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When people hear the term “drug trafficking,” they tend to think of organized crime. Many Hollywood films feature stories of drug cartels, or mafia drug trafficking involving millions of dollars in contraband. In reality, however, the majority of drug trafficking offenses are far less likely to inspire a fictionalized account.
The State of Maine defines drug trafficking as the sale and distribution of (illegal) drugs. The criminal code addresses the many types of illegal drugs a person can possess and distribute. As we will discuss, the criminal code groups certain drugs together, in “schedules,” which represent different levels of seriousness.
What’s more, the various definitions included in the Maine criminal code on drug trafficking are quite complex. But the basic idea of drug trafficking doesn’t have anything to do with “organized crime” in the popular imagination, but simply refers to the act of distributing – or possessing with intent to distribute – illegal substances.
In this post, we will provide a thorough discussion of the crime of drug trafficking in Maine criminal law. We will discuss drug trafficking and aggravated drug trafficking by examining how Maine treats particular types of illegal drugs. We will discuss the various drug schedules in Maine, and also include reference to the defenses against criminal prosecution for trafficking.
As our discussion will show, drug trafficking charges can carry heavy potential penalties. In fact, the penalties for certain drug trafficking charges are among the harshest in Maine criminal law.
If you’re involved in a drug trafficking charge, the key thing is to avoid panicking. Remain calm, but certainly take the time to locate and obtain a qualified criminal law attorney. A capable attorney can be an invaluable resource as you attempt to straighten out your situation and move forward.
Be sure to contact the Maine Criminal Defense Group if you have questions.
Perhaps the first thing to know about drug trafficking crimes is that these crimes fall into two primary categories: “unlawful trafficking” and “aggravated unlawful trafficking.” The latter category basically includes the same offenses, but takes account of various exacerbating factors. We will discuss these exacerbating factors in detail later; for the most part, the things which elevate a standard crime to aggravated status are fairly predictable.
If a person has multiple prior offenses, this can bump the crime to aggravated status. Or, if the person traffics a quantity which is deemed to be very excessive, then this can also elevate the severity of the crime.
As mentioned, the State of Maine organizes illegal drugs into different schedules, and these schedules represent distinct levels of severity. Maine has Schedules W, X, Y and Z, and W is the most serious or dangerous group of drugs, while X is the next most serious, and so forth. Schedule W contains the following drugs: heroin, methadone, morphine, barbituric acid, amphetamines, cocaine, and cocaine derivatives.
Schedule X contains the following: chlorhexadol, mescaline, hashish, ketamine, nalorphine, and sulfondiethylmethane. Schedule Y contains codeine, chloralhydrate, diazepam, and phenobarbital. Finally, schedule Z contains marijuana, synthetic carbinoids, and various other prescription drugs.
These schedules shouldn’t give too many surprises. The drugs contained in schedule W, for instance, should rapidly strike most readers as being extremely dangerous. The same is true for the drugs in schedule X. There might be some room for debate about the positioning of certain drugs in the middle – one could argue hashish should be bumped down to Y, for example – but in general, these schedules reflect the actual seriousness of the listed drugs.
As mentioned, cocaine and its derivatives are classified as “schedule W” drugs in Maine. Accordingly, we should expect that the punishments for trafficking cocaine to be severe, even for first time offenders. Once considered the “party drug” during the 1980s, cocaine has become viewed as a much more dangerous substance in recent years, and this is reflected in its treatment in Maine criminal law.
Under 1-A(A) of § 1103, a person is guilty of unlawful trafficking in cocaine when that person knowingly or intentionally traffics in this drug, and this offense is considered a “Class B” crime at the basest level. 1-A(A) actually doesn’t reference cocaine specifically, but includes all drugs from schedule W.
How does Maine determine whether a person is knowingly or intentionally trafficking in cocaine? One way is through the quantity of the substance which is possessed by the alleged offender. Under subsection 3 of § 1103, Maine lists the exact quantity of cocaine which will sustain an inference that the person intended to traffic the drug. 3(B) states that the minimum quantity for such an inference is 14 grams of cocaine, or 4 grams of cocaine in its “base form.”
A Class B crime, such as simple unlawful trafficking in cocaine as described, carries a punishment of up to 10 years in prison and as much as $20,000 in fines. There is also a mandatory minimum punishment of 2 years in prison, none of which may be suspended.
Aggravated unlawful trafficking in cocaine occurs when a person violates § 1103 and also exhibits one of several possible exacerbating factors. If a person traffics cocaine while with a minor, or has prior convictions for unlawful trafficking, or is carrying a firearm at the time of the offense, is traffics near a “safe zone,” or enlists the assistance of a minor to traffic, or possesses at least 112 grams of cocaine, or 32 grams of “base form” cocaine, then this person may be guilty of aggravated unlawful trafficking in cocaine.
Given that simple unlawful trafficking is a Class B crime, all aggravated trafficking in cocaine is a Class A crime. The mandatory minimum punishment for an aggravated trafficking charge is 4 years in prison, none of which may be suspended, and up to 30 years in prison as the maximum penalty.
