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What Is the Difference Between Drug Distribution & Trafficking?

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The penalties for drug crimes in Wisconsin vary depending on the type of offense, type of drug, and the number of offenses. This can make understanding the legal ramifications of a drug crime challenging—putting undue stress on those accused. Our experienced legal team at Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella is sharing the differences between drug distribution and drug trafficking, as well as the potential penalties if convicted below.

Drug Distribution in Wisconsin, Defined.

Illegal controlled substances are grouped into “schedules” ranging from 1 – 5 (I – V) based on their potential for abuse, the significance of abuse, current scientific understanding of the substance, and risk to public health.

Distribution of controlled substances refers to selling or moving illegal drugs. However, this does not mean you need to be caught in the act of transferring. If someone is simply caught with an amount of drugs that exceeds reasonable personal use, they could be accused of possession with the intent to distribute.

Penalties for Drug Distribution

Drug distribution offenses, including possession with intent to distribute, often result in felony charges. The class of felony will range depending on the schedule and amount of drug found. For example, a conviction of drug distribution for under .50 pounds of marijuana could result in a Class I felony—punishable by up to three years in jail and $10,000 in fines.

Additionally, the distribution of an illegal substance to a minor can have harsher penalties, in some cases doubling the sentencing term. This increase in sentencing can also occur if the arrest was made within 1,000 feet of a drug-free zone or if the person has subsequent convictions.

Drug Trafficking in Wisconsin, Defined.

Drug trafficking includes the manufacturing, distribution, and delivery of illegal controlled substances. While similar to drug distribution, trafficking is often a more severe charge due to the quantity of drugs present. Law enforcement can associate large amounts of drugs, especially if found in conjunction with packaging paraphernalia and cash, with an illegal commercial enterprise—going far beyond personal use.

Penalties for Drug Trafficking

The declaration of intent in The Uniform Controlled Substances Act states,

“Persons who illicitly traffic commercially in controlled substances constitute a substantial menace to the public health and safety. The possibility of lengthy terms of imprisonment must exist as a deterrent to trafficking by such persons.”


“Persons who habitually or professionally engage in commercial trafficking in controlled substances and prescription drugs should, upon conviction, be sentenced to substantial terms of imprisonment…”

This means Wisconsin takes trafficking crimes seriously and will result in felony charges. If convicted, penalties will range depending on the type and quantity of the controlled substance. For example, a marijuana trafficking conviction could result in a Class G felony—punishable by up to $25,000 in fines and up to 10 years in prison whereas a heroin trafficking conviction might be classified as a Class C felony—resulting in a fine up to $100,000 and up to 40 years in prison.

With the severity and range of penalties associated with trafficking, it’s important to have an experienced attorney on your side to fight for your rights. At Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella, our criminal defense attorneys have over 20 years of experience in representing those accused of drug crimes.

Call our skilled Milwaukee legal team today at (414) 882-8382 or reach out online for a complimentary case analysis.