Definition of Drug Trafficking

By Lawrence Gould

Drug trafficking typically refers to the possession of an illegal drug in a predetermined quantity that constitutes the drug is going to be sold. The severity of the crime depends on the specific drug, the state and the quantity.

Legal Definition

The US. Legal definition of drug trafficking is "an offense under federal, state, or local law that prohibits the manufacture, import, export, distribution, or dispensing of a controlled substance (or a counterfeit substance) or the possession of a controlled substance (or a counterfeit substance) with intent to manufacture, import, export, distribute, or dispense."


The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sets standards that equate a type of drug to a quantity that is considered trafficking. For example, if someone is caught with a large amount of a drug, she obviously is not intending on using the entire amount herself, constituting intent to traffic the drug.


Federal laws are more stringent in border states than in others. For example, California and Florida hold the most severe penalties for drug trafficking.


The Dictionary of American History states that 8 percent of the world's trade revenue comes from drug trafficking. Clearly, drug trafficking is a profitable crime within the U.S.


The penalties of a drug trafficking offense vary by state, type of drug and quantity. In severe cases, a sentence of life in prison is common.


For a full description of drug trafficking crimes broken down by drug and the quantity, visit the DEA's website listed in the Resources section of this article.

About the Author

Lawrence enjoys reading, writing and movies. He is a licensed scuba diver and also enjoys boating. Although he is no longer an animal activist and vegan, animal rights remain close to his heart. As his background is in psychology, he enjoys studying and analyzing the behavior of others.