Drug crimes, including trafficking, possession, and manufacturing, can fall under the jurisdiction of either the federal government, or the state. As federal drug charges usually carry harsher punishments and mandatory minimum sentences, being charged with a drug crime by the federal government should be taken very seriously. It is important to understand the implication of a federal drug charge and to consult an expert attorney. 

The Reasons for Federal Drug Charges 

The federal government may prosecute drug crimes based on certain criteria:

  • Where the crime took place. If the defendant was arrested on federal property in Massachusetts, such as land managed by the National Park Service or the Department of Defense,  the federal government may pursue charges. Drug crimes crossing state lines – for example, transporting a large quantity of drugs into New York state – may also be prosecuted federally, as well as if courier services such as the USPS were utilized. 

Federal prosecutors may also be targeting a specific area where drug crimes are taking place. 

  • If the case was under investigation by federal law enforcement. If federal agencies like the FBI or DEA are investigating the crime, the federal government will prosecute. 
  • The involvement of other crimes. The charges may be federal if the defendant is also charged with other crimes such as possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, or laundering money made in a drug sale. If a federal informant 
  • The quantity of drugs. The federal government may prosecute charges involving large quantities of drugs, such as those imported into the United States from another country. 
  • The federal government is trying to target a specific geographical area.

It is also possible for the federal government to take over an investigation for crimes originally prosecuted by the state; for example, if federal prosecutors do not agree with how the state is handling the case. 

Types of Federal Drug Charges

Federal law dictates what substances are classified as controlled under 21 US Code Section 841. The schedule of controlled substances includes well known narcotic and hallucinogenic drugs like heroin, cocaine, marijuana and LSD but also other drugs deemed to be dangerous by the federal government. Drugs are listed on Schedules 1-5, according to if they are safe to use under medical supervision, how addictive they are, and their potential medical uses.

 Some common prescription drugs are considered controlled substances, such as opioids, are commonly abused. The same goes for drugs like anabolic steroids. Chemical compounds are key ingredients in the manufacturing of illegal drugs, also called precursors or essential chemicals, can also imply illegal drug activity and be subject to prosecution, For example, pseudophredine, a decongestant, is a key component in manufacturing methamphetamine, and manufacturing heroin requires the use of chemical alkalis, acids and solvents.  

 In the United States it is illegal to knowingly and intentionally manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with the intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense a controlled substance. Selling, transporting or importing illegal drugs is called drug trafficking, and is considered a felony under federal law.

Distributing drugs from person-to-person is illegal, but also through the internet. For example, if a defendant creates an online pharmacy for the sale of drugs without a prescription. 

Even though possession and recreational use of small amounts of marijuana has been legalized in Massachusetts, it is still considered a controlled substance under federal law – so even if the defendant was found in possession of a modest amount of marijuana, they can still be charged with a federal crime. It is against federal law to possess, sell and cultivate marijuana, as well as sell smoking paraphernalia. 

Punishments for Federal Drug Charges

Sentences in federal drug cases depend on the amount of the drug in question the defendant had in their possession with the intent to distribute. 

Facing a federal drug charge means the defendant may be handed a mandatory minimum sentence. Federal mandatory minimum sentences include:

  • 15 days in prison for a second conviction of marijuana possession of any amount, and 90 days in prison for a third conviction 
  • 5 years in prison for possession of 100 kilograms of marijuana or 100 marijuna plants, regardless of weight 
  • 10 years in prison for 1000 kilograms of marijuana or 1000 marijuana plants
  • 5 years in prison for possession of more than 500 grams of cocaine or 28 grams of crack cocaine
  • 10 years in prison for more than 5 kilograms of cocaine or 280 grams of crack cocaine
  • 5 years in prison for possession of 5 grams or more of pure methamphetamine or 50 grams of methamphetamine mixture
  • 10 years in prison for 50 grams or more of pure methamphetamine or 500 grams of methamphetamine mixture
  • 5 years in prison for 10 grams of PCP or 1 gram of LSD
  • 10 years in prison for 100 grams of PCP or 10 grams of LSD
  • 5 years in prison for 10 grams of a substance containing heroin
  • 10 years in prison for 100 grams of a substance containing heroin

Mandatory minimum sentences increase to 20 years in prison if death or serious bodily injury occur as a result of the illegal drug activity, as well as fines up to $5 million for an individual or $20 million if the guilty party is not an individual. 

Although sentences are substantial, they are only the minimum sentence a judge is required to hand down in a conviction. It is possible for a federal drug charge to incur a much longer sentence. Federal drug charges with a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison have a maximum sentence of 40 years, and a defendant can be sentenced to life in the case of death or serious bodily injury. 

If you are facing federal drug charges in Massachusetts, or there is a chance an investigation by the Commonwealth will be handed over to the federal government, it is imperative to consult a lawyer with the expertise required to handle a federal drug charges case. Don’t jeopardize your future. Contact us today for a free consultation.