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Federal Drug Laws And Regulations Of The United States


Under federal drug laws, it is illegal to possess, use, or distribute illicit drugs. Drug convictions carry strict penalties, with many offenses carrying mandatory prison terms. The severity of penalties increases considerably if the use of illicit drugs leads to death or serious bodily injury. The following overview provides information on federal penalties for first convictions, although it should be noted that it is not a comprehensive list.

21 U.S. Code §841 – Drug Trafficking

It is against the law for any individual to knowingly or intentionally engage in the following actions:

  • The manufacturing, distribution, or dispensing of a controlled substance, or the possession of a controlled substance with the intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense it.
  • The creation, distribution, or dispensing of a counterfeit substance, or the possession of a counterfeit substance with the intent to distribute or dispense it.


Federal drug trafficking convictions carry penalties that are determined by the quantity of controlled substances involved in the transaction. The tables provided below present penalty information for various types of controlled substances. Individuals who violate federal drug trafficking laws within 1,000 feet of a university may be subject to penalties or prison terms that are up to twice as severe as the standard penalties for the offense. Additionally, they may face mandatory prison sentences of at least one year, as outlined in 21 USC §860.

21 U.S. Code § 843 – Controlled Substances Act

21 USC § 843(a) refers to the federal law that encompasses obtaining controlled substances by misrepresentation, fraud, forgery, deception, or subterfuge. This law specifically addresses individuals who engage in deceptive practices to obtain controlled substances unlawfully. On the other hand, 21 USC § 843(b) is a federal law that prohibits using a communication facility, which includes but is not limited to telephones, internet communication platforms, or wireless devices, to commit, cause, or facilitate the commission of a drug felony offense. This includes activities such as coordinating drug transactions, facilitating drug distribution, or engaging in drug-related criminal conspiracies using communication devices.


Under this law, the penalties for violating 21 USC § 843 are as follows:

First-time offenders: For individuals convicted of obtaining controlled substances through misrepresentation, fraud, forgery, deception, or subterfuge for the first time, the penalty is imprisonment for up to four years and/or fines of up to $250,000 for individuals or $1,000,000 for organizations.

Repeat offenders: Individuals who have previously been convicted of violating 21 USC § 843 will face more severe penalties for subsequent offenses. The penalty for repeat offenders includes imprisonment for up to eight years and/or fines of up to $500,000 for individuals or $2,000,000 for organizations.


21 U.S. Code §844 – Unlawful Possession of Controlled Substances

  • It is illegal for any person to knowingly or intentionally possess a controlled substance, unless the substance was obtained directly from a practitioner, acting within the scope of their professional practice, or through a valid prescription or order.
  • Exceptions to this law include circumstances authorized by the relevant subchapters.

Unlawful Possession of List I Chemicals

  • It is illegal for any person to knowingly or intentionally possess any List I chemical, if the possession is not authorized under the registration issued to them.
  • This includes situations where the registration has been revoked or suspended, expired, or if the registrant has ceased the intended business operations.

Purchase Limit of Ephedrine, Pseudoephedrine, and Phenylpropanolamine

  • Individuals are prohibited from knowingly or intentionally purchasing more than 9 grams of ephedrine base, pseudoephedrine base, or phenylpropanolamine base in a scheduled listed chemical product within a 30-day period.
  • However, of the 9 grams, a maximum of 7.5 grams may be imported through private or commercial carriers or the Postal Service.

Penalties for Violations

  • Any person who violates these provisions may face a maximum prison sentence of 1 year and a minimum fine of $1,000, or both.
  • If a person commits such an offense after a prior conviction under the mentioned subchapters or a prior conviction for any drug-related offense under state law, they could face a prison sentence ranging from 15 days to 2 years, with a minimum fine of $2,500.
  • Furthermore, if a person commits such an offense after two or more prior convictions, they could be sentenced to a prison term between 90 days and 3 years, with a minimum fine of $5,000.
  • Notwithstanding any penalty, a conviction for the possession of flunitrazepam under these provisions can result in a maximum prison sentence of 3 years, with fines as otherwise stated.
  • In addition, the imposition or execution of a minimum sentence required under these provisions may not be suspended or deferred.
  • Upon conviction, the person violating this section may also be required to pay the reasonable costs of investigating and prosecuting the offense, including the costs defined in title 28, sections 1918 and 1920. However, this sentence may not apply and a fine may not be imposed if the court determines, according to the provision of title 18, that the defendant lacks the ability to pay.

