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21 U.S.C. § 841 - Drug Manufacture, Distribution, Possession With Intent To Distribute


Title 21 of the United States Code (U.S.C.), Section 841 (21 U.S.C. § 841), addresses a range of fundamental drug-related offenses. These offenses encompass activities such as drug manufacturing, distribution, and possession with the intent to distribute. This statute provides the legal framework for federal authorities to prosecute individuals involved in these activities and impose penalties as appropriate.

The federal government employs two key legislative tools, the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (CSIEA), to combat illegal drug usage and distribution. Leading this effort is the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a federal agency that collaborates with state, local, and even international law enforcement agencies. Together, they investigate individuals and groups accused of a wide range of drug-related crimes, from small-scale local drug activity to large-scale domestic and international drug trafficking.

According to data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission over the past three fiscal years, there has been an annual average of approximately 19,000 drug trafficking offenses across the United States. Illinois, during this same period, has accounted for nearly 30% of these offenses each year.

Elements For Section 841 (21 U.S.C. § 841)

Title 21 of the United States Code (U.S.C.), Section 841 (21 U.S.C. § 841) outlines the basic elements of various drug-related offenses, primarily focusing on manufacturing, distributing, and possessing controlled substances with the intent to distribute. Here are the key elements typically associated with Section 841:

  • Unlawful Act: The defendant is engaged in one of the following prohibited acts:
    • Manufacturing: Illegally producing or creating controlled substances.
    • Distribution: Selling, delivering, or transferring controlled substances to others.
    • Possession with Intent to Distribute: The defendant knowingly possessed a controlled substance such as methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, or heroin with the intent to sell, distribute, or otherwise transfer them to others.
  • Controlled Substances: The controlled substances involved in the offense must be listed or classified under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). These substances are categorized into schedules based on their potential for abuse and accepted medical use, with Schedule I substances being the most strictly regulated.

In drug-related cases under Section 841 of Title 21 of the United States Code, the prosecution isn’t required to prove the exact quantity or amount of the controlled substance involved. Instead, they must demonstrate that there was a measurable or detectable amount of the substance, which sets a relatively low bar for establishing the offense.


However, a crucial development in the interpretation of drug-related cases came with the Supreme Court’s decision in Apprendi v. New Jersey (2000). Following this decision, the Ninth Circuit Court has ruled that if the quantity of drugs is significant enough to trigger higher penalties for possession, a jury should determine whether the defendant did indeed have that specific amount of drugs. This adds a layer of scrutiny to cases involving large drug quantities.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that the defendant’s knowledge about the specific controlled substance isn’t always a central issue. What matters is whether they were aware that they possessed a substance classified as a controlled substance under the law. In other words, their awareness of its exact classification within the controlled substances schedule is not always a determining factor.

Example Of 21 U.S.C. § 841 Federal Drug Crime Charges

Jane Smith had been operating a clandestine methamphetamine lab in an abandoned barn on her property. The local sheriff’s department received a tip from an anonymous source about suspicious chemical odors emanating from the barn, leading them to investigate further.

Upon obtaining a search warrant, law enforcement officers raided the barn and discovered an operational meth lab. They found chemicals, glassware, and equipment used in the manufacturing process, along with a significant quantity of methamphetamine in various stages of production. Jane Smith was arrested on charges of manufacturing a controlled substance, a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841.

During the investigation, authorities learned that Jane was not only manufacturing methamphetamine but was also distributing it within the community. They conducted undercover operations and successfully made several controlled purchases of methamphetamine from her. These transactions were meticulously documented and formed the basis for the distribution charges against her under 21 U.S.C. § 841.

When Jane’s residence was searched as part of the investigation, officers found large quantities of methamphetamine, along with scales, packaging materials, and ledgers indicating drug transactions. This evidence strongly suggested that Jane was not only manufacturing and distributing but also possessing methamphetamine with the intent to distribute it to others, a violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841.

Jane Smith was arrested and faced a multitude of charges under 21 U.S.C. § 841, including manufacturing, distributing, and possessing with intent to distribute controlled substances.

Potential Penalties:

Drug offenses under Title 21 of the United States Code (U.S.C.), Section 841 (21 U.S.C. § 841) can carry severe penalties, including substantial fines and long prison sentences, especially for large-scale trafficking or repeat offenders.

Depending on several factors like type and quantity of the controlled substance involved, prior criminal history, and whether the offense resulted in death or serious bodily injury. Here is a general overview of the potential penalties:


Manufacture, Distribution, and Possession with Intent to Distribute (21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1)):

First Offense (Misdemeanor):

For a first offense involving a Schedule I or II controlled substance or a Schedule III substance containing a narcotic, an individual can face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million for an individual or $5 million if not an individual.

Second or Subsequent Offense:

If a person has a prior drug felony conviction, the penalties increase to a mandatory minimum of 20 years and a maximum of life imprisonment, along with a fine of up to $2 million for an individual or $10 million if not an individual.

Distributing to Minors or Within 1,000 Feet of a School:

Distributing drugs to someone under 21 years old or within 1,000 feet of a school can result in enhanced penalties, including additional prison time.

