Since 2016 when California legalized weed, state law allows the legal use of medical and recreational marijuana. Even with it being legal in the state, there are still regulations in place for possession, purchasing, and selling. California has very specific drug laws, for marijuana and other substances, so it’s worth it to understand these laws and penalties so you can enjoy all of what California has to offer and avoid any trouble with the law.

Here we’ve composed a guide to help understand more about California’s drug laws.

Drug Possession Laws

State laws in California have two large categories for crimes of drug possession: simple possession or possession with the purpose to sell. Controlled substances formerly classified under the state law as narcotics (or “restricted dangerous drugs”) have separate offenses to those related to marijuana, as well as offenses related to phencyclidine (PCP) and methamphetamine.

Misdemeanor vs Felony

Drug Possession Misdemeanors

The judgment of a misdemeanor versus a felony is usually dependent based on the amount of drugs, the type of drugs, and looking at any prior convictions. When you’re faced with a misdemeanor charge, a drug diversion program could help have your charges be dismissed or lessened, depending on your case and when rehab is completed.

Drug Possession Felonies

Compared to other states, California approaches drug felonies differently. Drug charges and enforcing punishments are decided on a crime-by-crime basis. When treated as a felony, a case considers many factors like the classification of the drug, possession in conjunction with other circumstances, or if combined with other charges.

Possession of a Controlled Substance

There are three different ways that you can be charged with possession in California. The laws are very complex, but take all circumstances into consideration.

Actual Possession: Actual possession is when any drugs are found on your body, like in a pocket or sock.

Constructive Possession: Constructive possession means you can potentially be charged if you have hidden your drugs in a place that is accessible, like a purse, backpack, or in a secret spot in your house. To be charged with constructive possession, the prosecution must prove the drug was in your control. It must be clear that the drugs are yours specifically.

Joint Possession: Joint possession happens when two or more individuals are in possession of the drugs where both parties have access. This also means if you and another person were involved in the purchase of the drugs together, it could fall under joint possession.

California Drug Schedules

The schedules that California state law are similar to those under federal law. Each substance in a schedule faces increasing penalties. Schedule V drugs will carry out more light penalties, whereas Schedule I drugs have much more severe penalties.

    • Schedule V: Drugs under Schedule V carry the lowest penalties in comparison to other schedules. Most of these drugs are legal with a prescription, and less addictive in comparison to other substances. Schedule V substances include:
      • Codeine
      • Dihydrocodeine
      • Ethylmorphine
      • Diphenoxylate
      • Difenoxin
      • Buprenorphine
  • Schedule IV: Similar to Schedule V drugs, Schedule IV substances also are legal with a prescription, but are more addictive. Substances that are Schedule IV are:
      • Xanax
      • Ativan
      • Fenfluramine
      • Ambien
      • Pemoline
      • Tramadol
  • Schedule III: There is little medicinal use with Schedule III drugs, and typically much more addictive than substances in Schedule IV or V. This schedule covers a large range, and includes anything from stimulants to steroids, such as:
      • Steroids
      • Testosterone
      • Ketamine
      • Benzphetamine
      • Clortermine
      • Mazindol
      • Pentobarbital
      • Nalorphine
  • Schedule II: Substances in Schedule III have very few, if any at all, medicinal uses. These drugs all produce a significant risk of addiction, dependency, abuse, and are much more dangerous in all capacities. Along with stimulants and depressants, Schedule II includes a variety of opiates:
      • Methamphetamine
      • Amphetamine
      • Barbitals
      • Opium
      • Ritalin
      • Adderall
      • Codeine
      • Hydrocodone
      • OxyContin
      • Cocaine
      • Vicodin
      • Morphine
  • Schedule I: Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous or addictive substances, and offer no accepted medical use. These types of substances are most likely to lead to dependency or abuse. Schedule I drugs carry the harshest consequences of all the schedules, and are made up of opiates, hallucinogens, and depressants:
    • Ecstasy
    • Heroin
    • PCP
    • Peyote
    • Mescaline
    • Marijuana

Possession With Intent to Sell a Controlled Substance

California drug laws are much more focused on helping those find recovery through rehabilitation centers or other drug treatment services rather than serve prison time, but possession with the intent to sell is a serious offense. A simple possession charge that may lead to a misdemeanor, but having drugs to sell is a felony. Felony charges include 2-4 years in prison and/or have high fees up to $20,000, and on top of having a felony charge you can potentially ruin future opportunities in life.

Possessing Paraphernalia

Paraphernalia is any item used to inject, smoke, produce, or administer any illegal substances, such as a cooking spoon, syringes, or tourniquets. Possession of these in California will charge a criminal misdemeanor and mean spending up to six months in county jail, and/or fines up to $1,000.

Find The Best Drug Crime Lawyer For Your Case in California

By understanding California’s drug laws more comprehensively, you can have a better idea when facing a drug charge and know what penalties you may potentially face. Felonies carry a lot more weight than just jail time alone, and extend into making other areas of life much more difficult in the long run. It can be much harder to find housing, maintain employment, and even can be detrimental to personal relationships.

At Hann Law Firm in San Jose, California, we can help you tackle the criminal charges against you with our trusted criminal defense lawyers. You do have control over your defense, and we’re here to help you through your case and protect your rights. 

Contact us today for experienced, skilled counsel, so you can face your challenges head-on with the support you need.

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