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When Does Drug Possession Become Trafficking?

Being arrested for having drugs in your possession can carry serious penalties. The crime charged depends on the amount of drugs you’re carrying and what you intend to do with them. Drug possession differs from drug trafficking, though the circumstances separating them can hinge on just a few details.

Under California law, drug possession is defined as having a controlled substance in your possession with the intent to use it. This could be for personal use or sale. Possession of a controlled substance is typically a misdemeanor offense. Drug trafficking, on the other hand, involves the transportation, importation, sale or distribution of illegal drugs. This is a felony offense and the penalties can include heavy fines and substantial jail time depending on the type of drug involved. Generally, transporting 14.25 grams or more of a dangerous drug is considered trafficking.

To prove drug trafficking in California, a prosecutor must generally prove the following elements:

  • Possession — The person possessed or had control of an illegal substance
  • Amount — The amount was too large to be for personal use
  • Intent — The intent was to sell, import or distribute the illegal substance
  • Knowledge — The person knew they were in possession of or had control of an illegal substance

Under the California Health and Safety Code, if you're caught trafficking drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines and opiates such as fentanyl, you can receive a minimum sentence of three years and up to nine years in prison, along with a fine of no more than $50,000. Federal drug trafficking laws are even harsher. Penalties for a federal drug trafficking possession charge range from five years to a life sentence with fines up to $20 million.

There are a few ways in which possession can become a trafficking offense, such as if you offer or agree to sell, transport, administer or give away a controlled substance. You do not need to touch or handle the drugs to be convicted.

Since almost any drug charge could potentially be upgraded to a trafficking charge, you should consult with a drug crimes defense attorney immediately after your arrest.

If you have been charged with a crime such as drug possession or drug trafficking, the Roseville, California firm of Strategic Law Command can help you understand the charges against you and build a strong defense. To schedule a consultation call (916) 787-1234 or contact us online today.