Possession of a Controlled Substance: Drug Possession Laws

Learn about the penalties for drug possession and the laws in your state.

Related Ads

Talk to a Criminal Defense Lawyer

Enter Your Zip Code to Connect with a Lawyer Serving Your Area

searchbox small
controlled substance

In criminal law, illegal drugs and narcotics are often referred to as “controlled substances.” Whether it's marijuana, heroin, or any other regulated substance, possessing these drugs is a crime under federal as well as state laws. Drug possession crimes are very common, and make up a large portion of the crimes charged in any area. Though many people view carrying or possessing drugs as a minor offense, being convicted of possession can lead to serious consequences.

To learn about controlled substance laws in your state, jump ahead to the section on state controlled substance laws by state.

What Are Controlled Substances?

The federal government and the states list the various types of drugs that they consider to be "controlled," that is, available (if at all) only through a valid prescription. The federal scheme, contained in the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C.A. Sections 801 and following), lists five "schedules" of drugs, with the most dangerous substances in Schedule I, and the least in Schedule V. This classification applies in federal drug cases, and many states have adopted the federal schedule.

To see the five schedules in the federal law, consult Section 812 of the Controlled Substances Act. For information on how your state classifies drugs, refer to the state-specific article listed below.

What is Possession of a Controlled Substance?

Possession of a controlled substance occurs whenever a person owns or otherwise possesses a drug or other illegal substance. These charges usually apply when a person is found carrying marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, or other illegal narcotics. It's important to note that some legally available drugs, such as prescription medications, qualify as controlled substances, and possession charges are possible if the person possessing the medication does not have a proper prescription.

  • Knowing. The crime of possessing a controlled substance occurs whenever a person knowingly and intentionally has control of an illegal drug. The prosecution must show that the accused knew that the drugs were illegal. However, prosecutors only have to show that the accused knew the drugs were present and intended to use or control them. Prosecutors can show this from the circumstances of the case, and they do not need to have actual statements from the accused or evidence that the accused ever actually used the drugs.
  • Possession. Possession means that a person has personal and physical control over the illegal substance. Courts have held that a person can have either actual or constructive possession over the drug. This means that a person actually has it in a pocket or otherwise in personal custody, or that the person has control over the drug, such as by having the drugs in a car's glove compartment, a bag, or hidden in the home.
  • Shared possession. A defendant can be convicted of possessing a controlled substance if the prosecutor can show the accused had at least partial control over the drug. For example, two roommates may each be convicted of possession if they shared an apartment in which the police found marijuana. However, prosecutors must show more than that the two were merely roommates in the same home, by proving, for example, that each defendant had control over the drugs or made incriminating statements about them.

Possession versus Distribution or Sale

Depending on the circumstances, someone charged with possessing an illegal drug might instead end up facing charges of possession with the intent to distribute, a much more serious charge than simple possession. Intent to distribute crimes, commonly referred to as “drug dealing” or sales, are much more serious than simple possession, and are usually based on the amount of drugs a person is found with, the drug's purity, or by other evidence showing the accused intended to sell them and not just use them.

To learn more about the possible consequences for "drug dealing" or sales, please see Sale of a Controlled Substance.

Drugs in Vehicles

Many possession cases arise from interactions between motorists and the police. In these situations, it's common for the police to find drugs in the car and charge the driver with possession. The police may also be able to charge the driver with possession if passengers are found with drugs on their person, or vice versa. However, even when the prosecutor can show that there were drugs in the car, the prosecutor must prove that the driver or passengers knew the drugs were there, or that they were near the driver or in plain view. Often, circumstantial evidence supplies this proof, which also shows that more than one person possessed the drugs.

Penalties

Drug possession charges are subject to an incredibly broad range of penalties, depending on the state in which the crime occurs. The severity of the penalty depends upon a number of factors, such as the specific type of drug involved, the circumstances surrounding the possession, and the criminal history of the person possessing the drugs.

  • Fines. Many drug possession convictions result in fines. These can range from very minor fines of $100 or less, to significant fines of $100,000 or more.
  • Incarceration. Jail or prison time is also possible when a person is convicted of possession of a controlled substance. Jail sentences range widely depending on the crime charged, the type of drugs involved, and the state's laws, but can range from a few days or weeks to 10 years or more in prison.
  • Probation. Probation sentences are often given in drug possession cases, and may be included with other punishments such as jail time, fines, or rehabilitation. A sentence of probation requires the convicted person to regularly check in with a probation officer and to comply with specific terms, such as not using any more drugs. If the offender fails to comply with the probation terms, a jail sentence will usually apply.
  • Diversion. Diversion programs are similar to probation, and are often used in first-offender drug possession cases. With diversion, a prosecutor allows a drug offender to enter into a counseling and behavior program, very similar to probation, which requires the offender to comply with specific terms for a period of 6 months or more. Once the offender completes the diversion program, the prosecutor agrees to drop the drug charges. If the offender fails to comply with the diversion terms, the prosecutor will then pursue the possession charges.
  • Rehabilitation. Many states allow courts to sentence a drug offender to a period of rehabilitation or drug treatment program instead of a jail sentence. Attending rehabilitation is also sometimes required in probation sentences.

