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What Happens If You Have Drugs on Your Person in California?

Posted in Drug FAQ'S on May 15, 2018

California drug charges can carry a myriad of penalties and may fall under several sections of state law. Generally, there are two main types of charges that apply to the possession of drugs in California: possession with intent to sell, and simple possession. The laws surrounding these offenses additionally depend on whether an individual is in possession of controlled substances (such as restricted and dangerous drugs), PCP or methamphetamine, or marijuana.

Possession with Intent to Sell

Possessing drugs with the intent to sell them is a more serious offense than simple possession. A prosecutor may choose to charge an individual with the intent to sell if the defendant has more than one substance listed under the California Safety Code (e.g., cocaine and narcotics). If the state prosecutor believes that a defendant planned on selling the substances in question (usually determined by the amount found on the person), then he or she may face “purchase for the purpose of sale” charges.

Simple Possession

Simple possession, on the other hand, is less serious than possession with the intent to sell. The state may charge an individual with possession if he or she has illicit drugs in any amount on his or her person. Illicit drugs include things like heroin, cocaine, narcotics without a prescription, PCP, or methamphetamine.

Recreational Marijuana Rules

California allows residents and visitors to participate in recreational marijuana use. Adults 21 and over may purchase, possess, and consume 28.5 grams of marijuana or 8 grams of concentrated marijuana without criminal penalties. However, it’s still illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana, and smoking is still unlawful in any place that prohibits tobacco smoking. You may only smoke in a private residence or any establishment that lawfully allows marijuana consumption.

State law prohibits possession of marijuana at a daycare center, school grounds, or youth center. People who possess marijuana in these places may face penalties for simple possession.

Medical marijuana rules also apply in California – people with a doctor’s recommendation may also possess marijuana, but do not have to pay the sales tax that recreational users do.

Elements of a Possession Charge

California law allows a prosecutor to charge for possession when:

  • Officers find a controlled substance on your person
  • You possessed the substance unlawfully (i.e.,did not have a prescription for narcotics)
  • You knew the substance was illegal
  • You possessed a “usable amount” of the substance

Penalties for Drug Possession

California state laws regarding drug possession vary widely depending on the nature of the drug, the amount found on the defendant’s person, and the purpose for which he or she intended to use it (i.e., for personal use or distribution). The passing of Proposition 47 in 2014 fundamentally changed the sentencing structure for crimes of this nature. Under Prop 47, many drug possession charges are misdemeanor offenses under California law. In fact, many people serving criminal sentences for current possession offenses could petition the court for a resentencing.

Even under Prop 47, a conviction for possession or possession with intent to sell can lead to serious consequences. Even misdemeanor offenses can lead to up to 1 year in state prison, depending on the amount and the type of drug. Some defendants, such as those intending to sell controlled substances, may still face felony charges.

If an officer catches you with drugs in California, you may face fines, time in county or state prison, or both. Though Prop 47 decriminalized many types of possession, having drugs on your person can still lead to serious charges. Treat possession and possession with intent to sell as serious crimes and consult with a criminal defense attorney if facing these charges.