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Drug trafficking refers to the illegal sale, transportation, or distribution of controlled substances. The amount of drugs trafficked — or the nature of the drugs — may either increase or decrease the severity of the charge. However, the point remains: if you are caught selling, transporting, or distributing controlled substances, you could face severe penalties.

What Are Controlled Substances?
Controlled substances are those whose use and distribution are controlled by law. These substances generally have the potential to negatively affect a person’s health or welfare. While some controlled substances, such as LSD and Ecstasy, are illegal in most cases, other controlled substances may be legal if they are obtained through legal means, such as through medical prescriptions.

Controlled substances are generally separated into different levels, called schedules, based on their potential for abuse and how dangerous they are. The classification of each drug varies by state, although most states model their schedules after federal law. On the federal level, substances like heroin and morphine are considered Schedule I drugs while small amounts of codeine and opium are lower on the scale at Schedule V. The level of drug schedule can affect the potential sentence.

What Are the 5 Types of Controlled Substances?
In the United States, drug scheduling, which is a form of categorization enacted by Congress and set into law in the U.S. Code, determines the legality of individual drugs, as well as generally outlining the severity of crimes related to their trafficking.

There are five schedules in total, with Schedule V detailing those drugs determined to have the least potential for addiction, dependence and abuse, and Schedule I drugs being considered the most dangerous.

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Schedule I and Schedule II drugs are generally referred to as “controlled substances,” but allow that drugs outside of those listed may fall under those schedules if deemed so in court proceedings.

While Schedule V largely contains drugs including cough medicines and analgesics, and Schedule IV lists prescription medications such as Valium, Xanax and Ambien, most so-called street drugs fall under Schedules I through III.

Schedule III names anabolic steroids and ketamine for example, while Schedule II contains cocaine, methamphetamine, oxycodone, fentanyl and hydromorphone. Schedule I, named as the category containing drugs “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” lists heroin and marijuana or cannabis.

Penalties for a Drug Trafficking Charge
The federal penalty for a drug trafficking charge in the U.S. varies greatly depending on the context and quantity, and sentencing is aggravated if firearms are involved. For example, the sentence can be as heavy as 10 years to life if convicted of trafficking 1 kilogram of heroin, 5 kilograms of cocaine or 1,000 kilograms of marijuana. Conversely, trafficking less than 50 kilograms of marijuana is punishable by no more than 5 years in prison.

State laws work in tandem with federal laws when it comes to drug trafficking, and additional sentences can be levied by more local jurisdictions.

Drug Trafficking Across State Lines
While you might be protected if you reside and remain within a state that has legalized or decriminalized marijuana, transporting any controlled substances — including cannabis — across state lines is a federal offense. The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which means federal law trumps state law, allows for the prosecution of these offenses, even if you live in a state where it is legal. Federal law generally prevails over state law given these constitutional allowances. It is important to know the potential risks before you travel across state lines while in possession of what the DEA considers to be a controlled substance.

Because state borders often fall under federal jurisdiction, the DEA can investigate and charge those who are suspected of trafficking drugs from state to state. Regardless of whether you travel by plane, ship, or car, the potential for legal prosecution remains on the table.

Punishment for being found guilty of interstate drug trafficking matches the penalties of drug trafficking in general. You can also face forfeiture and seizure of your assets, especially if drug trafficking occurs internationally.

What To Do if You Are Facing Drug Trafficking Charges
If you are facing drug trafficking charges, hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney should be your first action. Drug-related charges (both trafficking and simple drug possession) are extremely commonplace for criminal defense attorneys to take on, and so most veteran attorneys are familiar with case law concerning these matters.

Drug trafficking charges usually fall under felony offenses, and so it is vital to take them seriously.