Marijuana Trafficking Penalties in Arizona

A conviction could send a person to prison for the rest of their lives.

photo_801_20060112.jpgThe West Desert task force is a joint task force for the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and the sheriff’s department. It aims to fight drug and human smuggling in the west desert region of Arizona, which historically has been a major drug trafficking corridor. In the past few years, the government has found that none of these agencies single-handedly could make a dent in the trade in that region and accordingly, a task force was put together.

The task force discovered five abandoned vehicles full of marijuana near Ventana recently. There were 683 bundles worth $7.2 million that weighed almost 14,500 pounds. The vehicles were seized and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) took over the marijuana.

If you are caught transporting quantities of marijuana (even if significantly less marijuana than what happened in the above-mentioned seizure), the penalties can be very harsh. In a case such as this, most likely the federal government would pursue prosecution in federal, rather than court. While the punishments in Arizona state court can be severe, the ones meted out in federal court are far worse.

For example, trafficking in 1000 kilograms or more can lead to a sentence of not less than 10 years or more than life in federal court. That means there is a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for this crime–a federal judge cannot use his or her discretion to look at a person’s otherwise good character or the fact that it could be their first offense, if that is the case, to impose a lighter sentence than 10 years. If death or serious bodily injury is caused in connection with trafficking there is a mandatory minimum of 20 years.

Arizona is a state known for being tough on crime. Trafficking or drug transportation is one of several marijuana offenses punished by the state. Others include possession, sale, distribution, and manufacturing. A person can be charged with trafficking either if they are stopped by the police while driving with large quantities of drugs in the car or if they are caught moving separately packaged quantities of marijuana in amounts to be sold. In most cases if a suspect is charged with trafficking, they are also coupled with other charges including possession or distribution.

Trafficking two pounds or more of marijuana into Arizona is a Class 2 felony with a sentence of 2-8.75 years imprisonment, and a minimum fine of $750. If someone is allowed to serve out probation rather than imprisonment, he or she will have a mandatory sentence of 24 hours of community service. Trafficking more than 2 pounds of marijuana is a felony with a potential sentence of 2-12.5 years imprisonment and a $750 fine. If significantly more than two pounds of marijuana is seized and the police suspect the person was carrying this amount into Arizona from across the border or another state, they may be charged in federal court.

Arizona as a border state, and its many freeways that lead to the border mean that a person may run a greater risk of being stopped and charged with drug trafficking than in several other states. If you are charged with a drug trafficking offense, the first thing you should do is contact an experienced drug trafficking defense attorney, to discuss your matter and options for defense.

Depending on the facts, including aggravated factors, repeat offenses, or seriousness of the circumstances, a conviction could send a person to prison for the rest of their lives. By law a defendant has the right to defend their charges and hire a qualified criminal defense attorney to legally represent them in defense of the charges.

Additional Resources

Arizona Criminal Code Sentencing Chart
Arizona Constitution
Mesa Police Department


An attorney experienced in drug trafficking will challenge as much of the evidence as possible. The police must have obtained any evidence legally in order for a prosecutor to use it during trial. The police may have made procedural errors. Accordingly, your attorney will ask you lots of questions about how you came to be stopped and how the drugs were seized. Contact an experienced Arizona drug trafficking attorney for a consultation.

More Blogs

Prescription Drug DUI- Laws and Defenses, Arizona Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, June 26, 2013
Drowsy Driving v. DUI Charges: Facts, Prevention and Criminal Defense, Arizona Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, March 28, 2013

Updated: