For most of us, the words drug trafficking conjure up images of fast boats, slicked back hair, and obscene amounts of gold jewelry as seen on shows like Miami Vice. Today, the reality is much different. Though there are still very serious and dangerous drug cartels working within our borders, the illegal drug scene, especially in Florida, has changed. Drug trafficking today reaches all walks of life. Age, race, sex and economic status are no longer characteristics used to profile drug traffickers.So what has prompted the change in drug trafficking? A major factor is the dramatic increase in the use of prescription narcotics, such as Oxycodone and Hydrocodone. Very large quantities of prescription drugs can be obtained legally with relative ease. These drugs can then be sold on the secondary market, resulting in a large profit margin for the seller.
Faced with an explosion of illegal prescription drug activity, state lawmakers and law enforcement made eradicating the pill problem a top priority. New laws with stiffer penalties were passed and special task forces were created with promises of a brighter future without rampant abuse of prescription drugs. The steps taken have not stopped the problem. They have, however, totally transformed who we, as a society, label as drug traffickers.
The allure of quick money or the need to support their drug habit tempts people of all walks of life to try their hand at illegally selling pills. Some do so not knowing the drastic penalties our Florida criminal statutes mandate if they are caught.
By definition, trafficking is the buying, selling, manufacturing, or possession of illegal drugs that meet a statutorily defined quantity. For prescription pills, the quantity necessary to establish trafficking is shockingly small. For example, only four grams of hydrocodone is required to meet a trafficking amount. Because the total weight of the pill is used in the calculation, not the actual content of the controlled substance within the pill, trafficking can be established with as little as four pills! The street value is typically $5 per pill, so possessing $20 worth of illegal pills could land you in prison for three years.
Compare that to the amount necessary to establish trafficking in marijuana which is 25 pounds. Marijuana is rarely sold on the street in quantities larger than one ounce due to its price which averages anywhere from $200-$450 per ounce. Assuming a price of $300 per ounce would peg the street value of 25 pounds of marijuana at $120,000. Needless to say, it is a far cry from four hydrocodone pills worth $20, but our Florida statutes treat them the same.
The imbalances in penalties continue as the quantities of drugs increase. For example, 28 grams of hydrocodone carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 25 years in prison. 28 pills at $5 a pill comes out to a street value of $140. Compare that to the trafficking laws regarding marijuana. 10,000 pounds of marijuana at $300 per ounce is worth a staggering $48,000,000. Despite the enormous quantity and street value, 10,000 pounds of marijuana only carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 15 years.
The impact of these laws has forever changed who we classify as drug traffickers and how they are punished. Whether the laws are fair is a debate that will surely not get the attention it deserves. Changing the current laws regarding prescription pills is highly unlikely as no publicly elected official is going to campaign on making penalties for drug trafficking less severe. Most of those who choose to break the law do so knowing the possible consequences of their actions. However, we have a responsibility to ensure those penalties result in justice.
Contact John Castro, a top-rated Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney, for a consultation or visit our page regarding criminal defense of drug-related crimes.