California Drug Laws and Penalties
In the state of California, being caught in possession or being under the influence of drug substances can result in serious consequences like heavy fines and jail time.
What is Possession?
Possession of drugs refers to the crime of possessing intoxicating substances that are under your control, either in the glove compartment of your car, in your pocket, in your home or even in the trash/on the sidewalk right outside. These can all lead to charges of possession, but if you are lucky and have an experienced lawyer fighting your case, there are chances that you will not be convicted.
Drug Possession Laws
Possession of controlled substances can lead to charges under the California’s Health and Safety Code Section 11350 and are considered a felony, unless you are caught merely under the influence of drugs, or found in possession of drug paraphernalia or marijuana. Serious drugs such as cocaine, heroin, meth and ecstasy lead to a felony charge, which entails at least a year of jail time.
Drug Possession Penalties
The amount and type of drugs found in your possession, and past criminal records if any, play a major role in deciding the ultimate sentence and penalties. For instance, being found in possession of small quantities of marijuana may not lead to heavy penalties, but possession of cocaine and heroin will definitely cause trouble.
Classification of Possession Crimes
Classifications of drug possession crimes in the state of California vary from infractions that are considered the least serious and do not even include jail time, to misdemeanors that involve a whole year of jail time, all the way to felonies that sentence the individual charged with possession to more than a year of jail time if convicted.
Controlled Dangerous Substances (CDS)
In the state of California, the classification of controlled drug substances is divided into 6 schedules, where schedule I entails drugs such as opiates or marijuana, schedule II entails drugs such as raw opium and morphine, schedule III entails drugs such as pentobarbital and anabolic steroids, schedule IV entails drugs such as diazepam and zolpidem and schedule V entails drugs such as low doses of codeine.
If an individual is arrested for personal use of a controlled drug substance, it becomes necessary to act upon the situation as per the schedule it entails.
Possession of Schedule CDS
Possession of controlled substance, no matter the quantity or the schedule it entails, is considered a misdemeanor punishable by law with up to a year of jail time. However, the individual convicted for possession of controlled drug substances may be tried under proposition 47 where the penalties are reduced, but this is only available to individuals who are not previously or presently sex offenders or involved in violent crimes.
An offense that may be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor is referred to as a wobbler. Individuals who are not convicted with misdemeanors are likely to be charged with implications of a wobbler or a felony, depending on the controlled drug substance and the amount that was caught in their possession.
Possession of Marijuana
The possession of marijuana is subject to punishment based on the amount of the controlled drug substance caught in the offender’s possession, and whether it is for personal use or distribution. We’ll look at the penalties for marijuana possession charges in more detail below:
Possession for Personal Use – If not more than 28.5 grams is caught and it is for personal use or being delivered as a gift, then only a $100 fine applies. Anyone under 18 being caught with less than 28.5 grams of marijuana will face a fine of $250, with repeat offenses being fined $500 and allotment of 10 days in a juvenile facility.
If the individual convicted is over the age of 18 and is caught either within school grounds or during school hours, he/she also faces incarceration of up to ten days and a fine of $500.
Cultivation, Sale/Delivery – If the intent is to distribute any amount of marijuana or its cultivation, these are treated as felony offenses for which the penalty is jail time of 16 months to 3 years. The sale/delivery of marijuana in any amount, on the other hand, leads to 2-4 years of jail time and may also incur civil damages.
If the individual is over 18 and selling/delivering to someone between 14-17 years of age, they face a felony charge with 3-5 years of jail time (3-7 years if they’re delivering marijuana with/without compensation to someone under 14). The use of a minor in marijuana sale/transport and encouraging marijuana use in minors are felonies, with 3-7 years of jail time.
Hash and Concentrates – An individual is convicted for incarceration if unlawful marijuana (hash or other concentrates) is caught in their possession, subject to jail time of a year and a fine of $500 payable.
Unauthorized manufacture of these substances leads to 16 months to 3 years of jail time in addition to a $500 penalty fine, and chemical manufacture can lead to 3-7 years of incarceration with a fine of $50,000.
Paraphernalia – There is no penalty for simple possession of paraphernalia, but the sale, delivery and possession with intent /manufacture with intent of marijuana paraphernalia are treated as misdemeanors, with 15 days to 6 months of jail time and $500 in fines. If a minor (at least 3 years junior to the offender) is involved, the misdemeanor brings with it a year of jail time and $1000 fine.
More about Sentencing for Possession Crimes
An individual’s property and vehicles may be seized and become property of the state in cases of controlled substance violations, and they may also lose their driving privileges if convicted. Loitering in public spaces with intent to commit drug-related offenses is treated as a misdemeanor, and any violations of the California Uniform Controlled Substances Act, like possession of methamphetamine, will lead to fines of $150 in addition to authorized penalty fines.
The aim of the drug courts is to ideally reform drug abusers into law abiding citizens. Probation under Proposition 36 may keep individuals out of prison for minor drug offenses, if they were found in possession of or under the influence of marijuana for personal use, simply present in a room where a marijuana violation took place or were cultivating marijuana for personal use and no narcotics/restricted substance was involved.
Convicted felons with violent criminal records or controlled substances violations do not qualify for deferred entry of judgement. If violence was involved, the offender had parole/probation revoked in the past, had felony convictions or completed deferred entry within 5 years of charged violation, he/she would not be eligible for deferred entry of judgement either.
A first time drug offender may serve a period of probation thanks to the deferred entry of judgement, by pleading guilty and getting charged with a mere 6 months of drug treatment, so make sure to get in touch with an experienced and reliable attorney if you’re facing a possession charge.