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What Are Drug Conspiracy Charges?

The word conspiracy makes any situation sound very sinister, however, its use in describing certain drug crimes is quite simple. Legally, a drug conspiracy takes place when multiple people come to an agreement to commit a drug crime. On a federal level, drug conspiracy charges can be made against someone being part of a drug conspiracy which would break federal law. Many charges of drug conspiracy come with minimum sentences that are mandatory, which means it is impossible to be convicted without prison time. The severity of these charges dates to the beginning of the “war on drugs” in the early 1970s. Convictions for drug conspiracy crimes can be severely life changing, however, there are some legal strategies that can be used to try to avoid a conviction altogether.

Are There Different Types of Drug Conspiracies Under the Law?

The are 2 laws in the United States code that apply to drug conspiracy charges, those laws being 21 U.S. Code § 841 and 21 U.S. Code § 952. These laws outline the 4 different types of offenses that are considered drug conspiracies. The 4 different types of drug crimes that can result in a drug conspiracy charge are:

  • Distributing a controlled substance: This refers to bringing or selling illegal drugs to another party. Money does not need to change hands when giving another person drugs to be considered distribution of a controlled substance. This includes distribution of all different kinds, such as online drug dealers posing as fake pharmacies and even two people bringing drugs to a friend.
  • Manufacturing a controlled substance: This includes being involved in any part of the process that creates an illegal drug, such as growing them, preparing them, or processing them. This ranges from growing marijuana plants to extracting controlled substances from over-the-counter medications.
  • Possession of a controlled substance and intending to distribute it: Anyone who is arrested while they have illegal drugs on their person or on their property is likely to be charged with possession of a controlled substance. However, the prosecution may make an attempt to show that person also intended to distribute the drugs to other people or sell them for profit. If they are able to prove that distribution was the defendant’s intent, the penalties will be the same penalties issued if they had actually distributed the drugs. Scales, plastic bags, and large amounts of drugs in the possession of a small group of people can all be used as evidence that someone intended to distribute the drug they possessed.
  • Importing controlled substances: Importing illegal drugs into the United States is a crime that is easily caught by the United States Customs and/or Border Patrol.

What Are the Typical Sentences for Drug Conspiracy Charges?

Drug conspiracy charges hold severe sentences, especially at the federal level. The sentences depend on which type of drug was involved and how much of it was possessed or about to be possessed. Drug conspiracy charges can be incurred at both the state and federal levels, but the penalties for these crimes are as follows.


If someone is charged with a drug conspiracy crime involving heroin, they can expect the following sentence:

  • A minimum of 5 years or maximum of 40 years in prison for 100 grams or more
  • A minimum of 10 years or a maximum of 40 years in prison for 1 kilogram or more

Crack Cocaine and Cocaine

Someone convicted of a drug conspiracy crime involving crack cocaine or cocaine can expect the following sentences:

  • A minimum of 5 years or a maximum of 40 years in prison for 500 or more grams of cocaine or 28 grams or more of crack cocaine
  • A minimum of 10 years or a maximum of life in prison for 5 kilograms or more of cocaine or 280 grams or more of crack cocaine


If someone receives charges for a drug conspiracy crime involving marijuana and is convicted, they can expect a sentence of:

  • A minimum of 5 years or a maximum of 40 years in prison for 100 kilograms or more of marijuana
  • A minimum of 10 years or a maximum of 40 years in prison for 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana
  • No minimum sentence but a maximum of 40 years in prison for an unspecified amount of marijuana


Someone convicted of a drug conspiracy crime involving methamphetamines can expect the following sentences:

  • No minimum sentence, but a maximum of 20 years in prison for less than 5 grams of methamphetamines
  • A minimum of 5 years or a maximum of 40 years in prison for 5 or more grams of methamphetamines
  • A minimum of 10 years but a maximum of life in prison for 50 or more grams of methamphetamines

Opioids and Gamma Hydroxybutyric Acid

The consequences for drug crimes involving opioids, such as fentanyl, and crimes involving gamma hydroxybutric acid, known colloquially as the “date rape” drug, have been increasing in recent years. A person convicted of a drug conspiracy crime involving either of these types of drugs can expect a sentence of:

  • A maximum of 20 years in prison, but no minimum jail sentence
  • Worse penalties if the drug caused death or injury to another party
  • Worse penalties if the defendant were convicted of a drug related felony prior to their drug conspiracy conviction

What Defenses Are Used Against Drug Conspiracy Charges?

Sentencing for drug conspiracy crimes is particularly strict in an effort to keep as many drugs and drug dealers off of the street as possible. The distribution of drugs is dangerous for many reasons, and people dealing or creating drugs in groups receive tough sentencing because they have more power than individuals doing the same thing. However, if certain things can be proven to the judge or jury, these tough sentences can be avoided.

Evidence Obtained Illegally

If the federal government obtains information or evidence illegally and then tries to use it against a defendant, the judge can dismiss the evidence and effectively render the case inconclusive. Some examples of illegal ways evidence can be obtained include search and seizure without the proper warrant and coercion or blackmailing.

No Proof of Intent or No Awareness of Conspiracy

A conviction for a drug conspiracy charge can only be made if it is proven that the defendant was aware of the conspiracy taking place and intended to be involved. If it can be proven to the prosecution that the defendant had no idea a conspiracy was happening and that they did not enter it willingly, they cannot be convicted.

Leaving the Conspiracy

If the defendant can prove to the prosecution that they tried to leave the conspiracy while it was ongoing, or if they can provide additional information regarding other members of the conspiracy, they may be able to receive a lesser sentence or be absolved of responsibility for the crime.

Contact an Attorney Today

If you have been accused of being a member of a drug conspiracy and are facing charges, contact the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella today. With over 20 years of experience handling drug-related crimes, Attorney Cherella’s in-depth knowledge of prosecution methods and law enforcement techniques makes him highly equipped to handle any sort of drug crime case. He keeps an intentionally small client base so he can offer them all personalized and empathetic care. Attorney Cherella has successfully litigated thousands of criminal cases and is ready to hear about yours. Contact him today at (414) 882-8382 or via his contact page.