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Facing drug charges: trafficking versus distribution

The sale and distribution of drugs can have strong, and sometimes fatal, ramifications. In efforts to regulate such negative effects, the government enforces strict regulations.

Those facing drug charges may have to deal with serious penalties.


In short, trafficking is the transportation of controlled substances. Trafficking is seen as one of the most serious nonviolent drug charges that parties may face. Whether it is across state lines or the border, the charge is the same. However, the type of drug plays a strong part in determining the severity of the charge.


As the name indicates, distribution is the actual dissemination of a controlled substance. For a distribution charge to stick, law enforcement must catch the offender in the act of exchanging the drug for some form of payment. Since the charge focuses on the actual action of exchange of drugs, the amount of the substance is not relevant.

Key differences

Though the two charges are related, they are still different. Distribution may include trafficking elements; however, a party may be guilty of trafficking but not distribution. For example, a drug runner is guilty of trafficking, but if the runner does not also sell the drug, he or she would not be guilty of distribution. On the other hand, a party who receives a drug, takes it to another city, and sells it to another person is guilty of trafficking and distribution. Also, whereas law enforcement must catch the offender in the act for a distribution charge to stick, a party may face a trafficking charge as long as there is evidence to indicate intent, such as excessive amounts of the substance, drug paraphernalia, scales, or large amounts of cash.

Understanding the difference between the two charges is important, especially for those facing either one. Along with understanding the dissimilarities, it may be beneficial to know other terms that affect the severity of the charges as well.

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