Difference between Possession and Trafficking

David Lindsey, Attorney at Law

It’s possible for two different people to be arrested because police found them with the same drug but for each to face a very different fate. Much of this has to do with the amount of drug the person had and the perceived intention of the person for that drug.

Explain more simply:

The law imposes weaker punishments on people who only have a small amount of a drug because it is assumed the drug is for personal use.

Having a small amount of an illegal drug is a crime of possession. Larger amounts of the same drug can indicate intent to sell or traffic the drug. It’s important to note: even if you are not actively selling or trafficking the drug, it is still possible for you to be charged with trafficking.

You might have intended to use every last drop of what was found. It won’t matter. It’s not what you actually intended to do, but what the amount of the drug you had implied you might do.

What Constitutes Trafficking?

Most people think of drug traffickers as those who are involved in the transport of significant amounts of a drug. For instance, you might see a picture on the news of large bags of cocaine associated with a trafficking bust.

However, these massive amounts of a drug are not necessarily needed for there to be a trafficking charge. This is especially true when it comes to prescription medications. A person only need be arrested with a few pills without a prescription to face trafficking charges. The difference between a possession and a trafficking charge when it comes to prescription pills is slight.

Consider how many people carry around old, unused bottles of pills because they’ve forgotten about their medication… It’s possible you could be charged with trafficking only because you forgot a pill bottle in your handbag or backpack!

When it comes to illicit drugs – ones for which there is no prescription use – the amount of the drug needed to face a trafficking charge is more significant than with prescription meds, but it’s still not as much as you might think. You can be charged with trafficking with less than 30 grams of cocaine and it only takes 14 grams of meth for there to be a trafficking charge.

This is far less than the rooms full of drugs and weapons we usually see after a bust. Just because you don’t have pounds and pounds of a drug doesn’t mean you won’t be accused of trafficking.

For more information about potential penalties for specific drug crimes, check out this information from the Colorado Judicial Department.

Other Differences between Trafficking and Possession

In addition to the amount of drug in question, there are a few other factors that can play a role in the penalties a person faces when found with drugs illegally.

For instance, trafficking charges can vary in degree based on the substance, where the suspect was arrested, whether or not he or she was in possession of drug paraphernalia in addition to the drug, and whether or not he or she has a criminal history. So, the amount of drug can change the charge from possession to trafficking, but the severity of the punishment can be further reduced or enhanced based on an individual’s specific circumstances.

It’s also important to note that to be charged with possession, you don’t need to have the drug actually on your body. Legally, possession doesn’t mean it’s in your hands or in your pock. If a drug is found in your vehicle or handbag or your home, you can be charged with a crime. Of course, there might be issues with the legality of the search that found the drug that could be called into question by your defense attorney, but that doesn’t affect the initial arrest and charge.

If you have additional questions about the difference between possession and trafficking or you need to speak to someone about drug charges you are facing in state or federal courts, contact criminal defense lawyer David Lindsey to schedule a free consultation.

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