A felonious drug charge that includes the intention to distribute illegal drugs is a serious allegation. Prosecutors can charge you with either drug trafficking or possession with intent to distribute.

Drug addict buying narcotics and paying,Drug trafficking stock photo 

A trafficking charge is more serious. Therefore, the penalties for such a crime are more severe. It is vital to your defense that your Michigan criminal attorney establishes whether trafficking is the correct charge, or if they can get the charge reduced to intent to sell or dropped completely. 

Drug Trafficking vs. Possession with Intent to Distribute: What is the Difference? 

Though similar, these two crimes are different. Therefore, the penalties and sentences will differ as well. The charges brought against you will depend on the varying degrees of the offense, which are dependent upon: 

  • Whether you were manufacturing the drugs
  • If you were in possession of them
  • If you were delivering them
  • If you had the intent to use or distribute the drugs
  • Whether the combination of your actions constitute trafficking

What is Possession with Intent to Distribute?

The intent to distribute charge is a Class B felony. Prosecutors will charge you with it if law enforcement discovered that you were: 

  • Furnishing drugs
  • Delivering a controlled substance
  • Selling drugs, including marijuana and narcotics

At times, police will charge someone in possession of drugs with intent to distribute. The reason for this is that they suspect the individual was planning to sell the drugs. In this situation, it is imperative to your defense that you avoid admitting to a crime you did not commit. 

Intent to distribute is more serious than simple possession. It is the responsibility of the prosecution to try and prove intent. If you have admitted to the crime of possession with intent to distribute, prosecutors will use it against you in court, and it will be difficult to prove you did not have intent in that situation. 

Penalties and Sentences

The penalties and length of your sentence depend on the type of drugs in your possession, the amount, and whether you are a repeat offender. Here is an idea of what you can face with an intent to distribute charge. 

  • Marijuana: 5 kg = Four (4) years in jail and a $20,000 fine
  • Prescription Drugs: Depending on the type and amount, you can face up to 40 years in prison and a penalty of $250,000.
  • Cocaine: Sentences start at 20 years and fines start at $25,000.
  • Ecstasy and Methamphetamines: You can get a sentence of up to 20 years in jail and a fine of at least $25,000.

What is Drug Trafficking?

Drug trafficking is a Class A felony. 

While drug trafficking often includes moving drugs across borders, this charge does not exclusively involve transport across state lines. If you were in possession of a large volume of drugs during your arrest, the police may accuse you of drug trafficking. The amount of drugs in your possession can signal to police that you are part of a criminal organization that smuggles drugs across borders. Other indicators that would cause police to charge someone with trafficking include: 

  • Witness testimony
  • Scales
  • Bags
  • Business cards 

Drug traffickers do not typically just sell the drugs either. Often, they create and manufacture drugs as well. In addition to trafficking charges, a manufacturing charge can apply if you: 

  • Possess the chemicals and equipment needed to manufacture the drugs
  • Provide chemicals or equipment to someone who you know will use those items to manufacture drugs
  • Own or are in possession of land or a building, vehicle, or other structures used to manufacture the drugs

Penalties and Sentences

Depending on the type of drug and the amount in your possession, you can end up with a sentence of 20 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $1 million if you have received a drug trafficking conviction. 

What is the Difference Between Federal vs. State Charges?  

Typically, federal sentences are harsher than state prison sentences. 

  • Heroin: A five (5) to 40-year prison sentence for 100 g; 10 years to life in prison for 1 kg
  • Cocaine: 10 years to life in jail for 5 kg; five (5) to 40 years for 500 g
  • Marijuana: Five (5) years or less for 50 kg; 10 years to life for 1000 kg

Additional penalties can apply if the drugs in your possession (or that you sold) killed or seriously injured another person. Further enhancements can also apply if you used a firearm or if officers suspect that you are the leader of the organization. 

Possession with the Intent to Distribute – First Offense vs. Repeated Offenses 

Federal judges impose a minimum mandatory sentence for various drug-related offenses. Sentences can range from one year to life in prison. The severity of the punishment will depend on whether you are a first-time or repeat offender, the intent, the amount of drugs, and whether you’re part of a criminal organization. 

Though these sentences are “mandatory,” some defendants serve no to very little jail time for their crimes. Reasons for this include: 

  • The prosecutor drops the charges
  • The President pardons or commutes the sentence of the defendant 
  • The defendant provides authorities with assistance, in which case prosecutors drop the charges or significantly reduce them in the case of first-time or nonviolent offenders

Intent to Sell to a Minor

Jail time for possession with an intent to distribute can increase if you intended to sell or sold illegal drugs to a minor or a vulnerable adult. The drug sold does not have to be “hard” drugs. Even the sale of marijuana and tobacco products to a minor can come with penalties.  

Some local governments prohibit ads for vaping products and flavored nicotine. They also prohibit the sale of these products to minors. Violation of the law can result in a misdemeanor charge.

Your Attorney vs. the Prosecution: How Will They Prove Intent?

The foundation of the case against you is the word “intent.” The prosecutors must prove that you did not just have illegal drugs in your possession but that you also intended to sell or distribute them. It is the job of your Michigan criminal attorney to prove the lack of intent. 

In intent cases, there are two types – general and specific. General intent is that in which the accused intended to commit a crime or was reckless and committed a crime. Specific intent is intending to commit a crime and cause a specific result. In other words, the accused knowingly committed a crime and did so to create a certain outcome. 

The intent behind the crime helps the courts to determine the severity of the crime and the resulting punishment. 

Do Not Try to Handle Serious Charges on Your Own

Both drug trafficking and possession with the intent to distribute are serious crimes, ones that can have a major impact on your life now and in the future. If you are facing these charges, it is important to consult with a Michigan defense attorney immediately to discuss your options. You can secure a strong defense from someone with specialized training, expertise, and experience in Michigan drug laws and fighting for their client’s rights. 

The team at The Law Offices of Barton Morris will work hard to get your charges reduced or eliminated completely. With over 20 years of experience arguing federal drug cases and being the only Certified ACS Forensic Lawyer-Scientist in the state, you can be confident we will do all we can to fight for your rights. 


Do you need help fighting a drug charge? Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.