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Is there a difference between drug distribution and trafficking?

On Behalf of | Jan 16, 2023 | Drug Crimes

Anyone who has dealt with the justice system understands that prosecutors can present a complicated range of charges to get a harsher sentence. As the number of arrests for federal drug offenses increases, defendants who struggle with the use of controlled substances may worry about the types of charges.

These concerns raise the issue of if there is any difference between drug distribution and drug trafficking.

Drug trafficking

Authorities generally consider trafficking the more serious charge. This offense most often refers to carrying a drug across state lines, which is what the federal government focuses on most.

Whether a person intends to sell the substances or not, the penalties depend more on the amount and type of drug in a person’s possession. If the amount seems to be more than one person can use, stiff trafficking charges may arise, even if law enforcement does not catch the person in the act of transporting the drugs.

Intent to distribute

Distribution deals with transferring controlled substances in any way. However, penalties can become quite severe depending on the particular drugs and whether or not the activity involves any distribution to minors. State governments focus more on distribution.

As with trafficking, a person may face charges of the intent to distribute without being in the act of selling or distributing the drugs. A large quantity of the substance or a substantial amount of cash may convince law enforcement of the purpose of distribution or trafficking and bring federal charges.

Establishing drug possession instead of distribution or trafficking may bring lesser charges. A key factor for a defendant can be proving that the substances were solely for personal use and not for sale to others.


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