Marijuana is classified as a schedule Z drug, which makes sense given its relative level of danger. Long regarded as a “recreational drug,” marijuana became heavily associated with the counter-culture movements of the 1960s, and now stands as one of the most commonly used illegal drugs.
In some states, such as Maine, marijuana has actually been legalized for both medicinal and recreational purposes. Importantly, marijuana is still considered an illegal substance by the federal government, and this has important implications for its taxation and treatment at the federal level.
Consistent with its status as a schedule Z drug, the treatment of marijuana is quite a bit different in Maine criminal law. Under 1-A(C), we see that unlawful trafficking in marijuana occurs when a person has a quantity of 20 pounds or more. Also, under 1-A(D), unlawful trafficking also occurs when a person cultivates 500 or more marijuana plants. Maine law also has “lesser” violations of these same offenses, under subsections 1-A(E) and 1-A(F).
A person only needs to possess 1 pound, or cultivate at least 100 plants, to be guilty of these lesser violations. Violations under 1-A(C) and 1-A(D) are Class B crimes, while the lesser violations are Class C crimes.
What quantity will give rise to an inference regarding the person’s intent to traffic? In the case of marijuana, the quantity is more than 1 pound. Anything over 1 pound will be taken as proof that the person knowingly possessed the marijuana with an intent to traffic. This is found under subsection 3(A).
As we mentioned, Class B crimes carry up to 10 years in prison and $20,000 in fines. Class C crimes carry up to 5 years in prison and $5,000 in fines.
In general, the factors which exacerbate a simple charge of unlawful trafficking for cocaine also can exacerbate a charge for marijuana. However, there are a few important distinctions. For instance, a person is guilty of aggravated unlawful trafficking if they are traffic with a minor, but for marijuana the quantity is relevant.
Having more than 1 pound can aggravate a Class C violation to a Class B violation, while having 20 pounds or more can elevate to a Class A violation. Likewise, having prior convictions can exacerbate a charge, but with marijuana the quantity is relevant. Even with prior convictions, having more than a certain quantity can upgrade the offense to either a Class B crime or Class A crime.
This is also true for the various other factors which can exacerbate a simple charge to an aggravated charge: the quantity of marijuana is relevant, and so being near a safe zone, or carrying a firearm, or enlisting the help of a minor will all be treated differently depending on the quantity.
Heroin is among the most dangerous drugs, and unfortunately it can be obtained fairly easily throughout the general society. Heroin is definitely a schedule W drug, and will remain so forever. Known for its potent effects, heroin overdoses sadly claim the lives of many people throughout Maine and rest of the country every year.
Because of its categorization as a schedule W drug, Maine’s treatment of heroin follows the same general pattern as cocaine. Under 1-A(A), a person is guilty of a Class B level crime if they traffic heroin. Under subsection 3 of § 1103, the rules do not indicate the minimum quantity of heroin which will permit an inference that the person knowingly possessed and intended to traffic the drug. In fact, under 3(F), Maine law makes reference to a person having a certain number of pills, capsules, and other storage units which contain narcotics other than heroin.
In other words, the code specifically avoids reference to heroin. Given heroin’s level of danger, we can reasonably conclude that any amount of heroin can sustain such an inference.
As with cocaine, the punishment for a first conviction of trafficking in heroin is a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, and a maximum fine of $20,000.
Because of its status as a schedule W drug, the treatment of heroin mirrors the treatment of cocaine when it comes to aggravated unlawful trafficking. The same exacerbating factors which can elevate trafficking in cocaine can also elevate trafficking in heroin.
Also, like aggravated trafficking in cocaine, aggravated trafficking in heroin will bump the crime up to a Class A violation, and this carries much more severe consequences.
Part of the difficulty of defending allegations of unlawful trafficking derives from the fact that Maine law has its own “standard of proof.” If a person simply possesses a certain quantity of the drug, then this is taken as proof of possession with intent to traffic.
If a person does possess the minimum quantity which gives rise to this inference, overcoming the charge can be very tough. However, there are several viable defenses to unlawful trafficking charges.
One defense is that the amount in question was for personal use only. Or, a person can argue that the drugs in the home or vehicle belonged to someone else and thus, you shouldn’t be held responsible. Finally, a person accused of trafficking can raise an affirmative defense that the trafficked substance is actually industrial hemp.
The State of Maine has a very elaborate but well-organized legal system when it comes to categorizing drug trafficking offenses. Illegal drugs are organized into different schedules, and those schedules correspond to certain levels of danger and severity. A simple charge of unlawful trafficking will carry certain punishments, and aggravated trafficking charges will carry more severe punishments.
Even within simple unlawful trafficking, however, certain offenses will be treated more harshly depending on the particular drug involved. Simple unlawful trafficking in heroin can carry a harsher punishment than trafficking in marijuana, for instance. In general, Maine treats drug offenses harshly, with many base offenses being classified as Class B crimes and carrying stiff consequences.
Being charged with unlawful trafficking is therefore a very serious matter. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t take changes. Reach out to an attorney with experience and expertise in the area of drug crime defense.
If you are facing criminal charges in Maine, the attorneys at The Maine Criminal Defense Group are here to help. Call our office to speak with
one of our team members, who will discuss your case with you and set up a consultation with one of our attorneys
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