Common Defenses To Federal Drug Possession Charges

Defendants facing charges under 21 U.S.C. § 841 often employ various legal defenses to challenge the prosecution’s case. Here are some common defenses:

  • Lack of Knowledge or Intent: Defendants may argue that they were unaware of the presence of drugs, the manufacturing operation, or the intent to distribute. Establishing lack of intent can be crucial in possession and distribution cases.
  • Fourth Amendment Violations: Defendants may challenge the legality of searches and seizures. If evidence was obtained through an illegal search or seizure without a warrant or probable cause, it may be suppressed, weakening the prosecution’s case.
  • Chain of Custody Issues: Defendants may question the integrity of the evidence chain, suggesting that the drugs or paraphernalia could have been tampered with or mishandled, casting doubt on their connection to the defendant.
  • Entrapment: If the defendant can demonstrate that they were induced to commit the crime by law enforcement or a government informant, they may argue entrapment. This defense hinges on proving that they had no predisposition to commit the crime.
  • Substantive Errors in Prosecution: Defendants may challenge the prosecution’s case on technical or substantive errors, such as improper handling of evidence, unreliable witnesses, or inconsistencies in the case.
  • Coercion or Duress: In certain situations, individuals may be forced or coerced into participating in drug-related activities. If this can be established, it may serve as a defense against the charges.
  • Medical Necessity: In cases involving medical marijuana or prescription drugs, defendants may assert a medical necessity defense, arguing that their actions were driven by a legitimate medical need.
  • Illegal Search and Seizure: Defendants may challenge the validity of the search warrant used to obtain evidence. If the warrant was issued without probable cause or contained inaccuracies, it could render the evidence inadmissible.
  • Chain of Possession: The defense may challenge whether the prosecution can prove that the drugs found were in the defendant’s actual possession or control.
  • Mistaken Identity: In cases involving multiple individuals or transactions, defendants may argue that they were mistaken for someone else involved in the drug-related activities.
  • Constitutional Violations: Defendants may argue that their constitutional rights were violated during arrest, questioning, or detention, which could lead to the suppression of evidence.
  • Insufficient Evidence: If the prosecution fails to present enough evidence to prove each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt, the defense may argue for acquittal.

It’s important to note that the viability of these defenses can vary depending on the specific facts and circumstances of each case. If you’re looking for information on expunging a federal crime in California, be sure to check out the blog post “Can A Federal Crime Be Expunged In California” for valuable insights.

Related Crimes

  • 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) – Manufacturing, Distribution of Controlled Substance and Possession with Intent to Distribute.
  • 21 USC § 844 – Simple Possession.
  • 21 U.S.C. § 843 – the use of a communications facility (including cell phones and mail) in the commission of a drug crime.
  • 21 U.S.C. § 848(e)(1)(A) – Murder of another person in connection with a drug offense.
  • 21 U.S.C. § 846 – Conspiracy to Commit Drug Offenses
  • 21 U.S.C. § 863 – Possession of Drug Paraphernalia
  • 21 U.S.C. § 856 – Maintaining a Drug-Involved Premises
  • 21 U.S.C. § 848 – Continuing Criminal Enterprise – “Drug Kingpin Statute”
  • California Health and Safety Code Section 11351, Possession for Sale
  • California Health and Safety Code Section 11379.6, Manufacturing Controlled Substances
  • California Health and Safety Code Section 11352, Transportation for Sale of a Controlled Substance

These offenses collectively make up a comprehensive framework for addressing various aspects of drug-related activities at the federal level. Penalties for violations of these statutes can range from fines and probation to lengthy prison sentences, depending on the nature and severity of the offense, the type and quantity of drugs involved, and the defendant’s criminal history. Understanding the drug offender registry in California is essential if you have been convicted of certain drug offenses. 

Possession Of Controlled Substance Attorney 21 U.S.C. § 841

Cyrus Tabibnia, with an extensive background in criminal defense spanning many years, possesses the expertise required to mount effective defenses for individuals accused of drug-related offenses. He is committed to ensuring that his clients receive the strongest possible defense.

If you have been charged with drug crime anywhere in Los Angeles County, reach out to Cyrus, a drug crime defense attorney today to set up a free consultation and get started with your defense. Call (866) 713-2159.

Tabibnia Law Firm is serving its clients throughout Southern California including Santa Monica, Los Angeles, Orange County, Beverly Hills, San Fernando Valley, Ventura county, Riverside County, Sherman Oaks, Encino, Pasadena, Burbank, Glendale, Long Beach, Palmdale, Santa Clarita, Monterey Park, La Puente, Van Nuys, Pomona, Manhattan Beach, West Covina, Whittier, Downey, Woodland Hills, Norwalk, Torrance, Redondo Beach, San Bernardino, Walnut Creek, Inglewood, Lancaster, Westlake Village and nearby areas.

Cyrus Tabibnia

Cyrus Tabibnia

Tabibnia Law Firm retains years of experience successfully representing individuals charged with misdemeanor and felony crimes,Theft Crimes, Crime Against Children, Driving Crimes, Rape Crimes, driving under the influence (DUIs), domestic violence cases, drug possession cases, state and federal crimes, white color crimes, driving on a suspended license offenses, violent crimes, sex crimes, Forgery and all other criminal defense cases throughout Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Orange County, San Fernando Valley, Ventura County, Riverside County, San Bernardino, Van Nuys, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills. An expungement attorney in Los Angeles who can assist you in clearing your criminal record in the state of California. Call for a consultation today: 866-713-2159

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