California Drug Trafficking Laws & Charges + Statute Of Limitations

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Although many people consider drug trafficking to be the same as drug dealing, the law in California applies to a broader concept than this. While the trafficking measures and the sale of drugs are often associated, they are actually different crimes, which means that they come with different penalties. In New York, charges for the sale of drugs are often lesser offenses that involve small amounts of an illegal substance that may even be regarded for personal use only – this means the penalties are often based on a misdemeanor or felony charge. On the other hand, drug trafficking in California is associated with extensive activity regarding drugs, including manufacturing, possession, sales, and distribution. This often means that the crime is defined as a felony offense.

The laws on drug trafficking in California underline the penalties for the sale, transfer, transportation, and use of controlled substances. In some cases, drug trafficking charges can include prescription drugs if the defendant does not have a license to dispense those drugs.

Laws and Penalties

As with many crimes within California and the US, the penalties for a conviction of drug trafficking will depend on the activity, type of drug, and the prior criminal record of the defendant. For example, the import, transfer, or transport of controlled substances might lead to a sentencing of between three and five years. On the other hand, transport from a California county to a non-contiguous county may result in imprisonment of up to nine years. Other penalties include:

  • Crimes involving the hiring of minors for selling controlled substances, or the sale of those controlled substances to minors can result in up to 9-years in state prison. California law also allows for a penalty enhancement when drug-related activities occur within 1,000 feet of school related programs, playgrounds, or schools in operational hours.
  • The transfer, sale, or transport of marijuana can result in a felony sentencing lasting up to four years. However, there is an exception in California when the amount of marijuana is less than an ounce, and not defined as concentrated cannabis. In this exception, the charge may be a fine that cannot exceed $100.
  • California law also has penalties for the trafficking of chemicals used as ingredients in the manufacture of methamphetamine, or PCP. Conviction for such a crime may result in prison sentences up to six years, and the state law allows prosecutors to pursue increased punishments when the defendant has committed other offenses.
  • The state of California has the right to pursue higher penalties for certain drug trafficking crimes depending on the surrounding circumstances of the crime, and the past behavior of the defendant in question.

Drug Trafficking Defenses

As with many offenses, there are certain defenses that can be considered in a legal case for the right reasons, for example:

  • Section 29 of the Drug Trafficking and Misuse Act of 1985 indicates that if a person has a quantity of drugs in his or her possession that is under one ounce, that person can be deemed as having those drugs for personal use, rather than with intent to supply.
  • If the law enforcement officials cannot prove that the defendant possessed the drugs to begin with, lawyers can indicate that the defendant had no knowledge of the controlled substance. The police must be able to prove that the accused had knowledge of the drug or controlled substance. Often, drugs are found in a house or car with a search warrant, and the police must prove that the accused knew the drugs were there in the first place, and that he or she was aware of the substance being a drug.
  • A lawyer can also prove that the defendant was pushed to sell or traffic drugs under duress during a sting operation or thanks to pushing by the police or law enforcement officers. Although police in California are permitted to run sting operations, the defense of duress involves the concept that a serious threat to the accused or his or her family lead that person to behave in a way that is unusual or completely out of character.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations that is currently in use for drug trafficking in California is five years from the date of the incident. After that time has passed, there will need to be precise factors in place for a person to be charged with the crime of trafficking. In some cases, if the accusing party can prove that the drug trafficking behavior was an act of terrorism, the statute can be increased. What’s more, conspiracy charges can be raised over time. In these cases, the statute of limitation begins to run down following the final act of conspiracy.

California Drug Trafficking Cases

Geoffrey Nathan, Esq.

About Geoffrey Nathan, Esq.

Geoffrey G Nathan is a top federal crimes lawyer and Chief Editor of He is a licensed attorney in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts since 1988, admitted to practice in both Federal and State courts. If you have questions about your federal case he can help by calling 877.472.5775.