21 U.S. Code § 848 (Continuing Criminal Enterprise – “Drug Kingpin Statute”)

The Continuing Criminal Enterprise statute under 21 USC § 848 targets individuals who engage in a continuing series of violations of federal drug trafficking statutes as part of a drug trafficking enterprise. It specifically targets individuals who act as “kingpins” or have supervisory roles in ongoing drug trafficking operations involving five or more people.

Penalties for Violations

The penalties for violating the Drug Kingpin Statute are severe. Any person convicted of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise shall be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment not less than 20 years and up to life imprisonment. Additionally, a fine may be imposed, which should not exceed the greater of the amount authorized by the provisions of Title 18 of the United States Code or $2,000,000 for individuals or $5,000,000 for non-individuals.

21 U.S. Code §853 – Forfeiture of Personal Property and Real Estate

The forfeiture of personal property and real estate under 21 USC §853 is a legal process utilized by the federal government to seize and assume ownership of assets connected to certain federal crimes, with a primary focus on drug-related offenses. 21 USC §853 applies to various federal drug offenses, including drug trafficking, manufacturing, distribution, and possession with intent to distribute. It also extends to violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), the Continuing Criminal Enterprise statute (CCE), and certain money laundering offenses. The primary goal of asset forfeiture is to disrupt the financial structure of criminal organizations and discourage individuals from participating in illegal activities.


Types of Property Subject to Forfeiture

21 USC §853 authorizes the forfeiture of the following categories of property:

  • Proceeds: Any property directly or indirectly obtained from the commission of the underlying offense is subject to forfeiture. This includes cash, bank accounts, stocks, and other financial instruments.
  • Property Used to Facilitate Offenses: Property employed or intended to facilitate the commission of the offense is also subject to forfeiture. This can encompass real estate, vehicles, boats, or other modes of transportation.
  • Substitute Assets: If the government is unable to locate or seize the specific property subject to forfeiture, it may seek to forfeit substitute assets. These substitute assets can include other real estate or personal property owned by the defendant, up to the value of the property that is unattainable or unavailable.


If an individual is convicted of a federal drug offense that carries a prison sentence of more than one year, they are required to forfeit any personal or real property associated with the violation. This can include houses, cars, and other personal belongings. It is important to note that property may even be seized upon arrest if the charges may potentially result in forfeiture. The forfeited property is then taken over by the United States government.

Source: 21 U.S.C. § 848 – Continuing criminal enterprise

21 U.S. Code §862 – Denial of Federal Benefits

Federal Law under 21 U.S.C. 862, known as the Denial of Federal benefits to drug traffickers and possessors, aims to restrict certain benefits to individuals who have been convicted of drug trafficking or possession offenses. This law allows federal and state courts, during the sentencing process, to deny or limit federal benefits to those individuals. The intention is to impose additional penalties and consequences for drug-related offenses by preventing offenders from accessing specific federal benefits.

Under this law, any individual convicted of a federal or state offense involving the distribution of controlled substances may face the denial of federal benefits. The court has the discretion to determine the eligibility for federal benefits following the first conviction, with a potential ineligibility period for up to five years. The denial of federal benefits includes a range of governmental support, such as educational grants, housing assistance, healthcare benefits, and other federally funded programs.

The Denial of Federal benefits program provides a mechanism for enforcing this law by requiring individuals applying for assistance or benefits to disclose any convictions related to drug trafficking or possession. The program serves as a means to hold offenders accountable and implement consequences beyond imprisonment, aiming to deter drug-related criminal activities and promote rehabilitation.

