Federal and California Drug Charges
At the federal and state level—especially in California—a conviction resulting from drug charges frequently carries stiff punishments such as prison time. Illicit drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine are restricted. These restrictions pertain to the following activities:
- Drug Trafficking
- Drug Possession
- Possession with Intent to Distribute
- Drug Manufacturing and Cultivation
Some states, such as California, have enacted medical marijuana laws, those which permit physicians to recommend marijuana for certain illnesses while exempting qualified patients from criminal prosecution on marijuana-related drug charges (including possession of marijuana), while others have legalized it for recreational use.
Differences Between State and Federal Drug Charges
With regard to the drug laws under which an individual or organization might be charged, the primary, practical difference between state and federal drug laws pertains to the nature of the arrest. Generally, mere possession of drugs results in state law charges, which carry less severe penalties than their federal counterparts. Federal law applies when the following more serious activities are alleged:
- Drug trafficking, including possessing with intent to distribute, distributing or manufacturing drugs
- Drug manufacturing and operating facilities for manufacturing
- Conducting a continuing criminal enterprise to traffic in drugs
Do the penalties for violating federal drug laws differ significantly from state law?
Federal criminal statutes generally carry much more severe penalties than their state counterparts and may land even first-time offenders behind bars for shockingly long sentences. While state arrests for simple possession are primarily charged only as misdemeanors, subject to certain exceptions, federal law triggers sentencing guidelines that seek to ensure time in prison. Furthermore, federal drug offenses may trigger a cascade of ancillary charges such as tax evasion and RICO violations with the years in prison multiplying at an alarming rate.