In the state of California, many state laws are in place to fight the different drug crimes that are committed in Los Angeles on a daily basis. Drug laws in the state are strict and could leave you spending many years in jail and paying hefty penalties. That is why it is critical for any person that is arrested and charged with a drug crime in Los Angeles to be quick to seek professional legal services. The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm is always ready to help if you feel that you were wrongly accused or the penalties you are facing will be more than you deserve.

What is Considered Drug Crimes in California?

The entire country today is fighting a war on drugs, and the state of California has not been left behind. California has invested a substantial amount of money and manpower to combat possession, manufacture as well as the distribution of illegal controlled drugs. Drug crimes in the state cover a broad spectrum of crimes, and their penalties vary greatly, depending on the type and the amount of drugs in question.

In the US in general, controlled drugs are stringently regulated under both state and federal drug laws. The law is mainly against possession, cultivation, manufacture, and distribution of illegal drugs. The crimes will also include falsely obtaining a drug prescription, selling prescription drugs to another person other than the one whom the drugs were prescribed to and selling prescription medicine to people without proper prescription.

You could face drug charges alone or with another person or other people. If you have had a small amount of marijuana, for instance, you might face charges of drug use/abuse alone. This means that no one can evade the possibility of being convicted of a drug crime if indeed you are involved with drugs, and this could affect both criminals and upstanding citizens in the state.

California Drug Policy

California drug policy discusses the system the state has on various types and classes of drugs. The state had, for instance, decriminalized possession of cannabis, which means that the drug will soon be legalized through a few changes in the legislation. Its sale and cultivation will, however, remain a criminal offense, alongside possession, manufacture, and sale of hard drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. When it comes to controlled substances in the state, such terms as prohibited and illegal do not consist of the purchase and authorized possession as portrayed in the related laws.

On 4th November 2014, California voters approved Proposition 47 that changed many things including reducing drug control for own use charges to a misdemeanor, excluding the cases where the offender had more than an ounce of marijuana.

The specific drugs included in the state’s drug policy are:


In California, alcohol is only permissible for adults who are 21 years and above. These are the people allowed to possess, buy, and consume alcohol. The sale of liquor in the state is highly regulated, and sellers must have a license from their county before they can sell it in their stores, restaurants, or bars.


Amphetamine, dimethylamphetamine, and methamphetamine are under Schedule 2 on the State’s Uniform Controlled Substances Act, which is a part of the Health and Safety statute in California. Possession of methamphetamine for sale is illegal under Section 11378 of the Health and Safety statute. When it comes to amphetamines, offenders with prior criminal convictions will be convicted of Section 11377 of the Health and Safety law. Those found guilty of controlling amphetamines for sale will receive a sentence of up to four years in state prison. Harsh penalties are usually given to those who are found guilty of producing amphetamines.


All forms of cannabis, together with its preparation and tetrahydrocannabinol, its derivative are classified under Schedule 1 drugs on the state’s Uniform Controlled Substances Act. In November 2016, voters in California approved an initiative that legalized the use of marijuana for recreational purposes through an Act called Adult Use of Marijuana.


Cocaine, crack, coca leaves, and other derivatives of cocaine are classified under Schedule 2 on the Uniform Controlled Substances Act. It is illegal to control cocaine in California, as provided under Section 11350 of the state's Health and Safety statute. Cocaine possession under Section 11350 was charged as a felony or misdemeanor in the past and was punishable with a maximum of three years in state prison. However, under Proposition 47, simple possession of cocaine for individual use is only charged as a misdemeanor. Note that people charged with possession of cocaine are allowed to take a guilty plea, which gives them zero time in jail as per Section 1000 of California Penal Code, Prop 36. They could also get supervised probation.

Heroin and all other Opiates

Heroin is classified under Schedule 1 of the state's Uniform Controlled Substances law. It is a crime to possess heroin as provided under Section 11350 of California Health and Safety law. The crime of possession of heroin can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor. As a felony, an offender might get a maximum of three years in state prison. Possessing heroin for sale is prohibited too and could get you two, three, or four years in state prison.


Ketamine is under Schedule 3. In California, it is a crime to possess ketamine, an offense that is charged as a misdemeanor, attracting a sentence of up to six months of incarceration and a fine of not more than $1000. A person found in possession of ketamine is allowed to take a guilty plea and not get a jail sentence or get supervised felony probation. If you have a prior record of the same or similar drug crime, you may get a smaller jail term of one, three, or six months plus felony probation. Possessing ketamine for sale is banned too, and the offense could be charged as a felony or misdemeanor. If you get a felony conviction, you might end up facing 16 months, two or up to three years, plus a fine of not more than $10,000.


