Nevada drug trafficking law is set forth under NRS 453.3385. This section makes it a felony intentionally to possess, sell, manufacture, transport, or import 100 grams or more of
- schedule I controlled substances (other than marijuana),
- schedule II controlled substances,
- Rohypnol or
Low-level drug trafficking (100 grams to less than 400 grams) is a category B felony punishable by two to 20 years in Nevada State Prison and up to $100,000. And high-level trafficking (400 grams or more) is a category A felony with penalties of 25 years to life in prison (with parole possibility after 10 years) and up to $500,000.
NRS 453.3385 states drug trafficking occurs when someone:
“knowingly or intentionally sells, manufactures, delivers or brings into this State or who is knowingly or intentionally in actual or constructive possession of” controlled substances.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys focus on explaining trafficking schedule I drugs and II drugs under NRS 453.3385. Also see our articles on trafficking marijuana under NRS 453.339.
1. What is drug trafficking?
Nevada’s legal definition of drug trafficking is very broad. It comprises any of the following acts done with large amounts of controlled substances.
- Simple possession of a controlled substance for personal use (NRS 453.336);
- Drug possession with the intent to sell (NRS 453.337 & 453.338);
- Selling (NRS 453.321);
- Transporting (NRS 453.321); or
Since trafficking involves large drug quantities, charges are typically reserved for big-time dealers and drug lords. Defendants face separate charges for each controlled substance they allegedly traffic. So if a person is selling large amounts of both heroin and MDMA, the person faces two separate trafficking charges: One for each drug.2
Note that trafficking is often abbreviated as TCS (short for trafficking in controlled substances). Trafficking drugs is illegal under federal law as well. Learn more about federal drug trafficking laws.
1.1. Narcotics prohibited under NRS 453.3385
NRS 453.3385 applies only to flunitrazepam (Rohypnol), gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), and schedule I and II drugs (not including cannabis). Common schedule I substances include:
- Magic mushrooms (peyote, mescaline)
Common schedule II drugs are Oxycontin (an opiate), cocaine and methamphetamine.
Note that selling or transporting small or large quantities of schedule III, schedule IV, and schedule V drugs is prosecuted under NRS 453.321. Legally, it is not considered trafficking.
2. What are the penalties?
The punishment for violating NRS 453.3385 depends on the amount of drugs in the case.3
|Weight of schedule I or II drugs, GHB, or Rohypnol
(not including marijuana)
|Trafficking penalties in Nevada|
|100 to less than 400 grams||“Low-level trafficking”
Category B felony:
|400 grams or more||“High-level trafficking”
Category A felony:
Meanwhile, the penalties for trafficking marijuana under NRS 453.339 are slightly less severe. (Note that the marijuana weight does not include dirt, seeds, or stalks.)4
|Marijuana Amount||Trafficking sentence in Nevada|
|50 lbs. to less than 1,000 lbs
(or 1 lb. to less than 20 lbs. of concentrated cannabis)
|Category C felony:
|1,000 lbs. to less than 5,000 lbs.
(or 20 lbs. to less than 100 lbs. of concentrated cannabis)
|Category B felony:
|5,000 lbs. or more
(or 100 lbs. or more of concentrated cannabis)
|Category A felony:
2.1. Is probation available for a trafficking conviction?
Under Nevada drug laws, prison is usually mandatory for trafficking convictions. But the judge can reduce or suspend the sentence if the defendant helped the police investigate any crime. Factors the judge may consider include:
- The court’s evaluation of the significance and usefulness of the defendant’s assistance;
- The truthfulness, completeness, and reliability of any information or testimony provided by the defendant;
- The nature and extent of the defendant’s assistance;
- Any injuries or risks suffered by the defendant or his/her family resulting from the assistance; and
- The timeliness of the defendant’s assistance.5
3. What are the defenses?
There are many possible strategies for fighting Nevada drug trafficking charges. The best tactic depends on the specific case and available evidence. Three common trafficking defenses are:
- The defendant had no knowledge of the drugs;
- The drugs did not weigh enough; or
- The police performed an unlawful search
In any case, the D.A. has the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The D.A. typically relies on such evidence as
- the drugs themselves,
- surveillance video,
- eyewitnesses, and
- recorded communications.
