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Is Drug Trafficking A Federal Offense?

Trafficking is one of numerous legal offenses regarding drugs, but is drug trafficking a federal offense? An understanding of the difference between federal and state laws, as well as where drug trafficking fits between them, can help you avoid legal trouble that would most likely result in very large fines and many years in prison. This issue may be more complex than you would first think, so read on to learn more.

Federal And State Laws

In the United States of America, there are both federal and state laws. A state law only applies in a specific state; for instance, a Pennsylvania state law only applies in Pennsylvania, and you cannot be charged for violating a Pennsylvanian law in New York. By contrast, federal laws are created by the national government (also known as the central or federal government) and apply to all states and territories considered part of the United States. Federal laws are generally created by Congress, though they can be modified by the Supreme Court. In any case, they take precedence over state laws. This means that if a substance, such as marijuana, is legal in a certain state, the state police will not arrest you for it but the federal police still can. You should keep this distinction in mind, particularly when traveling between states or going onto federal government property, as failure to realize this can potentially result in serious legal trouble.

How Do Drug Laws Work

There are a number of criminal offenses surrounding drugs. For example, drug possession is ownership of a restricted drug, such as heroin or cocaine. Drug smuggling is trying to secretly transport drugs into an area where they are illegal. Drug trafficking is one of the more serious drug offenses, and applies to intent to spread drugs. It can be applied to the creation, transport, and/or trade of drugs. 

It should be noted that everything from aspirin to heroin is a “drug,” but not all drugs are equally restricted. There is no federal law against trading “over-the-counter” drugs, like aspirin, though you may be charged with drug trafficking if you try to sell a prescription drug. Even if you have a prescription for that drug, that prescription does not entitle you to give the drug to others. Marijuana is an example of a drug that is legal in some states, but at the federal level, it is just as illegal as LSD or PCP.

PRO TIP: Read these frequently asked questions about drug charges. We know you’ll get some answers you’re looking for!

Is Drug Trafficking A Federal Or A State Crime?

While specific substances may be legal in specific states, the general offense of drug trafficking is illegal under both state and federal laws. Whether you are more likely to be charged under state or federal law depends on the circumstances of your arrest. For example, if you try to sell illegal drugs to another state, that is a federal crime because it crosses state borders. A crime committed on federal property will also be a federal crime. Use of the post office to trade drugs is yet another automatic federal offense. Finally, it may simply come down to circumstance: If you happen to be stopped and searched by a federal officer, you can be charged with a federal crime if the officer finds restricted drugs and thinks you are looking to distribute them.

What Does Federal Law Say?

The 1970 Controlled Substances Act established that drugs are sorted into “schedules.” Schedule V drugs are considered the least dangerous to society and carry the least severe penalties, while Schedule I drugs are the most severe. Later laws throughout the 70’s and 80’s strengthened penalties for drug offenses, including requiring “mandatory minimum sentences.” Federal law says that a first time drug trafficking charge requires a prison sentence of at least 10 years and potentially life. It also carries a fine of up to one million dollars. A second offense requires at least 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $75 ($20 million if operating alone). A third offense carries the same fines but mandatory life imprisonment. All of this is a testament to just how seriously the federal government takes drug trafficking.


State and federal laws overlap and interact with each other, although federal laws usually take priority. Because of this, it is very important to understand what federal law says, including about drug offenses. Among drug offenses, drug trafficking is one of the most severe, with federal laws ranging from a decade to life in prison and potentially millions of dollars in fines. You can be charged with federal drug trafficking if you try to illegally sell drugs across state lines, on federal government property, through the mail, or if you are caught by a federal officer. For more information, you should consult a lawyer such as Carl Barkemeyer, Criminal Defense Attorney. With an office location in Baton Rouge, LA, he’s helped thousands of clients get drug trafficking charges significantly lowered or dismissed.

We hope you now at least have the answer to the question “is drug trafficking a federal offense?” and wish you all the best.


Louisiana DWI & Criminal Lawyers

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Louisiana criminal lawyers and DWI attorneys at the Barkemeyer Law Firm providing legal defense services for clients in Baton Rouge, Ascension, Livingston, Tangipahoa, Port Allen, Alexandria, New Orleans, Lafayette, Metairie, Kenner, Gretna, Hahnville, Chalmette, Slidell, St. Tammany, St. Charles, St. John, St. Bernard, Mandeville, Covington, Shreveport, Bossier, Jefferson, Monroe, Lake Charles and all of Louisiana.

DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is not formal legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.

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