Methylenedioxymethamphetamine is a Schedule 1 type of drug on the state’s law on Uniform Controlled Substances. Possessing the drug for individual use and sale is illegal in California. If you are found guilty of possessing MDMA for trafficking, you might get up to four years of imprisonment.

Nicotine and Other Tobacco Products

All products that have nicotine, including cigarettes, tobacco, chewing tobacco, and cigars are only permissible for adults aged 21 years and above. Only they can possess, consume, and purchase these drugs. Sale of drugs containing nicotine is, however, regulated in the state and can only be done through licensing.

Psilocybin or mushrooms

Psilocybin and its processed counterparts are all under Schedule 1 on the state’s law on Uniform Controlled Substances. It is prohibited to possess, buy, sell, import, give away or trade mushrooms containing psilocin and psilocybin, plus psilocybin mushroom spores, especially if the primary intention is to cultivate it. Growing mushrooms containing psilocybin is the same as manufacturing controlled substance.

Other illegal drugs in California include:

  • Lysergic acid diethylamide
  • Phencyclidine
  • Anabolic steroids

Types of Drug Crimes in California

There are several types of drug crimes that you could be charged within California, depending on the type of illegal drug you have been found to possess, how much of that drug you had and what your intention with the drug was. The most common drug crimes are:

Possession of Drug Paraphernalia

Contrary to what many societies believe, it is not a must you get caught with a controlled substance to face drug crime charges. In California, it is illegal to be found in custody of drug paraphernalia. Section 11364 of the state's Health and Safety law provides that being found in custody of drug equipment is a crime that could send you to jail if you are convicted.

For a person to be found guilty of this offense, the prosecutor must prove that:

  • They possessed something that is used to prepare, smoke, inhale, inject, or conceal an illegal substance. Note that paraphernalia could also be used to refer to an object that is used to produce drugs.
  • They knew about the presence of that object
  • They were aware that the item was to be used to inject or smoke illegal drugs

Drug paraphernalia, in this case, could be objects such as needles, bongs, crack pipes, rolling papers, and anything else that could be used to inject drugs, such as soda cans, pens, and other stuff that could pass as innocent.

If you are arrested for this offense, you will be facing a misdemeanor charge. If convicted, you will be sentenced to a maximum of six months behind bars. The law obliges anyone found guilty of this crime to serve 15 days behind bars at the minimum. In addition to your sentence, the judge may decide to impose a mandatory drug diversion program, which will prevent you from getting a lasting criminal record on your name.

Possession of a Controlled Substance

Possession of a controlled substance without a proper prescription is illegal in California, as provided under Section 11350(a) of the state's Health and Safety statute. A controlled substance, in this case, will be an illegal drug or a legal drug that must be issued out only with a valid prescription. To be convicted of this crime, the prosecutor must prove the following:

  • That the accused was in illegal possession of a controlled substance
  • That they knew about the presence of the drugs
  • That they knew the nature of the substance and its character as a controlled drug
  • That the controlled substance was in a usable amount

Possession of a controlled drug is a misdemeanor in California and is punishable by a maximum of 364 days in jail. The offender could be placed on parole or probation, which could subject them to random drug tests and searches by law enforcement officers.

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the case, a person could be charged with a felony, which is punishable with 16 months, two years, or even three years of prison time.

If the drug in question is marijuana, note that nearly all possessions and cultivation of the drug are illegal in California. There are, however, different sections of the law that regulate criminal conduct about marijuana as follows:

Possession of marijuana for individual use

If you are found to possess one ounce of marijuana or less, you are a minor offender. The law will treat this as a misdemeanor, and the punishment will be a fine of not more than $1000. The court might not impose any incarceration for the offender.

If you what had was more than one ounce of the drug, you could face more severe punishment. Penalties could include a six months jail term and a fine of up to $500, or both the fine and incarceration.

An offender in both crimes above can participate in a diversion program or Proposition 36 to avoid facing a conviction. They could also plead guilty of the offense to avoid a conviction.

Possession of one ounce of marijuana or less, in a car, while driving will be charged under Section 23222 of California Vehicle Code. First-time offenders may be allowed by the court not to enter a plea to avoid a conviction. The offender can also be allowed to complete a diversion program that consists of 15 AA or NA classes plus a tour to a morgue. Once they complete the program, their case may be dismissed.

Growing marijuana for own use is also illegal, but a first-time offender can be allowed to take part in a drug change program as per Section 1000 of the California Penal Code. However, you should not have the intention to sell marijuana.

Possession of marijuana for sale is illegal and a felony offense. The amount of the drug that is sold doesn’t matter as all sales are considered a felony under Section 11359 of the state's Health and Safety law.

