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Philadelphia Federal Marijuana Charges: Trafficking, Distribution and Possession

Philadelphia Federal Marijuana Charges: Trafficking, Distribution and Possession

Federal marijuana laws are no joke, even as more and more states legalize weed. Here in Philly, we’ve seen some high-profile cases of people getting slammed with federal charges for weed “crimes” that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in other parts of the country.

It’s confusing as hell. So I’m going to break down the key things you need to know if you find yourself facing federal marijuana charges in Philadelphia.


Under federal law, trafficking is distributing, selling, or transporting marijuana. Trafficking charges are the most serious federal marijuana offenses you can face.

The feds don’t care if weed is legal in Pennsylvania for medical or even recreational use. By their standards, all marijuana trafficking is illegal. Period.

How much weed you need to trigger a trafficking charge depends on a few factors:

  • Being caught with over 50 kilograms (110 pounds) automatically triggers the highest trafficking penalty of 10 years to life in federal prison.
  • Between 50 and 100 marijuana plants can also trigger that max sentence
  • Lower amounts like 5-49 plants or 10-100 pounds can still mean 5-40 years behind bars.

They don’t mess around with trafficking. Even non-violent, first-time offenders can face decades in prison.


Federal distribution charges are similar to trafficking but on a smaller scale. Distribution means handing out or selling weed in amounts below the trafficking thresholds.

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So if you’re busted handing out a few joints or selling a couple ounces, you could be looking at federal distribution charges instead of trafficking.

Penalties still aren’t light, though:

  • Less than 50 kilograms of weed = up to 5 years in federal prison
  • Less than 10 kilograms = up to 20 years

The amount of money exchanging hands sometimes plays a role too. Someone caught distributing weed just to cover their own costs may fare better than someone clearly profiting.


Possession applies to people caught with personal stashes of marijuana. It’s the least serious federal charge but can still ruin lives.

Penalties for simple federal marijuana possession include:

  • 1st offense: up to 1 year in federal prison
  • 2nd offense: at least 15 days and up to 2 years
  • After multiple offenses: up to 3 years

In some cases, possession of any amount is enough to trigger these. In others, you may need over 50 grams (1.7 ounces) before facing charges.

What About State Laws?

You’re probably wondering how you can face prison time for weed in Philly when it’s been decriminalized in Pennsylvania since 2015. Great question!

Basically, federal law enforcement (FBI, DEA, etc.) don’t care what Pennsylvania says about marijuana. If they bust you, it’s the federal statutes that apply.

And under federal law, marijuana remains 100% illegal as a Schedule I controlled substance. End of story.

State decriminalization only prevents local and state police from targeting weed. But it gives zero protection against federal charges.

Recent Philadelphia Cases

There have been some high-profile federal marijuana prosecutions in Philly that show how aggressively the feds still treat weed:

  • In 2019, the Philly DA sued the DEA for seizing a marijuana suspect from a city police station and charging him federally after the DA declined state charges.
  • A Temple student faced 2 years in federal prison just for mailing some weed edibles to a friend at another school. The judge dismissed state legalization as “legal fictions.”
  • Federal agents charged 4 people with conspiracy to distribute over 1,000 pounds of weed from California to Philly. Despite no history of violence, they face 10 years to life.

As you can see, the feds don’t play around. Tons of weed activity that’s either legal or decriminalized in Philly still risks major federal time.

Defenses and Outcomes

So what happens if you end up facing federal marijuana charges in Philadelphia? A few key things:

  • Hire a lawyer ASAP! Federal cases are no joke and the convictions stick for life.
  • Your lawyer may argue “entrapment” if agents pushed you into committing larger or additional crimes.
  • They’ll also dispute the amounts and charges if exaggerations were made.
  • You may be able to get the charges lowered to more minor offenses.
  • First-timers often have charges dropped or reduced, but it’s not guaranteed.
  • Those with long fed rap sheets can expect the harshest possible sentences.

Even if charges get reduced, you’ll likely still serve months or years unless your lawyer works magic. Any fed time hurts job prospects forever.

And if convicted of trafficking or big distribution charges? You’ll probably spend a good chunk of your remaining life behind bars.

The Future of Federal Marijuana Law

The tides are slowly turning against federal weed prohibition, but change is still a long way off. Here’s what may happen in the coming years:

  • Congress keeps introducing bills to federally legalize or decriminalize marijuana, but they stall out so far.
  • Federal courts may start applying more leniency toward weed based on shifting state laws.
  • At some point in the 2020s, the feds will likely begin officially rescheduling marijuana down from Schedule I.
  • Full federal legalizaton may take until the 2030s as conservative opposition fades over time.

But for now, assume all forms of weed remain very illegal federally, especially in large amounts.

Stay safe out there, Philly! And may the odds of getting slammed with fed time for pot keep falling in your favor.





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