Are you facing a drug trafficking charge? There’s no time to waste. Contact the Helfend Law Group today at 800-834-6434.

When we think of drug trafficking, images from media of large-scale drug operations might come to mind.

Although these kinds of operations do take place and are taken very seriously by law enforcement, according to California law, you can be charged with transporting a controlled substance for merely walking across the street with drugs in your pocket. Drug trafficking is a crime both under California law and federal law.

Charges of the sale or transportation of a controlled substance can result in serious penalties. A felony drug conviction may result in hefty fines and months or even years in jail. It can also affect your future employment, education, or immigration status. Similarly, if you are found transporting controlled substances across state lines, you can face federal charges, which are even more serious.

The best thing you can do if you are charged with the sale or transportation of a controlled substance is to speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney who can evaluate your case.

What is drug trafficking?

Drug trafficking is the illegal sale, transport, or distribution of controlled substances. These substances include drugs like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and prescription medication.

California’s drug trafficking laws

The sale and transportation of controlled substances is prohibited in California under California Health & Safety code 11352 and is defined by the following:

  1. Doing or offering to do any of the following with a controlled substance: Selling it, furnishing it, administering it (to another person, for example, by injecting it), giving it away, transporting it for sale, importing it into California.
  2. Having had knowledge that the drug was a controlled substance
  3. Having had knowledge of the drug’s presence
  4. In the event that you are accused of transporting the substance for sale, there was a “usable amount” of the controlled substance.

Essentially, HS 11352 prohibits the sale of drugs and the moving of drugs by any means. The transportation of controlled substances can be by vehicle, by bicycle, or on foot, thus the law not only applies to large-scale drug trafficking operations. You may still be charged with a felony under HS 11352 for selling a small amount of drugs to a friend.

When does drug trafficking become a federal crime?

Drug trafficking is prohibited under federal law as well (21 U.S.C. § 841). Federal authorities may become involved in a drug trafficking investigation if some combination of the following apply:

  1. It is suspected that drugs are being distributed across state lines or national borders
  2. The suspected drug dealing is taking place in an area where federal authorities have increased the level of surveillance due to a high volume of drug-related criminal activity, known as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA).
  3. The trafficking of large amounts of methamphetamine is suspected.

Penalties for a federal drug trafficking conviction are determined by the amount of drugs involved, whether injury or death have occurred as a result of the use of the controlled substance, and certain other circumstances. Possible penalties range from 5 years to life in prison and a $5 million to $20 million fine.

What drugs does California’s HS 11352 apply to?

Health & Safety Code 11352 makes it illegal to sell or transport drugs including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Opiates
  • Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (also known as “GHB”)
  • LSD
  • Peyote
  • Certain prescription drugs including oxycodone (Oxycontin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin)

The sale and transport of certain other drugs including marijuana and methamphetamine are not prohibited by HS 11352 but are prohibited by other California legal codes (further explained in “Relates offenses,” below).

What violations are covered under HS 11352?

Health & Safety Code 11352 covers a broad range of possible circumstances that have to do with the sale or transport of controlled substances. Below are some examples of possible HS 11352:

  • A man sells his elderly mother’s expired Vicodin to make some extra cash
  • A man sells peyote that he has grown himself to his friends and neighbors
  • A woman agrees to drive cocaine from one place to another for her boyfriend who is a drug dealer

There are two main categories of HS 11352 offenses, transportation of controlled substance and offering to sell, furnish, or transport a controlled substance.

Transportation of a controlled substance

  • “Transportation” of a controlled substance is defined as the moving or carrying of drugs from one place to another.
  • You an be charged with transporting a controlled substance even if the distance that the drugs are transported is very short.
  • The means of transportation may include car, plane, bicycle, or walking.
  • In order to be convicted of transportation of a controlled substance, it must be proven that it was your intent that the drugs would eventually be sold.
  • In order to be convicted of transportation of a controlled substance, you must be found to be transporting a “usable amount” of the drug. Transporting trace amounts of a drug, such as drug residue on an object, doesn’t count as an HS 11352 violation. This only applies to transportation of a controlled substance and not to selling a controlled substance.
  • Offering to sell, furnish, or transport a controlled substance

Offering to sell a controlled substance

  • You can also be charged with violating HS 11352 if you offer or agree to sell, transport, administer, or even give away a controlled substance.
  • You are only guilty of offering to sell, furnish, or transport a controlled substance if you intended to follow through on the offer or agreement.  

You do not actually need to personally handle drugs to be convicted of trafficking a controlled substance. By having control over the drugs you may be guilty through something called “constructive possession.” You may be guilty of constructive possession if, for example, you pay someone else to obtain the drug and transport it for you, and you get paid upon its delivery.

