Minimum Penalties for First-Time Drug Trafficking Offenders in North Carolina

North Carolina takes any drug charge seriously, but this is especially true for drug trafficking. Drug trafficking is considered to be a felony, which carries severe consequences when you are charged in N.C. If you are arrested or being investigated for drug trafficking, you need to maintain silence with law enforcement until you have legal representation through a criminal defense attorney. 

Our main objective at Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh is to get the best outcome possible for our clients when they are charged with a criminal offense. Even though the circumstances of your offense may be daunting, you still have rights as a citizen that needs to be protected. Let’s look at what drug trafficking is and the penalties associated with the charge in North Carolina.

What Constitutes Drug Trafficking in North Carolina?

It is commonly thought that a person can only be charged with drug trafficking if he/she makes and sells drugs or carries drugs across state lines. However, a person who possesses a large amount of an illegal substance can be arrested and charged with drug trafficking. 

North Carolina § 90-95 defines the violations and sets forth the penalties associated with drug trafficking. This statute is the law that has been passed by the state legislature and writes that it is unlawful to manufacture, sell, deliver, or distribute, or possess a controlled or counterfeited controlled substance

The intention of drug trafficking law is to prohibit large-scale possession, transportation, or distribution of controlled substances. Therefore, it is typically based on the amount of drugs allegedly possessed. Drug trafficking differs from other drug charges in that a conviction requires a mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment.

Elements of drug trafficking in N.C. cover several drug-related offenses, which can involve selling, transporting, or possessing a controlled substance such as:

  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Opioids
  • Heroin
  • LSD
  • Methamphetamines

When you are charged with drug trafficking, in order for you to lose the case, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you knowingly sold, delivered, or possessed the substance. If you possessed a large amount of a drug, you can be charged with drug trafficking.

The amounts differ, yet are specific, for different substances:

  • 10 lbs of marijuana
  • 28g of cocaine
  • 28g of methamphetamines
  • 4g of heroin or other opioids
  • 100 units of LSD
  • 28g of MDMA

These weights are the least severe drug trafficking charges. For instance, 10 lbs of marijuana would be charged as a Class H felony while possession of 50 lbs would be charged as the more severe Class G felony.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences in North Carolina

People who are convicted of drug trafficking offenses in North Carolina are subject to mandatory minimum sentences ranging from 25 months to 225 months. These sentences are based on the type of drug and how much is in possession.

The length of the sentence depends on the type of drug and the weight of the drug in possession. These are shown in the table “North Carolina Mandatory Minimums” as they are found in N.C. G.S. 90-90(h). 

Here are the minimum sentences for possession of the four most commonly trafficked drugs in the U.S.


The minimum sentences of jail time for trafficking different amounts of marijuana are: 
  • 10 to 50 pounds carries a minimum of 25 months imprisonment
  • 50 to 2,000 pounds carries a minimum of 35 months
  • 2,000 to 10,000 pounds is a minimum of 75 months
  • More than 10,000 pounds is 175 months


The minimum sentences of jail time for trafficking different amounts of cocaine are: 
  • 28 to 200 grams carries a minimum of 35 months imprisonment
  • 200 to 400 grams carries a minimum of 70 months
  • More than 400 grams results in an automatic 175-month prison term


The minimum sentences of jail time for trafficking different amounts of methamphetamine are: 
  • 28 to 200 grams carries a minimum of 70 months imprisonment
  • 200 to 400 grams carries a minimum of 90 months
  • 400 or more grams results in an automatic 225-month prison term

Opiates, Opium, Fentanyl, and Heroin

The minimum sentences of jail time for trafficking different amounts of opiates, opium, fentanyl, and heroin are: 
  • 4 to 14 grams carries a minimum of 70 months imprisonment
  • 14 to 28 grams carries a minimum of 90 months
  • More than 28 grams results in an automatic 225-month prison term

Consequences of a Drug Trafficking Conviction

Because drug trafficking is a felony offense, your life can be affected for a long time after your sentence is served. If you are convicted of drug trafficking, you may experience these life-long consequences:

  • A public and permanent criminal record
  • The loss of your right to vote
  • The loss of your right to bear arms
  • The disqualification from government assistance like student loans, Medicare, and Medicaid
  • Difficulty finding and maintaining employment
  • Difficulty finding housing
  • Difficulty maintaining your reputation

Defenses Against Drug Trafficking Charges in North Carolina

A Raleigh criminal defense lawyer who is experienced with drug trafficking charges, such as the attorneys at Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh, knows how to examine your case thoroughly and look at every aspect in order to tear down the prosecution’s evidence against you. A seasoned criminal defense attorney will represent your interests during a trial and negotiate on your behalf in order to get your charges reduced or dropped. 

There may be certain circumstances that provide relief in your case which allows your attorney to negotiate a reduction of the charges or penalties. Such factors as drug or alcohol rehabilitation, military service, or no other criminal records. 

Other opportunities for obtaining a reduction in your prison term exist if you provide substantial assistance in the identification, detainment, and conviction of others who were involved in the drug trafficking, e.g., accessories, accomplices, principals, or coconspirators.

Some drug trafficking defense strategies include determining if:

  • The stop, search, or seizure was performed lawfully or unlawfully
  • You knowingly possessed the substance
  • You consented to the search while under duress
  • The police officers followed or did not follow proper procedures to obtain a search warrant
  • There is insufficient evidence against you
  • The substance is not classified as a controlled substance

Contact Our Criminal Defense Attorneys if You Are Arrested for Drug Trafficking

If you have been arrested for drug trafficking, you are facing serious charges. It is imperative that you contact an experienced criminal defense team quickly to begin your defense. Seasoned drug defense lawyers will know how to break down your case to see how best to defend you. Our attorneys at Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh are exactly the drug crime lawyers you need. Call us at 919-887-8040 or complete our free case review contact form.