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Former Assistant District Attorney
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney

Know the penalties for federal drug trafficking crimes

On Behalf of | Jul 6, 2020 | Federal Crimes

Most drug trafficking charges are subject to federal sentencing guidelines. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the penalty for this type of conviction could range from just a few years to life in prison

Review the penalties for felony drug trafficking, which includes importing, selling or transporting controlled substances.

Substances and amounts

The federal government has identified two amount thresholds for the seven controlled substances with the highest potential for abuse. The first amount triggers felony trafficking charges while the second amount results in elevated charges as follows:

  • Methamphetamine: 5 g, 50 g
  • Fentanyl: 40 g, 400 g
  • LSD: 1 g, 10 g
  • PCP: 100 g, 1,000 g
  • Crack cocaine: 28 g, 280 g
  • Powder cocaine: 500 g, 5 kg
  • Heroin: 100 g, 1 kg

Minimum and maximum penalties

In general, trafficking controlled substances at the lower threshold amount above results in at least five and up to 40 years in prison. For the higher threshold amount, a convicted offender will receive at least 10 years in prison with a maximum life sentence. Regardless of the amount, the sentence increases to 20 years to life in prison when:

  • The person has a prior felony drug conviction
  • Trafficking results in death or serious injury to another person

When both these conditions apply, the person will receive life in prison if convicted. Elevated penalties also apply when the person has a network of people working in the drug trade. This type of conviction can result in 20 years to life in prison (minimum of 30 years for a repeat offense), with an automatic life sentence for an operation earning more than $10 million a year.

Some factors result in an extended penalty in addition to the base prison sentence. Examples include trafficking drugs in a school zone, to a pregnant woman, with the help of a child, with the use of a firearm or in conjunction with violent actions.