Types of Drug Crimes

Most states have strict drug laws, and the penalties for breaking any of these laws vary depending on the circumstances. In some states, legal medical and recreational use of some drugs is getting more and more acceptable. However, do not expect the authorities to go easy on you if you are charged with drug crimes.

Federal and state laws are strict on the possession, use, and distribution of scheduled and illegal drugs. Most state laws adhere to the federal classification of scheduled drugs, except for cannabis which has recently been decriminalized in many states.

Whether you are caught in possession of drugs or accused of being affiliated with a drug ring, here is what you should know about the types of charges you might be facing.

The Main Types of Drug Crimes

There are a few main types of drug crimes. We recommend that you consult a legal professional if you face any criminal charges related to these drug crimes.

Drug Possession

In 1962, the U.S. The Supreme court found criminalizing addicts to be unconstitutional. For this reason, you cannot be prosecuted simply for being an addict or under the influence of illegal drugs.

However, you may be charged with drug possession which is a basic drug charge. You may also be charged with illegal possession even if you are holding on to someone else’s loot. A possession charge does not require proof of ownership or intent and simply having the drugs on your person is enough to get charged.

Possession charges vary from simple to advanced based on the quantity of drugs found on your person. Proof of intent to distribute also significantly impacts your charges. For instance, intent may be implied based on the quantity of drugs. The greater the quantity, the more likely it would be for distribution rather than personal use.

Simple possession charges are brought against you if you have a small amount of drugs you most likely intended for personal use. Possession with intent to distribute carries harsher penalties compared to simple possession.

You may also be charged with possession if you have prescription drugs on your person unless they are prescribed to you. Abuse of prescription drugs has become a public health crisis, with some states allowing possession of them only in their original pharmacy packaging.

Drug Trafficking

Drug trafficking can be defined as selling, importing, or transporting illegal drugs. The charge is typically a felony, and depending on the quantity of drugs, the sentence can range from 3 years in prison to life.

The charges are significantly more severe if a person’s death occurred due to using drugs that were trafficked or if firearms were used during the sale. Even dealers who sell drugs on a small scale can still be charged with a felony. For instance, selling only 100 grams of heroin can result in a 5-year sentence.

Drug trafficking is one of the most serious offenses on this list. In some states, it is divided into 1st-degree to 3rd-degree drug trafficking. 

These are determined by the weight of the drugs. For instance, it takes a large amount of marijuana to constitute trafficking compared to as little as 100 grams for drugs such as heroin, cocaine, or fentanyl.

Drug trafficking crimes are prosecuted in federal court and attract harsh sentences. Possession of drugs in the following amounts constitutes drug trafficking even if the drugs were mixed with other substances:

  • Heroin – 100 grams
  • Cocaine – 500 grams
  • Cocaine base – 10 grams
  • Phencyclidine- 10 grams
  • Fentanyl – 40 grams
  • Marijuana – 100 kgs
  • Lysergic acid diethylamide – 1 gram

Possession of Drug Paraphernalia

While it is considered a misdemeanor, possession of drug paraphernalia is a common charge. Drug paraphernalia is classified as an item used to consume, conceal, or produce a controlled substance. It can also refer to equipment used to prepare, inhale, or inject illegal drugs. These include:

  • Pipes and bongs
  • Rolling papers
  • Baggies, cutting agent, and scales
  • Syringes and needles
  • Lighters
  • Roach clips
  • One-hitters or dugouts
  • Spoons
  • Injection kits
  • Vials
  • Pill bottles

The National Drug Intelligence Center states that importing, exporting, or selling drug paraphernalia is illegal. The law varies depending on state however, if the drug paraphernalia is related to the manufacture of controlled substances such as methamphetamine, it may be classified as a felony.

Illegal Manufacture of Drugs

Sometimes drug manufacture can be legal, but its distribution and consumption are illegal. For instance, prescription and pain medication is legal to manufacture, but it is not uncommon for people to abuse these drugs.

On the other hand, manufacturing can also be illegal, especially for controlled substances such as marijuana hydroponics, illegal marijuana farms, Phencyclidine, and methamphetamines among others.

You can be charged with illegal manufacturing regardless of the stage at which you are involved. These crimes often carry long prison terms if convicted.

Penalties For Different Drug Crimes

Different drugs carry different penalties. Drugs typically associated with low-income users carry stiffer penalties than those associated with high-end users. For instance, crack cocaine charges are stiffer than charges for the same amount of traditional cocaine.

Methamphetamine, typically associated with lower socioeconomic classes, also attracts stiff sentences. We recommend hiring a good criminal attorney to increase your chances of a favorable outcome.


Aside from those listed here, there are many other types of drug crimes. Each of these crimes attracts mandatory minimums, and even a first-time offender might face a lengthy prison sentence for non-violent drug charges.

The type and weight of drugs involved also significantly affect the charges and penalties you might face if convicted. In some states, 30 grams of marijuana might attract a misdemeanor, with anything over that classified as a felony with intent to distribute.

Considering there are also numerous combinations of potential charges, it is always a good idea to get in touch with an experienced criminal lawyer. 

Many drug cases also involve multiple law enforcement and investigating agencies, so consider getting a lawyer who is well-versed in drug crimes at the local, state, and federal levels.

Note: This article is only for information purposes.

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