Sale of a Controlled Substance: Drug Sale Laws

Commonly referred to as drug dealing, the sale of a controlled substance is a crime not only in every state, but also one punished at the federal level. It should come as no surprise that drug laws impose significant consequences for anyone convicted of these crimes. While the particular details of state drug sale laws differ, all states impose harsh penalties for anyone convicted of the sale of a controlled substance.

What Is a Controlled Substance?

A controlled substance is any chemical, chemical compound, or other drug or ingredient that state or federal law has identified as restricted. While controlled substances typically refer to what most people think of as drugs or narcotics, they can also include prescription medications and other chemical compounds. Not all controlled substances are always prohibited, but they are all regulated in some way. For example, physicians are legally allowed to prescribe certain types of drugs as medications, such as morphine, but those drugs are still controlled, meaning the law restricts who can prescribe, use, possess, manufacture, or transport them.


In some situations you can be convicted for the crime of the sale of a controlled substance even if you didn't actually sell drugs to somebody. Selling a controlled substance includes such activity as bartering, giving away, manufacturing, distributing, delivering, exchanging, or even offering to perform any of those activities. This means that you can be convicted of this crime even if no transaction ever takes place. Further, courts have held that even bringing someone to meet another person in order to allow those people to engage in the sale of a controlled substance is enough to convict you of the crime.

Illegal Sale of Legal Drugs

The illegal sale of a controlled substance can happen in a variety of situations and does not necessarily have to involve the sale of illegal drugs. For example, pharmacists have a license to legally dispense controlled substances. If a pharmacist chooses to sell any of these controlled substance in a manner outside of the law, this too is an illegal sale of a controlled substance. Also, if someone is prescribed medication and then decides to sell that medication to someone else, that is also an illegal sale. Even though the seller is legally entitled to possess and use the prescribed medication, it is illegal to sell it to others.


Many states have laws that impose more severe punishments for the sale of a controlled substance if specific conditions are present. For example, the least severe controlled substance sale crime would involve selling any kind of drug without the proper license, or selling any illegal drug. However, you might be charged with a more severe crime if, for example, you prepared the drugs in some way, sold over a specified minimum amount, sold the drug to children, or sold a specifically identified type of drug, such as methadone or cocaine. The most severe of the controlled substance sale laws apply when large amounts of a particular drug are sold.


The crime of selling a controlled substance is often punished with incredibly harsh penalties. Depending on whether the crime is charged as a state or federal crime, and depending on the severity of that crime, a single conviction can result in decades in prison and substantial fines.

  • Incarceration. The sale of a controlled substance can be either a felony or misdemeanor offense. Misdemeanor convictions have potential jail sentences of up to a year, while felony offenses can have very lengthy prison sentences associated with them. For example, if you are convicted of a federal controlled substances sale crime, you could face up to 40 years in prison for a first offense. In some situations, such as where a person has been convicted of previous offenses, a life sentence in prison is possible.
  • Fines. The fines associated with a conviction for the sale of a controlled substance are also very significant. Misdemeanor fines are often up to $1,000, though higher fines are possible. For felony convictions the fines can be very high, sometimes as much as $250,000 or more per offense.
  • Probation. You can also be sentenced to probation if you're convicted of selling drugs. A probation sentence will usually last at least 12 months, but sentences of two to five years are also common. Probation allows you to serve your sentence outside of jail or prison, and while serving it you must comply with the court's probation conditions. These differ between cases, but include requirements such as making regular reports to a probation officer, not committing more crimes, submitting to random drug tests, allowing for random home or vehicle searches, performing community service, and finding or maintaining a job.

Consult with an Area Defense Attorney

Apart from violent crimes, drug crimes are some of the most serious criminal offenses with which you can be charged. Whether you are facing federal or state drug charges you will always want to speak to a criminal defense attorney in your local area immediately after being charged or learning you are being investigated. Your experience as a defendant in a drug case hinge upon being able to defend yourself at all stages of the criminal justice process. You will need the advice of an attorney who not only knows the prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and judges who are involved in the local criminal justice system, but who is also familiar with the laws and legal issues surrounding the sale of a controlled substance in your area.

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