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California Drug Laws

California is one of the most liberating states in terms of creativity, self-expression, and enjoying all the natural wonders the Golden State has to offer.  And when it comes to “all-natural,” Californians enjoy great freedoms when it comes to harnessing the medical and recreational benefits of marijuana. 

Since it was legalized in California in 2016, the law permits the legal use of medical and recreational marijuana. Nonetheless, there are still marijuana laws and regulations around possession, purchasing, and selling in the state of which to be aware. 

Moreover, California drug laws are very specific about the use and possession of substances other than weed.  This article is a guide to California drug laws and penalties as well as what to know about California drug testing laws so you can enjoy the best of La Jolla while adhering to the law.

What You Need to Know About California Drug Laws

Being in possession of illegal drugs like cocaine or heroin and controlled substances such as prescription drugs not obtained by a medical prescription is against the law in California. If you are caught in the state while possessing suspicious amounts of illegal or controlled substances, you could be facing legal consequences.

In the past, possession of illegal or controlled substances was charged as a felony in the state of California.  However, California voters passed Proposition 47 in 2014, which categorizes possession as a low-level misdemeanor crime. 

A misdemeanor might not sound like a big deal, but even this lesser charge could mean big challenges for your future.  Long-term repercussions for possession could mean limitations on your ability to get a job or retain current employment. And while California drug screening laws don’t require employers to drug test, you may be subject to one if you have been charged with a misdemeanor drug charge. 

A misdemeanor can also thwart your ability to rent an apartment, or getting financial aid for college. What’s more, if you are caught with a significant amount of illegal substances, you may be subject to harsher sentencing according to California drug trafficking laws.  

Additionally, being convicted of an illegal drug charge could mean big altercations for your family. In some instances, the conviction could jeopardize child custody. At the very least, CPS drug testing law in California requires parents with drug convictions to be drug screened as a part of proving fitness for parenthood. 

California Drug Laws

Prescription drugs are legal in California as long as you have a valid, lawful prescription.  Marijuana is also legal in the state. As of November 2016, voters of California passed Prop 64, which decriminalized the recreational use of marijuana.  That means that weed and all of its derivatives are legal to buy, possess and consume in the Golden State. 

While pot is legal in Cali, it’s not a free-for-all.  There are some rules about marijuana in California such as, you must be over 21 years of age (or 18 with medical permission). Possession of over 28.5 grams of marijuana and 8 grams of concentrated cannabis is illegal. You can’t smoke in public places, or cross the state line with marijuana. 

What Drugs Are Illegal in California?

The state of California has six schedules (or tiers) of controlled substances, and most of them are illegal without a valid, legal prescription. According to California Health and Safety Codes here are some (but not all) drugs considered illegal to possess in the state of California without a lawful medical prescription.

Opiates are painkillers and are considered Schedule I drugs. Many opioid rehab centers can attest that these controlled substances can be incredibly addictive and have a high potential for abuse. As such, these drugs are deemed unsafe, and illegal except with clear permission and prescription from a medical professional.   Other illegal Schedule I drugs include heroin, methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote.

Meth and cocaine are examples of Schedule II drugs that are also illegal. Other Schedule II drugs are illegal, but are used for medical purposes such as hydromorphone known as Dilaudid, hydrocodone, known as Vicodin, and oxycodone known as OxyContin. These and other medically approved drugs are illegal to possess and use in the state of California without medical treatment, a valid prescription and/or supervision from a physician. 

Other drugs that are less addictive, may still be illegal if possessed in large quantities and suspected to be used in the production of other illegal drugs.  Some of these drugs include, barbital, benzphetamine, and codeine. These and other less-addictive controlled substances require medical consent and/or a prescription to possess.

What Amount of Drugs Is Considered a Felony in California?

California Drug Laws

Anyone possessing or selling a substance containing heroin over 14.25 grams can be convicted of a felony. For more information, you can consult the California Uniform Controlled Substances Act which clearly defines narcotic drugs whose possession could result in a drug felony. 

If caught with copious amounts of illicit drugs and/or controlled substances, then a felony charge is a likely judgment. Furthermore, drug possession involving police seizure of large amounts can lead to drug trafficking charges which is a felony. In some instances, a felony charge might be reduced to a misdemeanor if the accused agrees to commit him or herself to rehab centers in San Diego or other accredited drug treatment programs in California.

When Is Drug Possession Considered a Misdemeanor?

In most cases, the judgment of misdemeanor versus felony in drug possession is contingent upon the amount of drugs, type of drugs and if there are any prior drug convictions.  For example, if you are caught in possession over the legal limit of weed, and it’s a first-time offense, it will likely result in a misdemeanor charge. Alternatively, if you have several prior convictions, or there are “aggravating conditions” involved such as firearms upon arrest, a drug possession could result in a felony. 

