The vast majority of drug cases will fall under the jurisdiction of the state court system in the state where the crime allegedly occurred. However, there are numerous scenarios in which a drug offense becomes a federal violation and must be litigated and defended in federal court.
The most important federal drug law that governs offenses related to controlled substances is the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Richard Nixon signed this act in the 1970s, and thus, the "War on Drugs" was more officially codified into law.
Here are some circumstances that will result in a drug crime allegation going to federal court:
Drug possession or drug violations that happen on federal property: If you're arrested and accused of any kind of drug-related violation in a national park or in a federally-owned property, your case will likely be prosecuted in federal court.
Crossing state lines with drugs: Imagine you take a road trip from Colorado to Tennessee with recreational marijuana in your possession. The marijuana might have been legal under state laws in Colorado, but it's not legal in Tennessee and it's not legal under federal law. When you cross state lines with an illegal drug, it falls under the jurisdiction of federal criminal courts.
Crossing national lines with drugs: Just like crossing state lines, when you bring drugs into or out of the United States, the matter becomes a federal offense.
Using the postal system to send drugs: Sending drugs via the federal postal system is also a federal crime.
Different laws and different punishments apply to drug offenses under federal law compared to Colorado drug laws. In many cases, federal punishments are also far more severe in the event of a conviction. Because of the legal context -- case law and statutes are not the same -- a federal drug offense requires a specialized approach.
Sometimes, criminal defendants can issue arguments to prevent their cases from going into federal court. Other times, they may want to issue arguments that cause their cases to go through the federal drug court system. It all depends on which court system better suits the goals and objectives of the defendant. Make sure you fully understand your legal options before choosing how to defend your case.