Federal Laws for "Trafficking Marijuana" (21 U.S.C. § 841)
Explained by Nevada Criminal Defense Attorneys

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Federal charges for trafficking marijuana in Nevada carry harsh penalties. Standard sentences include years in prison and up to millions in fines.

Below is a summary of the federal crime of "trafficking marijuana" in Nevada. Continue reading to learn what constitutes "trafficking," how our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys fight the charges, and the punishments judges may impose.

Definition

The legal definition of "marijuana trafficking" under federal law is very broad. "Marijuana" comprises pot not just in powder form but also marijuana plants, hashish, and hashish oil. And "trafficking" constitutes any of the following actions:

  • intentionally manufacturing marijuana
  • intentionally distributing marijuana
  • intentionally dispensing marijuana
  • intentionally possessing marijuana with the intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense it

Therefore "trafficking" is a "catch-all" for nearly every marijuana offense such as growing it, selling it, and transporting it. The main federal drug crime that "trafficking" does not include is "simple possession," which is possessing marijuana for personal use. Boulder City NV criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse explains the distinction:

Example: Jack ships a ton of marijuana from San Francisco to Reno. There Jack sells an ounce to Joseph, who smokes it himself. If Jack and Joseph are caught, U.S. Marshals Service could book them both at the Washoe County Detention Center. But only Jack would face federal trafficking charges. Joseph would be charged only with the federal crime of simple possession because he did not make, distribute or dispense the pot and had no intention to do so.

Note that 21 U.S.C. § 841 prohibits trafficking counterfeit substances as well. So if Jack in the above example intentionally trafficked a legal plant he tried to pass off as marijuana, he could still be liable for trafficking in Nevada federal court.

Also note that trafficking marijuana is a specific intent crime. This means that a defendant shouldn't be held liable for it if he/she didn't know that he/she was trafficking the pot. Henderson NV criminal defense attorney Michael Becker gives an example:

Example: Tommy from L.A. is offered money to transport stage equipment to Henderson. In Henderson Tommy gets pulled over for a traffic violation, and he allows the cops to search his truck. The cops find a large quantity of marijuana, so they book him at the Henderson Detention Center for trafficking marijuana. But Tommy shouldn't be convicted if he didn't know the drugs were in the car.

Trafficking drugs other than marijuana is illegal under federal law as well. To learn about the federal crime of drug trafficking, read our article on the federal crime of drug trafficking

Federal law vs. Nevada law

The Nevada crime of marijuana trafficking comprises any act involving one hundred pounds of marijuana or more. Therefore, simply possessing one hundred pounds of marijuana for personal use qualifies as trafficking under Nevada law.

In contrast to Nevada law, federal "marijuana trafficking" law has no weight limit . . . it's possible to traffic even small amounts of pot. And unlike Nevada law, the federal definition of "trafficking" can never include possessing marijuana for personal use. Learn more about Nevada marijuana laws.

Defenses

There are three main strategies for defending against allegations of the federal crime of marijuana trafficking: 1) Insufficient evidence, 2) Lack of intent to traffic, and 3) Police misconduct.

  1. Insufficient evidence. In any federal or state criminal case the prosecution bears the burden to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As long as the defense attorney can demonstrate to the court that the
    U.S. Attorney's Office's evidence is too questionable, inadequate or contradictory to sustain a conviction, the defendant should be acquitted of federal marijuana trafficking charges.
  2. Lack of intent to traffic. Trafficking marijuana is a crime under federal law only if the defendant was aware he/she was trafficking the drugs. If the defense attorney can show that the defendant was tricked into trafficking the pot, or that he held it only for personal use, then criminal charges shouldn't stand.
  3. Police misconduct. It is possible for an entire federal marijuana trafficking case to be thrown out if the court determines that the police behaved unconstitutionally while investigating the allegations. The way this works is that the defense attorney files a "Nevada motion to suppress evidence" asking the judge to disregard any evidence found from unlawful police searches. If the judge agrees and grants the motion, the prosecution's case may not be strong enough to justify a conviction.
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Penalties

Federal penalties for marijuana trafficking in Nevada depend on four factors:

  1. whether the defendant has a previous conviction of trafficking drugs
  2. the amount of marijuana in the case
  3. whether the substance was a marijuana mixture, marijuana plants, hashish or hashish oil
  4. whether the trafficking resulted in death or serious injury

Penalties for trafficking marijuana mixture or marijuana plants:

For less than 50 kg of marijuana mixture or up to 49 plants:

  • A first-time trafficking offense carries up to 5 years in Federal Prison and $250,000 in fines.
  • A second offense carries up to 10 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.

For 50 kg to less than 100 kg of marijuana mixture or 50 to 99 plants:

  • A first-time trafficking offense carries up to 20 years in Federal Prison and one million dollars in fines. But if death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.
  • A second offense carries up to 30 years in prison and a two million dollar fine. But if death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.

For 100 kg to less than 1,000 kg of marijuana mixture or 100 to 999 plants:

  • A first-time trafficking offense carries 5 to 40 years in Federal Prison and two million dollars in fines. But if death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.
  • A second offense carries between 10 years to life in prison and a four million dollar fine. But if death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.

For 1,000 kg or more of marijuana mixture or 1,000 or more plants:

  • A first-time trafficking offense carries 10 years to life in Federal Prison and four million dollars in fines. But if death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.
  • A second offense carries between 20 years to life in prison and an eight million dollar fine. But if death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.

Penalties for trafficking hashish oil or hashish:

  • A first-time trafficking offense carries up to 5 years in Federal Prison and $250,000 in fines.
  • A second offense carries up to 10 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.
  • A first-time trafficking offense carries up to 20 years in Federal Prison and one million dollars in fines. But if death or serious injury results, the sentence is 20 years in prison to life.
  • A second offense carries up to 30 years in prison and a two million dollar fine. But if death or serious injury results, the sentence is life in prison.

For 1 kg or less of hashish oil or 10 kg or less of hashish:

For more than 1 kg of hashish oil or more than 10 kg of hashish:

Note that all federal cases involving controlled substances are heard in either the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse in Las Vegas or the Bruce R. Thompson Federal Courthouse in Reno.

Arrested? Call . . . .

If you are facing federal charges for "trafficking marijuana," call our Nevada federal criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) to speak free of charge. We will do everything to attempt to get the case cleared up as beneficially and rapidly as possible.

For information on California marijuana laws, see our article on California marijuana laws.

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