An In-Depth Guide to the Various Types of Drug Crimes

Crime concept. Illegal money.

The vast majority of the people who are sitting behind bars in this country right now are in jail due to drug crimes.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, more than 45% of the current federal prison population landed on the wrong side of the law as a result of drugs. Some got in trouble for using them, while others found themselves in hot water for selling them.


But no matter how you slice it, it’s pretty clear that the U.S. has a huge drug problem. There aren’t any crimes that come even remotely close to putting as many people behind bars as drugs do.

Not all drug crimes are created equal, though. There are a bunch of different types of these crimes with each one carrying a different type of jail sentence.

Here are some of the most common drug crimes in the country at the moment.

Drug Paraphernalia Possession

Despite what you might think, you don’t necessarily need to have drugs on you to get charged with drug crimes. There are certain kinds of drug paraphernalia that can cause issues for you if you’re not careful.

Drug paraphernalia is a term that’s used to describe anything that people can use to prepare drugs, inject drugs, or even hide drugs. Some examples of drug paraphernalia are:

  • Bongs
  • Glass pipes
  • Roach clips
  • Syringes
  • Rolling papers

It’s illegal for people to sell drug paraphernalia. It’s also illegal to import or export it. And in some cases, it’s also illegal to possess drug paraphernalia if police suspect you possess it to use drugs.

The problem that police often run into when it comes to drug paraphernalia, though, is that there is some paraphernalia sold in stores and marketed as products that are to be used for legal purposes. Many bongs, for instance, have labels on them that say they’re for use with tobacco only.

But police can still charge you with drug paraphernalia possession if there is other evidence that suggests you used the paraphernalia to use illegal drugs. Many times, it’s tacked on as an additional charge when a person is arrested for drug possession.

The good news is that drug paraphernalia possession doesn’t usually result in much jail time, if any, for those charged with it. But it could still prove to be problematic for people based on their individual rap sheets.

Drug Possession

According to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey conducted a few years ago, about 25 million Americans over the age of 12 admit to using an illegal drug at least once a month. That represents almost 10% of the U.S. population.

These people report using a wide range of different drugs. Some of these drugs include:

  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Methamphetamine

If a person is found with any of these illicit drugs on them, they could face drug possession charges. It doesn’t matter if they only have a small amount of drugs on them or a large amount on them. They can be placed under arrest for possessing these drugs.

There are two different types of drug possession charges that people can face based on the total quantity of drugs found on them. They can be charged with:

  • Simple possession
  • Possession with intent to distribute

Simple possession is reserved for those people who only have a small amount of drugs on them when they’re arrested. It’s considered a less serious drug crime because the thought is that the person probably had the drugs on them for their own personal use.

Possession with intent to distribute, on the other hand, is considered more serious in most cases. People are charged with this crime when police believe they possessed drugs for the purpose of selling them to others.

You should usually start the process of finding a lawyer when you’re charged with either of these two drug crimes. But you should definitely do it whenever a possession with intent to distribute charge is brought up against you.

Drug Dealing

As we just mentioned, those who face possession with intent to distribute drug charges are often suspected of selling drugs to others. It’s why it’s considered a much more serious charge than simple possession.

Drug dealing is a drug crime that takes possession with intent to distribute to the next level. Those charged with this crime are either seen selling drugs out on the street or presumed to be drug dealers based on the amount of drugs found in their possession.

Drug dealing is not the same thing as drug trafficking, which is another drug crime that we’re going to talk about in a minute. But a person who is charged with drug dealing could face serious jail time depending on a few key factors.

These factors include:

  • The type of drug they’re accused of selling
  • The amount of drugs that they possessed
  • Their prior drug convictions

The penalties for drug dealing also differ from one state to the next. But generally speaking, those found guilty of dealing drugs can almost always count on spending some time in jail and paying some kind of financial penalty.

Drug Manufacturing

Many of the drugs that end up out on American streets go through some sort of manufacturing process. From heroin to meth, there are drug manufacturers out there who create these drugs in their homes before putting them out onto the street through drug dealers.

Manufacturing involves doing more than just creating drugs, too. It also refers to the process of packaging them up in a specific way before they’re handed over to drug dealers.

Drug manufacturing is a drug crime often prosecuted under both federal and state laws. It can result in a person serving jail time and facing fines if they’re found guilty in court. 

Drug Trafficking

Of all the drug crimes listed here, it’s safe to say that drug trafficking is the most serious one of all. Drug traffickers are usually responsible for moving large quantities of drugs into the U.S. and helping drug manufacturers and dealers get their hands on them.

While most of the drug crimes that we’ve mentioned are misdemeanors in most cases, drug trafficking is most definitely not. It’s a felony charge that can put a person behind bars for life in some instances.

Drug trafficking is usually not something that people get arrested for on a whim. While police do stumble upon large drug shipments every now and then, they often carry out long investigations on drug traffickers before placing them under arrest.

They do this in order to try and figure out how large of an operation a drug trafficker was running. There are many drug traffickers who have been taken down for running multimillion-dollar operations in various parts of the country.

These drug traffickers have gotten caught transporting all kinds of different drugs. From marijuana to cocaine to heroin, it’s not uncommon to see drug traffickers get busted while moving any number of illegal drugs.

What Are the Consequences for Drug Crimes?

As you’ve seen, jail time and fines are two of the most common consequences for those arrested for drug crimes.

Depending on whether they were charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, people can spend anywhere from a few days to their entire lives in prison. They can also face fines of anywhere from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But these aren’t the only consequences associated with drug crimes. If you’re ever arrested for a drug crime and found guilty of it, you could also:

  • Get placed on probation for an extended period of time
  • Lose custody of your kids
  • Be forced to attend court-ordered drug counseling sessions
  • Get deported
  • Be told to log a certain number of community service hours

You are, of course, presumed innocent of drug crimes until you’re found guilty in a court of law. But in the event that you’re found guilty, it could lead to all kinds of complications in your personal and professional life. 

What to Do If You Ever Face Charges for Drug Crimes

Were you recently charged with one of the drug crimes listed here? It’s important for you to take the proper steps to limit the number of consequences you might face.

It’s always a good idea to obtain legal representation from the start. Hire a lawyer who has experience when it comes to representing those charged with drug crimes.

Speak with your lawyer about trying to plead down to lesser charges, too. Often times, prosecutors are willing to give plea deals to those who agree to plead guilty to misdemeanor drug charges to avoid having cases go to court.

If you have a drug problem, consider getting professional help for it, too. It could help you steer clear of finding yourself back in court again at a later date.

Read our other blogs to learn how to find a lawyer or a counselor to help you put the pieces of your life back together.

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