A first conviction for drug trafficking can lead to a denial of federal benefits for up to 5 years. For a second conviction, the denial can extend to 10 years, while a third conviction may result in a permanent denial of federal benefits. On the other hand, individuals convicted of federal drug possession offenses may face a denial of federal benefits for up to 1 year for a first conviction, and up to 5 years for subsequent convictions. This law serves as an additional penalty and consequence for drug-related offenses, aiming to deter such activities and hold offenders accountable.



21 U.S. Code §863 – Sale, Transportation & Import/Export of Drug Paraphernalia

As per federal law, it is illegal for any person to engage in the following activities:

  • Selling or offering for sale drug paraphernalia.
  • Using the mail or any other facility of interstate commerce to transport drug paraphernalia.
  • Importing or exporting drug paraphernalia.

Definition of “Drug Paraphernalia”

The term “drug paraphernalia” encompasses any equipment, product, or material primarily intended or designed for use in the following activities involving a controlled substance, the possession of which is unlawful under this subchapter:

Manufacturing, compounding, converting, concealing, producing, processing, preparing, injecting, ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing into the human body.

Examples of drug paraphernalia include various types of pipes (metal, wooden, acrylic, glass, stone, plastic, or ceramic), water pipes, carburetion tubes and devices, smoking and carburetion masks, roach clips, miniature spoons with level capacities of one-tenth cubic centimeter or less, chamber pipes, carburetor pipes, electric pipes, air-driven pipes, chillums, bongs, ice pipes or chillers, wired cigarette papers, and cocaine freebase kits.


Anyone convicted of an offense under subsection (a) of this section can face the following penalties:

  • Imprisonment for up to three years.
  • Fines as determined under title 18.

Seizure and Forfeiture

Any drug paraphernalia involved in a violation of subsection (a) of this section can be seized and forfeited upon the conviction of the person committing the violation. The confiscated paraphernalia will be delivered to the Administrator of General Services, General Services Administration. The Administrator may order the destruction of the paraphernalia or authorize its use for law enforcement or educational purposes by Federal, State, or local authorities.


This section does not apply to:

  • Any person authorized by local, state, or federal law to manufacture, possess, or distribute such items.
  • Any item that, in the normal lawful course of business, is imported, exported, transported, or sold through the mail or by any other means and is traditionally intended for use with tobacco products, including pipes, papers, or accessories.

Speak with Criminal Defense Lawyer at Tabibnia Law Firm

Federal Drug Laws play a crucial role in combating drug-related offenses, protecting communities, and ensuring justice is served. These laws define the scope of illegal drug activities, penalties for offenses, and provide a framework for law enforcement agencies to battle drug abuse and trafficking.

When facing charges related to drug crimes, it is vital to have a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney by your side. Cyrus Tabibnia, a criminal defense attorney with over 19 years of experience at Tabibnia Law Firm, understands the intricacies of Federal Drug Laws and is dedicated to providing top-notch legal representation. With his extensive knowledge, strategic approach, and commitment to protecting the rights of his clients, Cyrus Tabibnia is an invaluable asset in navigating the complex landscape of drug-related legal matters. His unwavering dedication to defending individuals ensures that every client receives the personalized attention and strong advocacy they deserve.

If you find yourself facing a drug-related charge, don’t hesitate to reach out to Cyrus Tabibnia and Tabibnia Law Firm at 866-713-2159. His outstanding reputation and track record of success are a testament to his ability to fight for justice and secure the best possible outcomes for his clients.

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Cyrus Tabibnia

Cyrus Tabibnia

Cyrus Tabibnia, also known as Shahrooz Tabibnia, is a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, California. With a law degree from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, he has been practicing law since 2005 and holds license #237348. With over 18 years of experience, Cyrus specializes in various misdemeanor and felony criminal Law including Domestic Violence, Theft Crime, Sex crime, DUI & DWI, Personal Injury, Employment Law, and Cannabis & Marijuana Drugs Law. Being bilingual in English, Persian, and Spanish enables him to effectively communicate with a diverse range of clients. From 2014 to 2018, he served as a board member of the Iranian American Bar Association. An expungement attorney in Los Angeles who can assist you in clearing your criminal record in the state of California.

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