", by 
Licensed under 
CC BY 2.0

What Most People Don’t Know About Drug Trafficking

What is Drug Trafficking?

When you think of “drug trafficking,” most people think of large operations in hidden warehouses and enormous piles of drugs everywhere.

Though this definitely fits the definition of drug trafficking, most people charged and later convicted of the crime are convicted on a much smaller scale.

Under California law, you can be charged and convicted of drug trafficking by merely possessing a controlled substance and walking along a street with it.

Basically, California law penalizes the sale, transport, transfer, and import of any controlled dangerous substance. However, there may be some exceptions to marijuana.

Common Drug Smuggling Tactics

In addition to the well-known tactics of private planes, submarines, and even drones flying over the border, drug smugglers have gotten creative in their methods.

Many catapults have been discovered, where smugglers merely catapult pounds of drugs over a border to someone who is waiting for the cargo.

Gas compartments in cars have also become common hiding places for drugs when crossing a border.

Drug traffickers often mix legitimate business with their illicit activities, in part so that the former can conceal the latter.

For example, law enforcement confiscated a shipment of marijuana wrapped in orange tape and concealed within a cargo of carrots. The bust uncovered more than a ton of weed worth a half-million dollars.

Law enforcement seized more than 4,000 cucumbers and plantains stuffed with cocaine and crystal meth were hidden inside hollowed-out pineapples and coconuts.

It isn’t only fruits and vegetables; law enforcement has found packets of cocaine hidden inside the dead fish and bars of soap, as well.

One of the most dangerous tactics used is a “drug mule.” This is when a person carries the drugs in their body, usually by swallowing a small balloon or condom filled with drugs.

Detecting Drug Trafficking

There have been many, many shows and movies revolving around drug cartels and smuggling drugs between states and countries. Though entertaining, some of the methods used to smuggle drugs make it harder for law enforcement to detect that a crime is being committed.

Because of all the ways in which drugs can be smuggled into the country, some far away from borders, law enforcement has to remain just as creative as the smugglers in order to catch the counter-parts.

Specially trained drug dogs are extremely helpful in investigating smaller scale smuggling and drug trafficking, such as driving over borders or flying on commercial airlines. A well-trained drug dog can sniff a bag, outside of a car, or even just be in the area as a controlled substance, and they can signal to their handler that someone nearby is in possession of a controlled substance.


There are other agencies around the country and in each state that aids local and state law enforcement to apprehend and contain drug trafficking and perpetrators. HIDTA is one such organization.

The High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, provides assistance to federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies operating in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States. There is a HIDTA program in almost all states.

The purpose of the program is to reduce drug trafficking and production in the United States by:

  • Facilitating cooperation among federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies to share information and implement coordinated enforcement activities;
  • Enhancing law enforcement intelligence sharing among Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies;
  • Providing reliable law enforcement intelligence to law enforcement agencies to facilitate the design of effective enforcement strategies and operations; and
  • Supporting coordinated law enforcement strategies that make the most of available resources to reduce the supply of illegal drugs in designated areas of the United States and in the Nation as a whole.

They work closely with local law enforcement and district attorney’s offices to investigate, arrest, and prosecute drug trafficking crimes.

The United Nations’ Involvement

Drug trafficking is such a large-scale operation that the United Nations has long been involved to aid in stopping it. The UN defines drug trafficking as a global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of substances that are subject to drug prohibition laws.

The UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is continuously monitoring and researching global illicit drug markets in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of their dynamics. Drug trafficking is a key part of this research. Further information can be found in the yearly World Drug Report.

Applicable Code Articles in California

If the drug possession and/or trafficking is confined to California,  Heath & Safety Code 11352 applies to the crime.  It is defined as:

  1. Doing or offering to do any of the following with a controlled substance
  2. Sell it
  3. Furnish it
  4. Administer it (i.e., to another person via injection)
  5. Give it away
  6. Transport it for sale
  7. Import it into California
  8. Having had the knowledge that the drug is a controlled substance
  9. Having had the knowledge of the drug’s presence, and
  10. If accused of transporting it for sale, there was a “usable amount” of the controlled substance

Under recent California case law, it does not matter if you are mistaken about the kind of controlled substance you are possessing, only that you know that it is a controlled substance.

H Law Group Online

Legal Tips straight to your inbox!

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
No spam. Unsubscribe anytime.