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Federal drug trafficking laws apply to Pennsylvania

The penalties for the trafficking or distribution of illegal drugs in Pennsylvania, such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine or methamphetamines, are generally governed by both state and federal controlled substance laws. These laws and statutes outline the various factors involved with determining how to both prosecute and sentence each particular drug trafficking case.

In particular, the law attempts to establish a system to help distinguish between drug possession and drug trafficking or distribution. Drug possession for personal use is typically considered a far less serious offense than drug trafficking or distribution, which usually implies an intent to sell. Authorities use factors outlined in the law, such as the amount of illegal substance allegedly uncovered and its packaging, to determine what kind of charges to press against an individual.

Drug trafficking or distribution offenses can be handled under either state or federal drug laws, depending on the circumstances of each case. Federal drug laws are largely based on the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 and the official system of drug "schedules," which formally categorizes illegal drugs based on both their perceived harm, potential for abuse, and medical or therapeutic value. These drug schedules are complemented by sentencing guidelines, which provide a standardized sentencing reference for cases tried under federal law. Numerous states base many of their drug laws on federal schedules and sentencing guidelines.

Federal drug charges are extremely serious and typically carry harsh penalties. While some states have developed more relaxed drug laws for minor offenses, federal drug laws are less apt to change. For individuals facing federal drug trafficking charges, a defense attorney could search for inconsistencies in the prosecution's case, challenge evidence collected by police, or negotiate with the prosecution for a reduced charge or sentence.

Source: FindLaw, "Drug Trafficking/Distribution", September 16, 2014

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