Manufacturing/Delivering Illegal Drugs

This crime involves every step that is taken in the production of an illegal substance. Both the manufacturing and delivery of illicit drugs are considered as crimes under federal and state laws. The cultivation and manufacturing of such drugs as marijuana or methamphetamine is a serious offense in California. This means that people who sell specialized equipment, certain precursor chemicals, or those who take part in the production of drugs could be charged with this crime.

Production of illegal drugs is a felony, punishable by prison time, severe fines, and sometimes probation. If you are convicted of manufacturing and delivering illegal substances near a playground or school, your fines and prison time could be doubled.

To be convicted of this crime, the prosecutor will be required to prove the following:

  • You had the said drugs
  • You intended to manufacture the drugs

Drug Trafficking

Drug trafficking and distribution involve importing, selling, and transporting illegal substances like cocaine and marijuana. Drug trafficking is a felony offense and is considered more serious than mere possession since in most cases; it involves the transportation of large amounts of drugs.

Under Section 11379 of the California Health and Safety law, unlawfully selling, transporting, exporting, importing, distributing or giving away a controlled substance is illegal. A controlled substance, in this case, will either be an illegal substance or a legally prescribed medicine.

Drug trafficking is punishable by incarceration for two, three, or four years, with a fine of not more than $10000.

Several factors could heighten your drug trafficking sentence, such as:

  • If you were found guilty of trafficking drugs on the grounds or within 1000 feet of a detox facility, drug treatment center, or a homeless shelter. In this case, you will get an additional year to your underlying sentence.
  • If you are found guilty of trafficking drugs across two or more counties within the state. This will increase your sentence to up to nine years of incarceration
  • If the number of drugs you were trafficking was more than one kilogram. This gives you an additional penalty of between 3 and 15 years in state prison.
  • If you are found guilty of soliciting, encouraging, hiring, inducing or intimidating a minor under the age of 18 to distribute, sell, or transport drugs. This will give you an additional sentence of up to nine years in state prison.

Drug Dealing

This entails the selling of illegal drugs on a small scale. Drug trafficking and drug dealing are closely related only that trafficking involves more substantial amounts of drugs. Drug dealing is also a one-person show, unlike drug trafficking, which could involve more than one person.

Drug dealing is a serious crime too, but its punishments are not as severe as those of drug traffickers.  Selling less than 50 grams amount of drugs like marijuana could attract a sentence of five years in state prison and a fine that could go up to $250,000. A higher sale of 1000 kilograms or more can give you a prison sentence of up to 10 years, and sometimes life imprisonment.

Possible Defenses for Drug Crimes

Any drug crime is considered a serious offense in California, however minor it may seem. Anyone facing a drug crime charge is, therefore, better off seeking the help of a professional criminal defense attorney. The good thing is that there are several defense strategies that a smart attorney could utilize to have your case dismissed or charges dropped, even if you are facing the most serious drug charge in the state. Some of these strategies include:

Illegal search and seizure

Search, and seizure is quite common in drug cases. It is not easy for law enforcement officers to find drugs or drug paraphernalia if they are not searching the suspected drug dealers. However, The Fourth Amendment of the country's constitution makes it illegal for any person to be subjected to an unreasonable search and seizure. The police need probable cause to search. If the search was done illegally, the case could easily be dismissed.

Lack of drug possession

This is a common defense strategy too, where the accused says that the drugs that were found in their possession did not belong to them. Your attorney might succeed in this defense if there were more than one person present at the time the drugs were found. The prosecutor will have a hard time proving to the court that the drugs belonged to the accused.

Violation of Miranda rights

When you are arrested, and the police take your statement before they read your Miranda rights, the statements you could have given will not be used against you in court. The 5th Amendment of the US Constitution requires every person in police custody to be told about their rights to remain silent so as not to incriminate themselves.

No proof of knowledge or intent

For a person to be convicted of a drug crime, the prosecutor must prove to the court that the person was aware that they possessed illegal drugs and that they had the intention of using, selling, distributing or manufacturing drugs, depending on the case at hand. If the prosecutor is not able to prove that the accused knew about the drugs and their intent, the charges may be dropped.

Absence of the actual drugs

The prosecutor is expected by the court to produce the actual drugs that were found on the accused. If you are facing drug charges and the prosecutor no longer has the actual drugs, your charges are likely to be dropped. 

Find The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm Near Me

If you or your loved one is facing drug crime charges, it may not be easy to prove your innocence in the absence of a competent criminal defense attorney. The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm has a highly skilled and experienced team of criminal defense attorneys who are willing to listen to you and plan an effective defense against the drug charges you are facing. Call us at 310-935-1675 and let us handle your case.