The federal government takes drug conspiracy charges very seriously. As a result, the penalties for committing drug conspiracy crimes have become increasingly serious as the so-called “War on Drugs” has grown. In an effort to get drug dealers off the streets for good, mandatory sentences have been enacted to make sure that anyone convicted of committing a drug conspiracy crime will spend time in federal prison, without exception.

With prison sentences ranging up to 40 years, a conviction can significantly affect your life and freedom. 

If you are facing drug conspiracy charges, you will be fighting a difficult battle against a legal system that has been intentionally set up in favor of the prosecutor. Your best defense against these harsh federal laws is a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney who can represent you and fight for your rights. 

What Are Federal Drug Conspiracy Charges?


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Federal drug conspiracy laws are intentionally broad. Nonetheless, federal drug conspiracy can be generally defined as an agreement knowingly joined by two or more people to break a federal drug law. In order to make a conviction, the prosecutor needs to prove that:

  1. An agreement to break a federal drug law was made between two or more people
  2. Each of the people involved in the conspiracy knew about the agreement and joined it

Although the basic definition of drug conspiracy is quite broad, it can be broken down into four general types:

  • Manufacturing of a Controlled Substance refers to the growing, extracting, processing, or any other part of the process of producing illegal drugs.
  • Importation of a Controlled Substance involves the bringing of illegal drugs into the United States by any means.
  • Distribution of a Controlled Substance refers to the delivery of illegal drugs to someone else. No money needs to be exchanged for drugs in order for it to be considered distribution of a controlled substance. Any method of distribution qualifies, including so-called “online pharmacies,” where fake prescriptions are used as a means of delivering illegal drugs to a recipient.
  • Possession of a Controlled Substance with the Intent to Distribute It. In general, possession refers to any case where a person is arrested with an illegal drug. However, prosecutors may attempt to prove that, in addition to possessing drugs, the defendant intended to sell or distribute them. Items such as scales or baggies may be used as evidence to prove intent to distribute a controlled substance. Additionally, the amount of drugs found in the defendant’s possession may also serve as evidence of a conspiracy to distribute drugs. The possibilities of being linked to other drug conspiracy crimes make possession charges the least straight-forward of the four types.

Federal Drug Conspiracy Penalties

Penalties for drug federal drug conspiracy crimes are determined by the amount of each drug involved. Amounts and penalties vary depending on the type of drug. Below are the penalties for each drug or drug type:


Below are the penalties based on the amount of marijuana involved in the conspiracy:

  • 100kg or more – mandatory minimum 5 years in federal prison, maximum sentence of 40 years
  • 1,000kg or more – mandatory minimum 10 years in federal prison, maximum 40 years
  • No alleged amount – no mandatory minimum sentence, maximum up to 40 years


Below are the penalties based on the amount of heroin involved in the conspiracy:

  • 100g or more – mandatory minimum 5 years in federal prison, maximum sentence of 40 years
  • 1kg or more – mandatory minimum 10 years in federal prison, maximum 40 years.

Cocaine (and “Crack” Cocaine)

Below are the penalties based on the amount of cocaine or crack cocaine involved in the conspiracy:

  • 500g or more of cocaine, 28g or more of crack cocaine – mandatory minimum 5 years in federal prison, maximum sentence of 40 years
  • 5kg or more of cocaine, 280g or more of crack cocaine – minimum 10 years in federal prison, maximum life sentence


Below are the penalties based on the amount of methamphetamine involved in the conspiracy:

  • 5g or more – mandatory minimum 5 years in federal prison, maximum sentence of 40 years
  • 50g or more – minimum 10 years in federal prison, maximum life sentence
  • Less than 5g – no mandatory minimum prison sentence, 20-year maximum sentence

Opioids and GHB

The federal government has recently upped the enforcement of crimes involving opioids (including drugs like ketamine and fentanyl, and GHB (gamma hydroxybutric acid) which is also known as the “date rape drug.” Below are the penalties for conspiracies involving these types of drugs:

  • No mandatory minimum prison sentence, maximum sentence of 20 years
  • Enhanced penalties if the drug involved in the conspiracy causes death or serious injury to someone
  • Enhanced penalties if the defendant has a prior felony conviction for a drug-related crime

Legal Defenses Against Drug Conspiracy Charges

Although the government has worked to make sure that the deck is stacked against you as a defendant to drug conspiracy charges, there are legal defenses that may be applicable to your case. It is possible that, with the right defense strategy, you may be able to have your charges reduced or dropped. Below are some of the most common defense strategies against drug conspiracy charges that your attorney may choose to use in your case.

Illegally Obtained Evidence

If the evidence that the federal government is using against you has been obtained illegal, a judge may deem it inadmissible in court which may leave the prosecutor without a case. If the evidence was obtained through illegal search and seizure or entrapment, you may be able to have your case dismissed.

Lack of Intent or Knowledge of Conspiracy

In order to be found guilty of participating in a drug conspiracy, the prosecution must prove that you knowingly entered into the conspiracy agreement. If you can prove that you didn’t agree to participate or have knowledge of the conspiracy, you can’t be convicted.

Withdrawal from the Conspiracy

It may be possible to defend your case if you tried to end your involvement with the conspiracy that you agreed to be part of, especially if you can provide evidence of being proactive in trying to withdraw. 

If you’re facing federal drug conspiracy charges, there may be defenses available that can help you avoid facing the harsh penalties laid out by the federal government. Don’t hesitate to talk to an attorney who can review the details of your case and find the best possible strategy for you. As a criminal defense attorney with over 30 years of experience handling drug conspiracy cases, I have what it takes to defend clients charged with even the most serious crimes. Call my office today to set up a consultation and let me get to work defending your freedom.