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Overview of U.S. Federal Laws Against Distributing Illegal Drugs


In addition to state laws against drug crimes in Virginia and other jurisdictions, there are also drug offenses that represent federal crimes. As at the state level, illegal drugs are referred to as controlled substances and divided into schedules based on various factors.

In order for federal charges to apply, the U.S. government needs to have jurisdiction over the situation in question. This often occurs when the drug crime involves crossing state borders, federal resources, or interstate commerce.

The consequences for being charged with a federal drug crime can be extremely serious. On top of massive criminal fines, certain offenses can result in a life sentence in federal prison.

What Are the U.S. Federal Laws Against Drug Distribution?

The U.S. federal laws against drug distribution appear in 21 U.S. Code Section 841. Under this section, it is illegal to distribute, manufacture, or dispense a controlled substance. Moreover, it is unlawful to possess a controlled substance with an intent to distribute, manufacture, or dispense.

The threshold for possession with intent to distribute is not always the same. The circumstances of the offense can carry a lot of weight in the charges actually brought. For example, possession of large quantities of controlled substances can indicate an intent to distribute. Alternatively, possession of a smaller amount of a controlled substance in individually weighed packages might indicate an intent to distribute.

What Are the U.S. Federal Penalties for Drug Distribution?

The federal penalties for drug distribution and possession with intent to distribute also appear at Section 841. Under this section, the punishment often changes based on the quantity and kind of controlled substance in question.

Using heroin as an example — which is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law — the penalties for distribution or possession with intent to distribute are as follows:

  • 100 grams or more — Imprisonment for five to 40 years and criminal fines up to $5 million;
  • 100 grams or more & includes bodily injury — Imprisonment for 20 years to life and criminal fines up to $5 million;
  • 1 kilogram or more — Imprisonment for 10 years to life and criminal fines up to $10 million; or
  • 1 kilogram or more & includes bodily injury — Imprisonment for 20 years to life and criminal fines up to $10 million.

That said, the punishment can also change based on status or previous convictions. For example, a company or similar organization that violates Section 841 will likely face exponentially greater fines. Or, in the case of repeat offenders, the prison sentence and criminal fines can both increase. Ultimately, a U.S. federal judge will have final say on the sentence for this type of offense.

Do You Need Legal Help?

If you need legal assistance with charges for a drug crime under Virginia state or U.S. federal law, it can be exceedingly constructive to contact a knowledgeable Leesburg criminal defense lawyer. The lawyers at Simms Showers LLP can assist you throughout each step of your case. Contact us today for help.

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Contact the Leesburg, Winchester & Loudoun County Attorneys of Simms Showers LLP today

Simms Showers LLP is conveniently located two blocks from the Loudoun County Courthouse. Our criminal defense firm offers a free phone consultation for criminal or personal injury cases. Se habla español. Call Simms Showers LLP for quality legal counsel today at 703-997-7821 or contact us online.

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