If you’re faced with a misdemeanor charge, entering a drug diversion program could lessen the consequences. To explain, accepting drug treatment requires you to plead guilty to possession. The drug possession charge and sentencing is then delayed while you undergo a drug treatment center in California. If the drug rehab or treatment is fully completed, you may be able to have the charges dismissed or lessened, depending upon your case.

When Is Drug Possession Considered a Felony?

California state approaches drug felonies differently than most other states. Lawmakers decree drug charges and enforce punishment on a crime-by-crime basis. For example, in some instances, possessing over-legal amounts of certain drugs could be charged as a misdemeanor. Alternatively, depending upon the type of drug, the amount and surrounding circumstances, possession could be charged as a felony. 

When it comes to a drug possession being treated as a felony, various factors are considered such as, 1) The narcotic classification or type of drug involved. 2) Possession in conjunction with “aggravating circumstances” such as firearms or violence involved. 3) If possession is combined with other charges like a clear intent to sell, driving under the influence, or transporting drugs illegally. 

Possession of a Controlled Substance

California drug laws are complex, and take into account many different scenarios.  For instance, you might think that if a law enforcement agency catches you physically holding onto controlled substances, then that leads to a possession of a controlled substance charge. In reality, there are three different ways Californians can be charged with possession, and here is an explanation of each scenario.

Actual Possession

This is what most people think about when dealing with possession. Actual possession is when drugs are physically found on your person, like in your shirt pocket.

Constructive Possession

Under constructive possession, you could be charged if drugs are found stashed somewhere that is easily accessible such as in your nearby backpack, your car or within reach under your couch pillow.  Constructive possession gets tricky because the prosecution must prove that the drug was in your “dominion of control.” This means that it must be clear that the drugs in your footlocker or wherever were legitimately yours, and easily retrieved so you could have physical possession.

Joint Possession 

This is a combination of the aforementioned two types of possession when two or more people are in possession of the drugs.  Joint possession happens when drugs are found in a shared space where both parties have access to them (constructive possession).  Additionally, if you and someone you know go in on a drug purchase together, this could also be construed as joint possession.

Possession for Sale of a Controlled Substance

Although California drug laws are focused more on recovery such as offered by centers for detox in San Diego or other drug treatment services in the area rather than serving prison time – possession for sale charges is a serious offense. In fact, unlike simple possession charges which typically amount to a misdemeanor charge, intent to sell illegal drugs is a felony. A felony charge could result in 2-4 years in prison and/or hefty fees up to $20,000. Not to mention, being charged with a felony crime will haunt your record for the rest of your life.

Transportation of a Controlled Substance

California drug trafficking laws can’t be taken lightly, and if you think transportation of a controlled substance is only for mega-trafficking operations, you’d be wrong. In reality, you could be charged for transporting drugs for something as simple as walking on the beach with a controlled substance in the pocket of your jeans.

While personal possession of a controlled substance (in many cases) is a minor infraction, the sale or transportation of a controlled substance is a felony.  If charged, you could face penalties if convicted such as jail time and hefty fines. 

Moreover, transporting illegal drugs from one county in California to another non-contiguous county (such as San Diego to San Bernardino County), the penalties and jail time are greatly increased. Lastly, transporting controlled substances across the California state border is a federal offense that poses extremes in penalties and punishments if convicted.

Possession of Paraphernalia

California Drug Laws

Paraphernalia are any items that are used to inject, smoke, produce or administer illegal substances. Some examples include cooking spoons, syringes, or tourniquets. You might be surprised to learn that possession of drug paraphernalia, in some cases, could mean more stringent penalties than if you’re caught with some other controlled substances.

Possession of drug paraphernalia in California is considered a criminal misdemeanor. If convicted, you could be facing up to six months of county jail time, a fine of up to $1000 or both penalties combined.

Possession of Heroin

Heroin is a Schedule I drug, and under the “personal possession of a controlled substance” law, possession of heroin is considered a felony crime. A conviction of heroin possession could lead to up to three years in state prison and a fine of up to $20,000. These penalties could increase if additional “aggravating factors” are in place at the time of the arrest.

Possession of Methamphetamine

In the state of California, possession of methamphetamine (meth) is illegal. A conviction could lead to a fine of up to $1000 and one year in prison or both. However, if you have previous convictions for “serious” crimes, conviction of meth possession could increase penalties to up to three years in prison and fines up to $10,000.

Possession of Vicodin

Vicodin, also known as Hydrocodone, is a Schedule II drug. It is illegal to possess without a valid medical prescription. If convicted, illegal possession of Vicodin could result in a fine as high as $20,000 and one year in county jail. As will all other illegal possession charges, these penalties are subject to be more severe if you have previous convictions.

Possession of Cocaine

It is illegal to be in possession of cocaine, which is a Schedule II drug. It is also illegal to possess cocaine with the purpose to sell or participate in drug trafficking of the drug. Furthermore, operating under the influence of cocaine is also illegal. Punishment for cocaine possession includes up to one year in county jail and up to $20,000 in fines.

Possession of Ecstasy

Ecstasy, also known as “X,” or “Molly,” is a type of methamphetamine that is a Schedule I drug and it is illegal to possess in California. There is no permissible medical use for it, and therefore, anyone in possession of ecstasy is committing a crime in the state of California. A felony conviction of possession of ecstasy could result in up to three years in state prison and a fine of up to $20,000.

Possession of Marijuana

While marijuana is legal to purchase, use and possess in California, there are stipulations. As mentioned earlier, possession of 28.5 grams or more of cannabis or 8 grams of hashish (concentrated cannabis) is considered illegal.  Minors under the age of 18 convicted of possession over legal limits, may need to attend mandatory counseling and up to twenty hours of community service, and possibly a fine of $100. Adults over 18 may face a fine of $500 or a six-month county jail stay, or both if possessing over the legal amount of marijuana.

Marijuana Cultivation

Thanks to Proposition 64, it is legal to cultivate marijuana. However, there are caveats to growing weed, and violating certain laws about marijuana cultivation could get you into trouble.  For instance, you cannot legally grow cannabis outdoors.  Additionally, legal cultivation is restricted to only 6 plants per person. Anything over this limit is a misdemeanor crime and could result in six months of jail time and/or $500 in fines.

Selling Marijuana

While the purchase and use of marijuana is legal in California, it is a crime to sell weed. It’s also illegal to possess it with the intent to sell it.  There is an exception, however. It is legal to sell marijuana if a state and local license to sell in California is obtained. Ergo, the best dispensaries in San Diego are permitted to sell weed because they are properly certified and licensed to do so.  Selling marijuana without proper licensure could result in a misdemeanor criminal charge.  This could increase to a felony if you have a criminal history or have been convicted of violating other California drug laws.

Manufacturing a Controlled Substance

According to Health and Safety Code 11379.6, it is illegal to manufacture controlled substances. This extends to drugs such as LSD, cocaine, opiates, and methamphetamine, which are all unlawful to produce and manufacture in California. A conviction for this crime could lead to up to seven years of state prison time and a fine of up to $50,000.

Under the Influence

California Drug Laws

While possession of illegal drugs is now a simple infraction with Prop 64, if you are suspected of using drugs and being impaired or under influence, you could stand to face prosecution.  In the state of California, it is illegal to be under the influence of drugs in any detectable way or manner. For example, if there is proof you are under the influence while driving, you could be charged for driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) just the same as driving while intoxicated from alcohol. Barring prior infractions, a first-time conviction could result in one year in county jail and a fine of up to $1000 or both. 

Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

As mentioned, it is illegal to operate any motor vehicle or automobile while under the influence of drugs. Under the California Vehicle Code, driving under the influence could result in a drug-related DUI conviction leading to one year of county jail time and/or a fine of up to $1000

What to Know About 11350(a) HS?

11350(a) HS is a California Health and Safety Code that states the illegal possession of a controlled substance is a misdemeanor offense. Controlled substances subject to misdemeanor charges include street drugs like cocaine, and possession of some prescription drugs without a legal, valid medical prescription. The maximum sentence of a misdemeanor for possession is one year in county jail and a fine of $1000. 

However, if you are a first-time offender, you may be able to have the misdemeanor charges dismissed by taking a drug diversion program or going to drug court. According to California drug rehab laws, drug diversion programs must be fully completed and screenings or further monitoring may be required in order to have the misdemeanor conviction for possession be minimized or dismissed.

How Can Proposition 47 Help With Drug Crime Cases?

Under Proposition 47, possession of a controlled substance is a misdemeanor in most cases. The purpose of Prop 47 and making possession of controlled substances a misdemeanor crime is meant to focus on getting offenders treatment from California drug rehabs rather than serving hefty prison sentences.

In 2014, California voters passed Prop 47 which reduces first-time violations for many drug possession charges to misdemeanor crimes. This means that should you have a preexisting drug possession charge pending in court, you might be charged with a misdemeanor offense instead of a felony. Furthermore, if you are serving time for a drug possession felony, you may have an opportunity to have the charge resentenced to a misdemeanor under Proposition 47. 

In essence, Prop 47 helps with drug crime cases by encouraging Californians to get the help and drug treatment they need rather than contributing to the overpopulation of prisons and jails. Furthermore, in many instances, Prop 47 offers more leniency and flexibility for first-time offenders so that their lives are not ruined by a felony mark on their record, which was the default criminal charge for drug infractions prior to 2014.

The Last Word on California Drug Laws

In closing, California is blessed to have such flexibility when it comes to weed purchasing, possession, consumption, and even cultivation.  However, there are limits to the freedom Californians can enjoy when it comes to associating with drugs in the Golden State.  Therefore, it’s important to know your legal rights and state regulations while enjoying the privileges afforded to live, play and enjoy all California has to offer.