drugs and pills on a wooden surface

When Are Drug Crimes Considered Federal Offenses?

If you are facing federal charges, it typically means you have broken federal law or have committed an extremely severe offense. Let’s go over some reasons why you may be charged with a federal-level drug crime, what you should know about the potential consequences, and actions you should take immediately after arrest.

Federal Drug Schedules

Each state can set up its own drug scheduling system. In addition to this, the federal government and DEA follow a national drug schedule.

  • Schedule 1: these drugs have no accepted medical uses and are seen as a high risk for abuse.
    • Heroin, LSD, ecstasy, marijuana
  • Schedule 2: these drugs have a high potential for abuse, but are considered less serious than Schedule 1 drugs
    • Cocaine, methamphetamine, oxycodone, fentanyl
  • Schedule 3: these drugs do have medical uses, but are also a potential risk for dependence
    • Tylenol with codeine, ketamine, testosterone, steroids
  • Schedule 4: these drugs are low risk for potential abuse
    • Xanax, Valium, Ambien, Tramadol
  • Schedule 5: these are the lowest risk drugs and most are used as over-the-counter medication.
    • Robitussin, Lomotil, Lyrica


Reasons You May Be Charged with a Federal Drug Crime

Crossing State Lines

All crimes that occur when crossing state lines can be charged as federal offenses. If police officers find you have crossed state borders with a controlled substance in your possession, you could face federal drug trafficking charges.

The potential penalties for federal drug trafficking vary based on the offender’s prior record, the type of drug involved, and the amount of the drug found.

For the most severe charges, you face:

  • Five-40 years in prison
  • A fine of up to $2,000,000

If for any reason the drug trafficking led to someone's injury or death, you could be sentenced to life in prison.

National Land

If the drug crime was committed on national land, you could face federal drug charges.

National land refers to:

  • National parks
  • National wildlife refuges
  • Military reservations
  • Public-domain land

Here’s an interesting fact: illegal marijuana farms are one of the most common drug-related offenses that occur on national land.

Federal Agencies

If a federal agency investigated the drug offense, it would be charged as a federal crime. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is the federal agency devoted to enforcing controlled substances laws. The DEA mainly focuses on investigating and prosecuting individuals who grow, manufacture, or distribute drugs. They also investigate cases of drugs being brought into the United States from other countries.

Mandatory Minimums for Federal Drug Crimes

Many federal drug offenses have mandatory minimum sentences. This means that when convicted of a certain offense, the judge must sentence the defendant to a minimum amount of time in prison. The only way judges can sentence below the mandatory minimum requirement is if the prosecutors specifically request that they do.

Most federal drug crimes come with a mandatory minimum sentence of either five or ten years. However, the defendant may be faced with a minimum of 20 years in prison if they have a prior state or federal drug crime conviction, or if the drug offense they committed resulted in injury or death.

What You Should Do If You’ve Been Charged with a Federal Drug Crime

This is an incredibly serious charge. Even a nonviolent drug offense can result in numerous years in prison and expensive fines. As soon as you are aware that you are being investigated, or as soon as you have been indicted, contact an experienced defense attorney.

At The Lerch Law Firm, we have handled a wide variety of drug cases. We also understand the complexities of the federal court system and have the experience and skill required to defend you. Call us at (912) 417-5008 to speak with one of our drug defense lawyers.