  • Sale or transportation of marijuana HS 11360: This law is specific to HS 11352 but is specific to the transportation, sale, furnishing, and giving away of marijuana. An HS 11360 violation is a felony and could result in penalties of 3, 3, or 4 years in jail.
  • Sale or transportation of methamphetamines HS 11379: This law is similar to HS 11352 but is specific to the sale and transportation of methamphetamines such as PCP, MDMA (aka ‘ecstasy’) and ketamine. Although a violation of HS 11379 is a felony, the penalties are less serious than the penalties for HS 11352 violations—generally 2, 3, or 4 years in jail.
  • Possession for sale HS 11351: A somewhat less serious offense than HS 11352, this law involves the same drugs, but doesn’t actually involve the sale or transport of drugs. Instead, this violation involves the possession of drugs with the intent to sell them.

How does California prosecute using or selling synthetic drugs?

Under California Health and Safety Code 11375.5 HS (for stimulants) and 11357.5 HS (for cannabis), it is illegal to:

  • Sell, dispense, distribute, administer, furnish, give or offer to sell/give a person synthetic stimulants or cannabis.
  • Use synthetic stimulants or cannabis yourself.

Synthetic cannabis, also known as Spice, K2, and fake weed, is a type of synthetic drug that mimics the effects of marijuana. It is made of plant material that has been sprayed with chemicals that produce mind-altering effects.

Synthetic stimulants are a type of drug that mimics the effects of cocaine, methamphetamine, and other illegal stimulants.

Punishment for using or selling synthetic drugs in California

Using or selling synthetic drugs is a misdemeanor under both HS 11375.5 and 11357.5. The maximum punishment is six months in county jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

It’s also possible to receive misdemeanor “summary” probation for using or selling synthetic drugs. This means that the defendant will not be sent to jail, but will be placed on probation for a period of time. While on probation, they will be required to comply with certain conditions, such as attending drug counseling and submitting to periodic drug tests.

If they violate the terms of their probation, the defendant can be sent to county jail.

Penalties for drug trafficking violations

State penalties for drug trafficking in California

In California, the sale or transportation of drugs under HS 11352 is a felony. The standard penalties for these types of code violations could include one or both of the following:

  • Jail time of 3 to 9 years
  • A fine of up to $20,000

There are aggravating factors to violations of HS 11352 that could add additional penalties to your conviction. Some aggravating factors include:

  • Transporting certain quantities of controlled substances (including specific penalties for certain types of drugs such as heroin or cocaine)
  • Selling controlled substances to a minor
  • Drug trafficking near drug treatment facilities
  • Selling or furnishing drugs to certain people such as an individual who was pregnant, someone with a mental health disorder, or someone who has previously been convicted of a felony

Additional penalties for aggravating factors could include:

  • 3 to 5 years in county jail
  • A fine of up to $20,000
  • Felony probation

Penalties for federal drug trafficking charges

Penalties for federal drug trafficking charges

The penalties for federal drug trafficking charges depend on the type and amount of drug involved, as well as the offender’s criminal history. The most serious drug trafficking offense is conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, which is punishable by up to life in prison and a fine of up to $10 million. Other federal drug trafficking offenses carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $5 million.

In addition to the criminal penalties, federal drug trafficking charges also carry a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison for offenses involving:

  • 50 grams or more of methamphetamine
  • 5 kilograms or more of cocaine
  • 280 grams or more of crack cocaine
  • 100 grams or more of heroin
  • 1 kilogram or more of fentanyl
  • 400 grams or more of GHB

Other consequences of a drug trafficking conviction

“Mr. Helfend did an amazing job defending my case, I highly recommend him to anyone in need of a great criminal defense attorney.”Anonymous, CA

A felony conviction for the sale or transportation of a controlled substance can have last negative effects on your personal and professional life, including:

  • The suspension or revocation of professional licenses
  • A permanent felony record as a drug offender, even after completing your sentence
  • Denial of an immigration application or visa if you are not an Americanized citizen
  • Difficulty getting federally backed financial aide if you attend college
  • A 10-year ban from owning a firearm
  • Difficulty receiving or retaining custody of your children

How to fight drug trafficking charges

If you have been charged with the sale or transportation of a controlled substance in California, there are many legal strategies that your attorney may use in your defense, including:

  • Your intentions to sell or transport drugs were misunderstood
  • The drugs in your possession were for your own personal use and you did not intend to sell them (a lesser offense)
  • Entrapment or other forms of police misconduct
  • Lack of knowledge (if you didn’t know about the presence of the controlled substance or you did not intent to sell, transport, furnish, or administer the drugs)

Even if you are charged with playing a minor role in a drug crime, you may be facing some very serious penalties. A drug trafficking conviction can not only result in hefty fines and jail time, but can have lasting affects on your personal life, career, education, and immigration status. As a tough, knowledgeable, California drug crimes attorney with over 40 years of experience, I can help you to obtain the best possible outcome in the face of drug trafficking or related charges. Call today – 800-834-6434.

Published January 22, 2013. Updated May 30, 2024.

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