Arizona Laws: Distribution and Trafficking of a Controlled Substance


Distribution or trafficking of a controlled substance laws in Arizona punish transporting, importing, and selling unlawful drugs. Convictions for these crimes vary widely depending on the type of drug in question, the quantity, and where the distribution occurred. You’ll also likely receive a more serious charge if law enforcement finds substances with large amounts of cash or a scale.

People who are accused of this crime and found guilty may receive fines, probation, years in prison, and permanent marks on their record. It’s important to understand the law regarding this topic, so that you can protect yourself in the event of an accusation.

Factors that Impact the Penalties

A drug transportation or trafficking charge usually comes along with other charges, such as distribution or possession of substances. If you receive multiple charges, your overall sentence will increase as a result. Generally, the higher the quantity of substances, the higher the prison term for a distribution and trafficking conviction. Let’s look at some factors that impact the severity of the penalty for distribution of a controlled substance.

The Drug Schedule

According to federal definitions, some substances are more serious than others due to their potential for abuse or physical dependency. Drugs that don’t have a recognized medical use and have a high abuse potential are classified as schedule 1 substances. These include peyote, ecstasy, LSD, and more. Schedule 2 drugs have a high abuse potential and include cocaine, methadone, oxycodone, Ritalin, and some others. 

Schedule 3 drugs include substances with a low to moderate abuse potential and include testosterone and ketamine. Schedule 4 drugs carry a low risk of abuse and include Tramadol, Ambien, Valium, Soma, and other substances. Schedule 5 drugs usually include preparations that have limited amounts of analgesic or antidiarrheal chemicals in them. 

The Amount of the Substance

In the state of Arizona, it’s a much more serious crime to sell (or intend to sell) drugs than it is to simply possess them. You must possess a certain amount of a drug before you can receive an “intent to sell” conviction. If you have more than the legally recognized threshold amount of a substance, the charge may result in a mandatory prison sentence, even if it’s your first criminal offense. Here are some of the recognized threshold amounts for substances:

  • 9 grams of cocaine
  • 1 gram of heroin
  • 2 pounds of marijuana
  • 4 grams of PCP
  • 9 grams of amphetamine
  • 9 grams of methamphetamine

You may still receive an intent to sell charge if you have less than the threshold amount of one of these substances. This is especially true if you have a lot of money in your possession, the drugs are found separated into sellable portions, or you possess baggies, scales, or containers that suggest you were selling. 

Trafficking of a Controlled Substance

You can receive a drug trafficking conviction, even if you’re caught traveling over a border with a drug that you weren’t intending to distribute. According to state law, if you have more than the threshold amount of drugs in your possession, officials may assume that they were for distribution or sales. To receive a conviction for this crime, the prosecutor must prove that you knowingly engaged in the alleged behaviors and knew about the substance. They must also prove that you intentionally transported, imported, or planned to sell the substance.

Possible Penalties for Trafficking

If you’re caught trafficking an illegal drug, you might receive a felony charge. The specific punishments will depend on the quantity and type of substances you’re found with. If you were selling to a minor, the crime and penalties will be more severe. Making sales in a drug-free zone (near a school, for example) may also compound your punishment. If you’re caught with a serious drug, such as methamphetamine, you likely won’t be eligible for parole, probation, or a suspended sentence. 

Federal Trafficking Crimes

The federal government forbids anyone from possessing, dispensing, distributing, or manufacturing controlled substances. The applicable penalties according to federal law include between 10 years and life in prison for 1000 kilograms of marijuana, 5 kilos of cocaine, or 1 kilo of heroin. You may receive between 5 and 40 years for 500 grams of cocaine or 100 grams of heroin. 

The sentences increase for larger amounts of drugs, and you may receive harsher sentencing if the crime involved death or you have prior convictions on your record. In addition, you might get a more severe penalty if the crime involves a firearm or if you’re considered the leader of the operation. If you receive a firearm sentence, it won’t be concurrent with the trafficking sentence. In other words, you would serve your term for one offense, followed by the other, rather than serving them simultaneously.

Drug Possession

Drug distribution and trafficking are felony crimes, which are more serious offenses than possession. If you’re caught with drugs in your possession, you might get a trafficking charge if it appears that you intended to sell the substances. If you’re accused of drug possession, the prosecutor must prove that you were knowingly in possession of the substances. It’s not enough just to be found in the same place as drugs, they must prove that you were linked to them for a conviction to take place.

Speak with an Arizona Criminal Defense Attorney

Any drug conviction can have a serious effect on your life and future opportunities. You might lose access to career advancement due to your criminal record, in addition to having to pay fines and possibly spend time in prison. A drug charge can also cause you to lose access to public services like welfare benefits and scholarships.

The laws surrounding distribution and trafficking of a controlled substance are always changing and can be hard to keep track of. It’s important to speak with a criminal defense attorney who understands the law and can help guide you through your defense. Speak with one of our professionals today, so you can get the best possible outcome for your situation.

Call the JacksonWhite Criminal Law team at (480) 467-4370 to discuss your case today.

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