Arizona Drug Possession Laws

Arizona law is clear: you cannot knowingly possess or use illegal drugs. If you are discovered under the influence, or with drugs on or near you, it’s likely you’ll be charged with felony drug possession.

The state’s drug laws are very detailed, listing the type and quantity of drugs that are prohibited, as well as the corresponding punishment. Drug possession penalties in Arizona depend on the type of substance possessed, prior criminal history, and whether you’re being charge for personal-use simple possession or possession with intent to sale. Here’s what you need to know drug possession laws in Arizona.

Overview of Arizona Drug Possession Laws

Below, you will find key provisions of Arizona’s drug possession laws.

Arizona Statutes

  • Arizona Revised Statutes Title 13, Chapter 34, Sections 3401 - 3421 et. seq."

Possible Penalties

  • Dangerous Drug
    • Class 4 felony, if not previously convicted of a felony and the drug was not meth or another type of amphetamine, possible reduction Class 1 misdemeanor
    • Fine of not less than $2000 or 3 times the value of substance, whichever is greater
    • 0 to 1 year in jail if no priors, or up to 3.75 years in prison if prior convictions.
  • Narcotic (cocaine)
    • Class 4 felony, if not previously convicted of a felony, possible reduction Class 1 misdemeanor
    • Fine of not less than $2000 or 3 times the value of substance, whichever is greater
    • 0 to 1 year in jail if no priors, up to 15 years with 2 prior convictions
  • Marijuana (less than 2lbs)
    • Class 6 felony if it’s found to be for personal use, but can be reduced to a misdemeanor; Class 5 felony if it was personally produced; Class 4 felony if it’s for sale
    • Fine of not less than $2000 or 3 times the value of substance, whichever is greater
    • 0 to 1 year in jail if no priors, up to 3.75 with prior convictions

Defenses

  •  
    • Lack of Knowledge
    • Illegal Search
    • Valid Prescription
    • Religious Purpose
    • Entrapment

Note: State laws are always subject to change. It’s important to verify the laws you’re researching by conducting your own research or consulting with a qualified Arizona criminal defense attorney.

Classification of Drugs in Arizona

State law divides illegal drugs, referred to as controlled dangerous substances (CDS), into 6 categories: marijuana, peyote, prescription drugs, dangerous drugs, narcotic drugs and substances that emit toxic vapors. Although medical marijuana is legal in Arizona, the recreational use of marijuana, possession with intent to sell, and the non-medical cultivation of marijuana are still serious crimes.

There are “threshold levels” for CDS that, if met, create a presumption of sales. This exposes you to a mandatory prison term even without further evidence of sales, and regardless of a lack of prior criminal history. The law defines “threshold amount” as a weight, market value or other form of measurement of an unlawful substance as follows:

  • 1 gram of heroin
  • 9 grams of cocaine
  • 4 grams or 50 milliliters of PCP.
  • 9 grams of methamphetamine, including methamphetamine in liquid suspension.
  • 9 grams of amphetamine, including amphetamine in liquid suspension.
  • 2 pounds of marijuana.

Elements of the Crime

All crimes carry a burden of proof that must be established for a guilty verdict. The crime of possession of a narcotic drug requires the state prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the following two statements:

1. The defendant knowingly possessed a narcotic drug.

Simply being present where drugs are found is not enough for a conviction of possession. There must be evidence linking you to the drugs so it can reasonably be inferred that you knew about the drug’s existence. Plus, the prosecutor must show that you exercised control over the drugs. A ‘usable quantity’ is not an element of the possession offense nor necessary to sustain a conviction for possession.

2. The substance was in fact a narcotic drug.

The prosecutor also must clearly show that the recovered substance contains a recognized dangerous drug. The drug needs to be tested by a forensic scientist and that same scientist must later testify that the recovered substance is a dangerous drug.

Drug Possession Penalties

A conviction of any drug offense can seriously impact your life. In addition to fines and jail time, you can lose many public benefits. This includes any money or services provided by this state for scholarships or tuition waivers, welfare benefits, public housing or other subsidies.

After the Arizona passed Proposition 200, judges can no longer send first or second time nonviolent drug offenders to prison until their third conviction. The standard sentence is a term of probation and mandatory drug treatment (TASC Program). However, if probation is violated, a jail term can be imposed.

  • Marijuana (less than 2 pounds) fines and probation, with no days in jail to 5.75 years in prison depending on prior felonies convictions.
  • Marijuana (2 to 6 pounds) six months to 7.5 years in jail, plus fines.
  • Controlled Dangerous Drug (below threshold amount) when charged as a class 6 felony, 4 months to 2 years of jail and a $150,000 fine.

Drug Possession Defenses

Being charged with drug possession doesn’t mean that you will be convicted. There are a variety of defenses an attorney can raise on your behalf. Some defenses challenge the facts, testimony or evidence in the case; others target procedural errors, such as search and seizure violations; and there are affirmative defenses that negate criminal liability, such as the right to use. The following are some of the more common defenses to drug possession.

  • Lack of Knowledge/Use: The State must prove knowing possession of the narcotic drugs. You can’t be convicted if they didn’t know the drugs were there.
  • Illegal Search: The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees protects against unlawful search and seizure procedure. Drugs found in "plain view," such as a car's dashboard after a legal traffic stop, may be seized and used as evidence.
  • Medical Marijuana: For a state law charge, this is an affirmative defense for those arrested on possession charges of less than 2.5 ounces, and can show clear the drug came from a licensed medical marijuana dispensary, and defendant is a “qualifying patient”
  • Religious Use: This affirmative defense to peyote possession can be raised if it was used for religious purposes as part of a religious exercise, and did not pose a threat to the community.

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Being charged with any criminal offense is a frightening experience. After all, a conviction for can carry serious penalties and damage to your reputation. It may be tempting to accept the government’s offer to put the experience behind you. However, a criminal conviction can have a lasting effect. A criminal defense attorney will evaluate the evidence against you and develop a strategy for your case. If you're dealing with a criminal matter, it's in your best interest to receive a free case review from a local attorney to learn more about how the law applies in your case.

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