Federal drug crimes often punished more severely than state counterparts

Both individual states and the federal government have laws prohibiting the possession and distribution of illegal drugs. Someone caught with drugs can face prosecution under state laws, federal laws or both. But, while federal and state drug laws prohibit similar conduct, there are differences between state and federal drug prosecutions, particularly when it comes to the severity of the punishment.

Drug possession carries longer terms of incarceration at federal level

First, it is important to note that under federal and state drug laws, the legality of many drugs depends on how they are being used. For instance, under federal law, it is illegal for anyone to make retail purchases of more than 9 grams of phenylpropanolamine base, ephedrine base or pseudoephedrine base in any 30 day period; purchasing less than this amount, however, is perfectly legal (and probably a good way to fight off a cold).

One way federal and state drug prosecutions differ is the way they are most often used. Typically, more possession offenses are charged under state laws; possession offenses, while they can still carry heavy penalties, are considered less serious than distribution crimes. Federal charges are often reserved for drug trafficking crimes or defendants who the government is particularly interested in punishing severely.

For an example of the difference between state and federal drug crime penalties, it is useful to compare potential sentences for possession crimes. Under New Jersey law, possession of 50 grams or less of marijuana is punishable by up to a six month sentence and a $1,000 fine – and for many offenders, an intermediate sanction like probation is substituted in lieu of jail time.

On the other hand, a simple possession offense at the federal level can result in a term of incarceration up to a year for a first time offender, as well as a minimum fine of $1,000. After one previous conviction under federal drug laws or a prior conviction under the drug laws of any state, a drug possession offender at the federal level could be hit with up to two years in prison and a minimum $2,500 fine. For a third offense, the fine increases to a minimum of $5,000, and the potential prison sentence could stretch up to three years.

Federal drug possession law really gets serious when it comes to any mixture or substance that includes cocaine base, most commonly crack cocaine. Even a first time offender convicted of possession of a substance containing cocaine base at the federal level will face a minimum prison term of five years that can be extended up to twenty years, as well as a minimum $1,000 fine if the offender was caught with five or more grams of the prohibited mixture.

Get a strong legal defense if you are facing federal drug charges

Any drug charge is a serious matter. But, if you are facing federal drug charges, your situation is particularly dire.

When federal prosecutors take aim at you, you need a strong legal defense. A criminal defense attorney well versed in the ins and outs of the federal criminal justice system can give you the best chance of avoiding the severe consequences of a federal drug crime conviction. Talk to a criminal defense attorney today, and get the legal help you need to fight federal drug charges.