How is Drug Distribution Defined and Penalized in Utah?

The state of Utah takes drug crime very seriously. Illegal drug distribution can do serious damage to communities by harming people physically and often bringing with it violence. For that reason, drug crime is being cracked down on like never before. More drug distribution cases are going to trial as prosecutors try to send a message that the illegal drug trade is not welcome.

If you are accused of illegal drug distribution, you should have some understanding of what that means and how it is penalized. In short, distribution is treated as more serious than merely possessing drugs. On top of that, the distribution of more dangerous drugs is treated more seriously than, say, the distribution of marijuana. That understanding can help you work with legal counsel to get a better outcome in your case.

To get a free analysis of your situation from our Salt Lake City drug crime defense lawyers, call Overson Law at (801) 758-2287.

What Constitutes Drug Distribution in Utah?

Drug distribution in Utah is defined in Utah Code § 58-37-2(1)(o) as delivering a drug by someone other than a licensed clinician administering said drug. There are a great deal of methods of distributing drugs that are prohibited, so it bears going into detail about those methods.

Under Utah Code § 58-37-8, it is not legal to distribute drugs in the State, or arrange for their distribution to take place. This criminalizes the actual distribution as well as the intent to distribute. So, if you give cocaine to a buyer, that is criminalized, but it is also a criminal act to arrange to deliver cocaine to a buyer without actually delivering said cocaine.

Additionally, it is against the law to create a drug with intent to distribute. So, if you manufacture cocaine with intent to distribute it but do not actually sell it to anyone, that is still illegal.

Crimes Related to Drug Distribution in Utah

There are a lot of crimes in Utah that are not directly called  “drug distribution” but nonetheless require possession and distribution of drugs as one of their elements. It is not unlikely that someone accused of distributing drugs could be accused of one of these crimes, so it is important to be aware of them.

Possession with Intent to Distribute

Possession with intent to distribute is probably the most common drug distribution-related charge in Utah. This crime requires that the prosecution show that you possessed drugs as well as evidence that you planned to distribute them or had actually done so. For example, showing that you have cocaine in your drawer is not enough to demonstrate an intent to distribute. On the other hand, having cocaine in your drawer divvied up into equal parts with names on each bag, then that is likely to be evidence of an intent to distribute. Possession with intent to distribute is criminalized under Utah Code § 58-37-8.

Imitation Controlled Substance Act

Utah Code § 58-37b is also known as the “Imitation Controlled Substance Act.” This act criminalizes the manufacture, possession, and distribution of “imitation” controlled substances. An imitation controlled substance is an artificial version of a controlled substance. For example, if you create something similar to crystal meth, you have violated the Imitation Controlled Substance Act. For all intents and purposes, a substance similar to meth that has the same effects as meth is, well, meth in all but name, so it is illegal to distribute. A violation of this act is a class A misdemeanor.

Clandestine Drug Lab Act

Another crime involving the distribution of drugs is the Clandestine Drug Lab Act, detailed in Utah Code § 58-37d. the stated purpose of the act is to criminalize the creation and distribution of “designer drugs” like methamphetamine, opioids, cocaine, and others. The Act criminalizes the setting up of a drug manufacturing facility, making the drug, and distributing or selling the drug.

Depending on the conduct, a conviction under the Clandestine Drug Lab Act is either a first or second-degree felony. Violations are second-degree felonies when the perpetrator partakes in clandestine drug lab activities. For example, if the perpetrator buys the things to make meth, sets up a meth lab, and then hands his product to his friend to go sell, the perpetrator would be guilty of a second-degree felony. It is a first-degree felony if someone does clandestine drug activities like those discussed above but in addition either possesses a firearm, uses a “booby trap” or sets up their drug lab close to a school. So, if the same perpetrator does all the things previously stated, but they have a gun on their person the whole time, they would be guilty of a first-degree felony under the Clandestine Drug Lab Act.

Penalties for Drug Distribution Crimes in Utah

The penalty associated with a drug crime varies depending on the seriousness of the crime. Less serious crimes like simple possession will have less serious penalties attached, while many crimes involving the distribution of controlled substances will have much more serious penalties associated with them.

Whether a distribution charge is a crime or misdemeanor depends on a number of factors, including the type of drug as well as the conduct involved in its possession and potential distribution.


The penalties for misdemeanors are defined in Utah Code § 76-3-204. A class C misdemeanor allows for a prison term no longer than 90 days, a class B misdemeanor allows for one of no longer than six months, and a class A misdemeanor allows for prison terms no longer than 364 days.


Crimes involving the distribution of drugs that are felonies have varying penalties associated with them. The penalties for felonies are found in Utah Code § 76-3-203.

A felony of the third degree cannot have a prison term that exceeds five years. Felonies in the second degree cannot have prison terms that exceed fifteen years, but the prison term must be at least one year. This would be the type of sentence someone convicted under the Clandestine Drug Lab Act would be facing. Finally, first-degree felonies have minimum prison sentences of five years with the possibility of life in prison. If you are convicted of the most serious drug distribution crimes, like running a large operation backed up with violent threats, then this is probably the kind of charge you will face.

Special Sentences for Minors

Some drug crimes have different sentencing guidelines for minors. For example, if someone under the age of 18 violates the Imitation Controlled Substance Act, the court has the option to order the minor to complete a screening, assessment, or “educational series” in addition to any other sentences per Utah Code § 58-37b-9.

Sometimes, you may be able to get a lower sentence in lieu of full charges if you are a minor. That may apply to your case, but that is never certain until you speak with our Utah criminal defense lawyers.

Talk to Our Utah Drug Defense Lawyers Now

Overson Law’s Utah drug crime defense lawyers are here to help when you call us at (801) 758-2287.