it be within a county, into another state, or across a national border, It can then lead to a drug trafficking charge.

However, this does not even include the impact of a federal investigation.

Minimum Amounts Under Federal Laws

Drug trafficking is illegal under both state and federal laws, but minor offenses are largely handled by state courts. While federal prosecutors can charge someone with possession, these departments often focus on more serious crimes, especially if you were arrested by either local or state police officers. But, if you were arrested by the FBI, DEA, or another federal agency for transporting drugs across a state or national border, then it is very likely that you will face federal charges.

Federal charges for drug trafficking are far more serious than state charges, and the DEA has outlined mandatory sentencing minimums depending on what drug you are accused of transporting. These penalties are based on the specific type of drug involved in the crime, as well as any prior drug trafficking convictions.

For first-time offenders, if you are arrested for transporting the following quantities, then you can be sentenced to a minimum of five years in prison:

  • Heroin: 100 g or more
  • Cocaine: 500 g or more
  • Crack Cocaine: 28 g or more
  • Marijuana: 100 kg or more
  • Methamphetamines: 5 g or more

Your charges can result in a minimum of 10 years in prison if you are convicted of transporting:

  • Heroin: 1 kg or more
  • Cocaine: 5 kg or more
  • Crack Cocaine: 280 g or more
  • Marijuana: 1,000 kg or more
  • Methamphetamines: 50 g or more

Lastly, if this is your second offense for any of the 10-year minimum amounts, you can receive 20 years in prison.

Beating a drug trafficking charge is difficult, even with strong legal representation. You may need to call into question the specific quantity of drugs you are being charged with trafficking, where you were allegedly transporting them to, and other elements of your case. Your best option is to contact a tough San Diego drug crimes defense lawyer at jD LAW. Our founding attorney is a former LAPD investigator who thoroughly understands how state and federal agencies investigate narcotics crimes. Using his decades of experience, he can advocate for a reduced sentence or for your charges to be dropped altogether. Do not let a single arrest ruin your life. Call our office at (760) 630-2000.

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Posted in: Illegal Trafficking

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