Drug crimes remain one of the most complex crimes in the United States. There are several federal and state laws that have been designed to cover as many types of drug crimes as possible. State drug laws are commonly narrow and have been structured such that they do not conflict with federal drug laws, you can learn more about these laws from a Denver criminal defense lawyer.

When a person has been convicted of federal drug crimes, chances are high that such a convict will have longer sentences compared to the punishments meted out by the state. State punishment for drug crimes may be in the form of short prison sentences or in some cases, probation.

Whether a person has been arrested and convicted of federal or state drug crimes or any form of a drug crime, such a person is faced with a steep future as the conviction poses a long term threat to the convict’s ability to lead a normal life.

In this article, we will discuss some of the common types of drug crimes recognized by the law.


Many people are aware of the federal and state laws associated with illegal drugs like marijuana, heroin, and cocaine. However, most people are not familiar with the fact that they can be prosecuted for selling items that are related to these illegal substances. Even if you aren’t in possession of the illegal drug, being in possession of its paraphernalia can put you into trouble with the law.

According to the federal drug law, citizens and residents of the United States are prohibited from selling or offering to sell drug paraphernalia. It is also deemed illegal to mail the drug paraphernalia or transport it from one state to another. Citizens and residents are also not allowed, according to the law, to export or import drug paraphernalia.

It is important however to understand that the possession of drug paraphernalia is not regarded as a federal offense, however, some state laws may deem owning such items as illegal and as such punishable by the state laws.

Law enforcement officers may also check pipes, bongs, and other materials if there is sufficient information or suspicion to prove that such items may have been used for smoking illegal substances.

There are several examples of drug paraphernalia and some of these include;

  • Pipes fabricated from wood, glass, ceramic, plastic, or stone.
  • Bongs, water pipes, and chillums
  • Roach clips
  • Paraphernalia used to smoke cocaine or freebase cocaine kits
  • Miniature spoons often used to snort cocaine.

In some states, a longer list of banned items exists. For a state like Washington, banned items include;

  • Equipment that has been designed to test the purity or strength of illegal substances
  • Syringes or needles which can be used to inject controlled substances into the bloodstream
  • Scales and balances that may be used in weighing illegal substances.
  • Chemicals or other materials that have been implicated as cutting agents for controlled substances.

A person that has been caught in possession of drug paraphernalia will suffer fewer consequences in general compared to another that has been caught with the intent to distribute illegal or controlled substances. A person caught with drug paraphernalia under the federal law can be sentenced to no more than three years in prison in addition to imposed fines.

One of the major problems that may cause many to fall victim to this crime is that most paraphernalia is designed to appear legal whereas they aren’t.

Drug Possession

Several states across the U.S. have different laws regarding drug possession. In most states, the punishment is based on factors like the type and amount of drug caught on such a person. It is, however, important to note that it is regarded as a crime under both the federal and state laws to be in possession of any controlled substance. Illicit substances, in this case, refers to items like cocaine, marijuana, and heroin.

A person who has been caught in possession of these illegal materials may be charged either with the crime of possessing a controlled substance or possession with intent to distribute.

A person that has been charged with drug possession crime will be faced with far fewer consequences especially as the amount of the controlled substance is usually small, however, a person charged with a crime of intent to distribute will mostly have a larger amount of the illegal drug in their possession.

Possession with the intent to distribute will guarantee such a person of stricter and harsher punishments which may include a prison sentence.

Drug Manufacturing and/or Delivery

When a person is caught manufacturing illegal or controlled substances, such a person may face steeper punishments according to the state and federal laws. In fact, anybody that is arrested as an accomplice in any of the chains of events leading to the manufacture and distribution of the illegal substance will face punishments as prescribed by the state and federal laws.

Usually, defendants must be proven to have nursed the intent to manufacture and distribute the illegal substances for the charges to stick and for steeper penalties.

In some states, however, marijuana cultivation or manufacturing may be treated differently and viewed as medical cultivation especially in the face of the growing medical benefits of marijuana.

Drug Trafficking

Drug distribution and trafficking are heavily frowned upon by state and federal laws. Seeing as the state and federal laws kick against selling, buying, exportation, importation, and transportation of controlled substances like cocaine, marijuana, and heroin, anyone caught in the act will be charged for distribution and drug trafficking.

Such a crime as this is serious as more convicts are bound to spend no less than 3 years in jail for this offense. It is also important to note that possession of a large amount of illegal or controlled substances may lead the police to draw an inference on the intent to distribute such controlled substances.

Dealing in Drugs

Drug dealing involves the selling of drugs on a smaller scale to consumers. While dealing and trafficking appear to be similar acts, the major differentiating factor is the size or amount of the illegal substance that is being handled. In the case of trafficking, such persons are arrested for handling large amounts of the illegal substance while in the case of dealing, such persons handle a smaller amount of the controlled substance.

Dealing, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is set at less than 50 grams of the controlled substance while trafficking is set at above 50 grams. A person arrested for dealing may face as high as 5 years of a prison sentence.

By: Dan Murphy

Denver criminal defense lawyer Daniel M. Murphy provides clients in the Denver area with aggressive and sympathetic legal representation. He graduated from the University of Denver Law School in 1994 and worked as a public defender before starting his own practice in 1996. He has defended clients accused of the most difficult criminal and alcohol-related charges. He also serves as a Moot Court Judge for Denver-area law students who rely on his mentorship.