Transporting a controlled substance across state lines results in federal drug charges. Sentences vary based on the type of substance, the amount and other circumstances. 

If you face federal trafficking charges, learn about the factors that influence conviction and penalties. 

Federal drug schedules 

The U.S. government categorizes controlled substances based on their potential for abuse and accepted medical uses. The most dangerous drugs appear in Schedule I and the least hazardous substances appear in Schedule V. Example of drugs in each schedule include: 

  • Schedule I: LSD, heroin, cannabis 
  • Schedule II: cocaine, PCP, morphine 
  • Schedule III: hydrocodone, codeine, anabolic steroids 
  • Schedule IV: Xanax, Valium and other benzodiazepines  
  • Schedule V: Cough suppressants containing codeine 

Definition of trafficking 

Selling and/or distributing significant amounts of a controlled substances constitutes federal trafficking when the drugs cross state lines. Penalties for trafficking vary based on whether the offender has prior criminal offenses, the location of the arrest, the schedule of the controlled substance involved and the amount of drugs involved. 

Federal trafficking penalties 

Trafficking of many Schedule I and II drugs carries five to 40 years in prison and a fine of up to $2 million for a first offense. The offender can receive 20 years to life in prison if the actions caused another person’s serious injury or death. A second offense carries 10 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $4 million, with automatic life in prison for serious injury or death. 

These federal drug penalties apply to the following substances and amounts: 

  • 500 to 4,999 g cocaine 
  • 40 to 399 g fentanyl 
  • 100 to 999 g heroin 
  • 1 to 9 g LSD 
  • 5 to 49 g methamphetamine 
  • 10 to 99 g PCP 

Offenders may also receive life in prison if they have two or more prior federal drug offenses. For other Schedule II and III drugs, the person could receive up to 20 years in prison along with a fine.