A drug conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to commit drug crime. There does not need to be a formal agreement between the two people; rather all that is needed is a simple understanding between them.
Most federal drug conspiracies are brought under 21 U.S.C. § 846. So long as the intended crime is to sell, distribute, or to possess with intent to distribute a drug or narcotic substance, then the government can charge the members of this conspiracy (also known as co-conspirators) with a violation of this statute.
If the government can show a conspiracy exists, then it must also establish that at least one person did an overt in furtherance of the conspiracy. In the drug conspiracy context this can be done in many ways: 1) acting as a lookout for a transaction; 2) working or living in a stash house location; 3) carrying large sums of money from one place to another; 4) conducting drug-related transactions; or 5) simply providing information that assists another co-conspirator.
Since conspiracy is simply an agreement, members can be charged even though they are not major participants in the conspiracy or don’t know all the other members of the conspiracy.
Normally, the government will use a confidential informant (“CI”) or cooperating source (“CS”) to begin this type of investigation. A CI or CS is an individual who is cooperating or working with the government for leniency on their own legal matter (that may or may not be related to the conspiracy), or they are being paid to do so. The government will use the CI or CS to conduct some small drug deals and try to work from the bottom up.
Many federal drug conspiracy investigations begin with the government targeting low-level or minor participants. Many times, the low-level or minor participants are willing to plea and agree to cooperate with the government in order to obtain a more lenient sentence down the line. However, in doing so, many of these people do not understand the rights they are giving up, nor do they understand the position they’ve put themselves in.
The answer is no. The government only needs to prove that the person possessed or distributed a controlled substance. It does not have to prove the person knew the substance was cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, or crack cocaine.