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California Drug Possession Laws

Overview of California Drug Possession Laws

California state laws include two broad categories for crimes of drug possession: simple possession and possession with the intent to sell. The California Health and Safety Code also separates offenses related to controlled substances formerly classified under state law as narcotics or "restricted dangerous drugs" from offenses related to marijuana. California laws also establish separate offenses related to phencyclidine (PCP) and methamphetamine.

A prosecutor can charge a defendant with simple possession when the defendant possessed one of the substances listed under the Health and Safety Code. The state has the authority to punish drug-related offenses according to the Section 1170 of the California Penal Code. A prosecutor may charge a defendant with "possession for sale" or "purchase for the purpose of sale" if the state believes that the defendant intended to engage in drug dealing. In addition, California law criminalizes the possession of specified ingredients that can be used to manufacture illegal substances such as PCP or methamphetamine.

Defenses to Drug Possession Charges

  • Medical necessity
  • Prescription issued by a doctor
  • Unlawful search resulting in seizure of drugs
  • Problem with lab analysis
  • Entrapment or improper police conduct

Penalties and Sentences

California sets penalties for drug possession that vary depending on the type of drug, the amount of the drug, and the purpose for which the defendant had possession of the drug. Possession of a controlled substance might lead to a sentence of imprisonment in county jail for up to one year, while possession for sale of a controlled substance might result in a sentence of imprisonment for a range of two to five years. If the prosecutor has charged the defendant with possession and transport of a controlled substance from one county to another, the potential punishment can range from a few years up to nine years of imprisonment.

Possession of marijuana results in separate penalties under California's drug possession laws. In general, a defendant who possessed less than 28.5 grams -- one ounce -- of marijuana which is not concentrated cannabis could face a fine in an amount up to $100. The state can impose additional fines or terms of imprisonment in county jail for various circumstances such as possession of an amount greater than 28.5 grams or possession in close proximity to a school. Possession for sale might result in prosecution as a felony, with a possible sentence of imprisonment ranging from sixteen months to three years.

Possession of ingredients used to manufacture PCP or methamphetamine, with the intent to manufacture either drug, can result in a felony sentence of two, four, or six years of imprisonment.

California Drug Possession Statutes

Uniform Controlled Substances Act: Offenses and Penalties (scroll down for sections)
Health and Safety Code Division 10, Chapter 6, Sections 11350-11651     

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

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