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California Drug Distribution Laws

Overview of California Drug Distribution Laws

California's drug distribution laws broadly criminalize the sale, transport, transfer, and import of controlled substances, illegal drugs, and marijuana. Drug distribution crimes may include prescription drugs if the defendant did not have a license to dispense the drugs or improperly sold the drugs. A prosecutor might pursue criminal charges against an individual or group engaging in the sale of drugs in a community, the transport of drugs from one county to another, or the import of drugs.

For a charge of drug distribution such as sale or transport, a prosecutor must be able to differentiate the defendant's conduct from possession of drugs for personal use. The prosecutor may try to establish the state's case by introducing evidence of drug sales or distribution. This evidence might include the amount of drugs attributed to the defendant and items such as packaging materials, scales, weapons, and other paraphernalia that may show possession for sale rather than personal use.

California state laws especially seek to protect minors from the sale of drugs as well as from participation in drug distribution activities. Accordingly, state law includes enhancements to further penalize adults who involve minors in drug-related activities such as distribution or trafficking, who conduct drug-related activities in close proximity to schools or other areas designated for children, or who directly sell drugs to minors.

The state laws regarding drug distribution and trafficking also further penalize defendants who have been convicted previously for drug-related felony offenses.

Defenses to Drug Distribution Charges

  • Possession for personal use
  • Entrapment

Penalties and Sentences

The penalties available for a conviction on drug distribution or trafficking charges depend on the type of drug, the activity, the defendant's prior criminal record, and any applicable sentencing enhancements permitted by California law.

Transport, import, transfer, or sale of controlled substances may result in felony sentencing of three to five years. Transport from one California county to a non-contiguous county can result in an increased sentence of three to nine years of imprisonment. Crimes involving the hiring or employment of minors to sell or distribute controlled substances, or the sale of controlled substances to minors, can result in sentences of three, six, or nine years in state prison. California law also includes a sentencing enhancement when drug-related distribution activities occur within 1,000 feet of schools, school-related programs, or playgrounds during operational hours.

Transport, import, transfer, or sale of marijuana may result in felony sentencing for imprisonment lasting two, three, or four years. California law includes an exception when the amount of marijuana involved is less than 28.5 grams, the equivalent of one ounce, and the marijuana is not concentrated cannabis. Under this exception, a defendant charged with a crime related to marijuana distribution may receive a misdemeanor penalty of a fine that cannot exceed $100.

California law also criminalizes the transport, import, transfer, or sale of chemicals used as ingredients for the manufacture of phencyclidine (PCP) and methamphetamine, or the transport, import, transfer, or sale of the drugs themselves. Conviction may result in sentences of imprisonment lasting sixteen months to six years. In addition, state law allows the prosecutor to pursue increased punishments if the defendant has committed prior offenses.

California Drug Distribution Laws: Statute

Uniform Controlled Substances Act (California Health & Safety Code, Division 10, Chapter -- scroll down for sections)

Note: State laws are constantly changing - please contact a California drug crime attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.  

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