Criminal Defense

What Are The Consequences of a Drug Charge?

By
Gregory Salnick
February 4, 2021

As with most crimes, drug charges have significant consequences that can affect an individual long-term in almost every aspect of life. Florida law provides harsh penalties for drug charges, but often the consequences of these charges extend far beyond the punishment imposed by the court. If you are charged with a drug crime, there are ramifications even if you avoid the legal consequences associated with a conviction.

As with most crimes, drug charges have significant consequences that can affect an individual long-term in almost every aspect of life. Florida law provides harsh penalties for drug charges, but often the consequences of these charges extend far beyond the punishment imposed by the court. If you are charged with a drug crime, there are ramifications even if you avoid the legal consequences associated with a conviction.

Here, we discuss both the legal and non-legal ramifications that may affect an individual charged with a drug crime and what to expect when facing a drug charge.

Legal Consequences of a Drug Charge

Unless you are convicted, a drug charge will carry only minor legal consequences. Court appearances are mandatory and failure to appear could result in additional charges or jail time. The severity of the legal consequences depends on the nature of the drug charge for which an individual is convicted. The type of drug, amount, and related circumstances determine whether an individual is charged with a felony or misdemeanor and the scope of the punishment.

Florida imposes mandatory minimum sentencing for drug convictions, which means that there is no such thing as time served or early release for good behavior. Individuals convicted of drug charges in Florida can expect to spend a minimum of three to five years in prison and pay a fine of at least $25,000 to $50,000. The higher the quantity, the longer the prison sentence and the more expensive the fine.

Drug Possession Penalties

The legal consequences for drug possession depend on the type of drug and quantity found in an individual’s possession. Possession of fewer than twenty grams of marijuana is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail, one year of probation, and a fine of one-thousand dollars. A possession charge for less than three grams of synthetic drugs carries the same sentence.

Most drug possession charges are classified as third-degree felonies which means five years in prison, five years of probation, and a fine of $5,000. Under Florida law, third-degree felonies include possession of the following: 

  • twenty grams of marijuana;
  • twenty-eight grams of cocaine;
  • four grams of heroin;
  • fourteen grams of methamphetamine;
  • seven grams of oxycodone;
  • three grams of synthetic drugs; or
  • any amount of Xanax without a valid prescription

While the judge has the discretion to opt for probation instead of placing the convicted behind bars for drug possession, the judge can also choose to lock-up the convicted for the maximum sentence allowed under Florida law.

Drug Trafficking Charges

Mandatory minimum sentences apply to drug trafficking charges, which means the judge does not have the discretion to choose probation instead of prison time for convictions. Trafficking includes the intentional sale, purchase, manufacture, delivery, possession, or transportation of drugs in Florida. Higher possession quantities than those provided typically result in trafficking charges.

Drug trafficking is classified as a first-degree felony for most drugs in Florida, however, the severity of the sentence depends on the quantity of the drug being trafficked. Generally, there are three tiers of sentences for drug trafficking. The lowest tier carries a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison and a fine of twenty-five thousand dollars. For higher quantities, the mandatory minimum sentence generally increases to seven years in prison and a fine of $100,000.

Even the mandatory minimum is harsh for drug trafficking of the largest quantities.

  • 10,000 pounds of marijuana = fifteen years in prison and a $200,000 fine
  • 400 grams to 149 kilograms of cocaine = fifteen years in prison and a $250,000 fine
  • 30 kilograms of heroin = life in prison and a $500,000 fine
  • 200 grams of methamphetamine = fifteen years in prison and $250,000 fine
  • 100 grams to 30 kilograms of oxycodone = twenty-five years in prison and a $750,000 fine

Other Consequences of a Drug Conviction

Under Florida law, a conviction for any drug crime will result in a suspension of your driver’s license for a minimum of six months. Even if you are only sentenced to probation, not having a license will make it difficult and costly to fulfill your work obligations, satisfy your probation conditions for drug tests, community service, or other in-person requirements and manage simple tasks like going to the grocery store.

A conviction for drug charges will leave with you a criminal record that will follow you for years to come. This can impact your housing options, limit job opportunities, and even jeopardize your ability to pursue an education, licenses, and certifications. Having a criminal record can even affect your finances. Not only will you have to come up with the money to pay the hefty fine associated with a drug conviction, court fees, and attorney fees, building your credit can be problematic as banks, financing companies, and other loan providers may label you a high-risk client. Unfortunately, this means buying a car, a house, or paying for school could be challenging, if not impossible due to automatic denials or difficult borrowing terms.

A criminal record may even affect your ability to have a family. Even if you are not convicted, drug charges can be used to question your character and fitness for parenting in a custody battle or if you want to foster or adopt in the future. Criminal records are public records, which means anyone can access them at any time for any reason. Therefore, the social stigma associated with drug use and criminal charges can affect you in your relationships, career, finances, parenting, home, and every single aspect of your life.

Facing a Drug Charge

Florida has no tolerance for drug use or distribution, and the laws for drug charges are harsh evidence of this. With all that is at stake, you need an experienced defense attorney on your side when you are facing drug charges. An attorney can review the facts of your arrest and identify any defenses you may be entitled to. Avoid incriminating yourself by immediately contacting an attorney, before answering any questions or speaking to anyone about the arrest or charges.

If you are a first-time offender, you may qualify for a pretrial intervention program which may drop the pending charges if you complete the program. However, before agreeing to anything, consult a West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney to ensure participation in pretrial intervention is in your best interest and to make sure you understand and can satisfy the program requirements.


Gregory Salnick

Mr. Salnick is a Florida Board Certified Specialist in Criminal Law. He began his legal career at the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office where he prosecuted over 90 jury trials, ranging from DUI to murder, armed robbery and drug trafficking. Mr. Salnick quickly gained a reputation as a tenacious and ethical attorney at law. Mr. Salnick now serves as state and federal criminal defense attorney at Salnick & Fuchs, P. A.

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