Therefore, the defense attorney would try to show the prosecution that this evidence is too weak to sustain a conviction.
3.1. The defendant had no knowledge of the drugs
It is not uncommon for drug dealers to hire unwitting people to transport drugs without their knowledge. As long as these people do not realize they are transporting drugs, they are not guilty of trafficking.
Example: Philip hires an Uber to courier over a wrapped birthday present to Bill. The Uber driver has no idea the present contains 100 grams of Ecstasy. Therefore, the driver is committing no crime.
In the above example, Phillip committed trafficking since he knowingly sent the drugs. And if Bill knew what was in the package, he could also face trafficking charges for knowingly receiving them.
3.2. The drugs did not weigh enough
NRS 453.3385 charges have a strict weight requirement: At least 100 grams of either
- GHB, or
- Schedule I or II drugs (not including marijuana).
If the scales the police used to measure the drugs were defective or mishandled, the trafficking charges could be reduced to a lesser drug offense.
3.3. The police performed an unlawful search
The 4th Amendment protects against illegal searches and seizures by the police. So if the police searched the defendant’s property without probable cause or with an invalid search warrant, then any drugs found may be inadmissible as evidence.
The criminal defense lawyer would ask the judge to disregard (“suppress”) any evidence discovered from an unlawful search. If the court grants this motion to suppress evidence, the state may be left with too weak a case to prosecute.
4. What are the immigration consequences?
Most drug crimes such as trafficking narcotics are deportable offenses in Nevada.6 This means that once non-citizen defendants serve out their prison sentence, they may be removed from the U.S.
Therefore, any non-citizens charged with trafficking should retain a skilled attorney right away. Getting the case dismissed or reduced to a non-drug-related offense may be the immigrant’s only chance to remain on U.S. soil.
5. Can the record get sealed?
Yes, though there is a waiting period to get trafficking convictions sealed. Dismissed charges can get sealed right away.7
Drug trafficking offense
Nevada record seal wait-time
|Category A felony conviction||10 years after the case ends|
|Category B felony conviction||5 years after the case ends|
|Dismissal (no conviction)||Immediately|
Record seals do not happen automatically under state law. The defendant has to petition the court. Learn about how to get a criminal record sealed in Nevada.
For additional help…
Contact our experienced Las Vegas drug trafficking lawyers for legal advice. Our DUI and criminal Nevada law firm practices in Clark County, including Henderson, Boulder City, and Mesquite, and throughout the state of Nevada.
¿Habla español? Más información sobre el crimen de Nevada tráfico de drogas.
In California? See our article on Health & Safety 11352 HS.
In Colorado? See our article on CRS 18-18-405.
- Nevada Revised Statute 453.3385. Andrews v. State, (2018) 412 P.3d 37, 134 Nev. Adv. Rep. 12. Vidal v. State, (1989) 105 Nev. 98, 769 P.2d 1292.
- Nevada v. Andrews, (2018) 134 Nev. Advance Opinion 12.
- NRS 453.3385. State v. District Court, (1992) 108 Nev. 1030, 842 P.2d 733. Drug trafficking penalties were different prior to July 1, 2020, which is when Assembly Bill 236 went into effect. For schedule I drugs (not including marijuana), GHB and Rohypnol, trafficking 4 to less than 14 grams (Level 1 trafficking) was a category B felony carrying 1 to 6 years in prison and up to $50,000; trafficking 14 to less than 28 grams (Level 2 trafficking) was a category B felony carrying 2 to 15 years in prison and up to $100,000; and trafficking 28 grams or more (Level 3 trafficking) was a category A felony carrying life or 25 years in prison (with parole possibility after 10 years) and up to $500,000. And for schedule II drugs, trafficking 28 to less than 200 grams was a category C felony, carrying 1 to 5 years in prison and up to $50,000; trafficking 200 to less than 400 grams was a category B felony carrying 2 to 10 years in prison and up to $100,000; and trafficking more than 400 grams was a category A felony carrying life or 15 years in prison (with parole possibility after 5 years) and up to $250,000. NRS 453.3395 (now repealed).
- NRS 453.339.
- NRS 453.3405.
- 8 United States Code 1227. United States v. Valdavinos-Torres (9th Cir., 2012) 704 F.3d 679.
- NRS 179.245; NRS 179.255.