Legal Advice

Drug possession charges, especially for the possession of marijuana, are often viewed as “no big deal.” Even if the potential penalties for possession are not significant, anyone facing a possession charge should not rely on rumors or advice offered by friends or relatives. Only a qualified criminal defense lawyer with experience dealing with the local police, prosecutors, and court system can give you advice about your possession case. Not only that, but possession charges often involve significant issues about whether the police acted legally when they found the controlled substance, something only an experienced attorney will know how to properly analyze. (Improper searches and seizures can be challenged in court and result in having the evidence thrown out.) It's always in your best interests to talk to a lawyer as soon as you are investigated for or charged with possession of a controlled substance.

Possession of a Controlled Substance Laws By State

State

Penalties At-A-Glance

Alabama

Possession of imitation CDS is a Class C misdemeanor. Class C misdemeanors are punishable by no more than three months in jail. The court may also impose a fine for misdemeanor convictions. Class A misdemeanors can result in fines of up to $6,000. Fines for Class C misdemeanors can be no more than $500. (Alabama Code 13A-5-7, 5-12.)

Alaska

Alaska classifies all CDS crimes into five degrees, misconduct in the first-degree being the most serious. CDS possession involves degrees three through six. Third and fourth degree misconduct involving possession of CDS are felonies. Felonies are divided into unclassified, Class A, Class B, and Class C. Unclassified and Class A felonies receive the harshest sentences.

Arizona

Arizona treats its CDS crimes as either felonies or misdemeanors (which result in less jail time and lower fines than felonies). Felonies are divided among six classes, with the most serious crimes placed in Class 1, then Class 2, and so on. CDS possession crimes fall into either Class 4, Class 5, or Class 6. Misdemeanors are divided among three classes. Possession of certain CDS is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Arkansas

Arkansas treats its CDS crimes as either felonies or misdemeanors (which result in less jail time and lower fines than felonies). Felonies are divided among six classes (unclassified, Y, A, B, C, and D), with the most serious crimes placed in Class Y and unclassified. CDS possession crimes fall into Classes A, B, C, and D. Misdemeanors are divided among three classes. Possession of certain CDS is a Class A misdemeanor.

California

All drug possession crimes in California are classified as infractions, misdemeanors, or felonies. Infractions are the least serious and do not include jail-time; misdemeanors can result in up to a year in jail. Unless the article states otherwise, all CDS possession crimes are felonies.

Colorado

All states regulate and control the possession for personal use of controlled dangerous substances (CDS), though each differs in its exact definition of CDS and the penalties for possession. Colorado considers not only well-known drugs like marijuana, heroin and cocaine to be controlled substances, but also the compounds used to manufacture them. Possessing drug paraphernalia, such as pipes, is also illegal.

Connecticut

The unlawful possession of narcotics is punishable by incarceration, a fine, or both. Repeat offenders face harsher penalties. A first conviction for the possession of any narcotic substance is punishable by up to seven years of incarceration, a fine of up to $50,000, or both. A second conviction for possession of any narcotic substance is punishable by up to 15 years of incarceration, a fine of up to $100,000, or both.

Delaware

Class A misdemeanors are punishable by up to one year of incarceration, a fine of up to $2,300, restitution, or other penalties deemed appropriate by the court. Class B misdemeanors are punishable by up to six months of incarceration, a fine of up to $1,150, restitution, or other penalties deemed appropriate by the court.

District of Columbia

A conviction for possession of CDS for personal use, other than PCP in a liquid form, is a misdemeanor punishable by a period of incarceration of up to 180 days, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. A conviction for the possession of PCP in a liquid form is a felony punishable by a period of incarceration of up to three years, a fine of up to $3,000, or both.

Florida

Florida does not consider ownership with regard to possession crimes. This means that even if the CDS does not belong to you, you are criminally liable for either the actual, or constructive possession of the substance.

Georgia

CDS possession crimes are all felonies, except for those that involve small amounts of marijuana. The penalty for felony possession depends on the type of CDS involved in the offense. Multiple possession convictions are punished more harshly.To understand the charges and penalties you might be facing, begin with the charging document in your case (usually called either a complaint or, if from a grand jury, an indictment).

Hawaii

All CDS crimes, including possession, distribution, and sales, are referred to as “promoting.” The promoting of CDS is punishable as either a felony or as a misdemeanor. Hawaii has three classes of felonies: Classes A, B, and C. Felony sale or distribution of CDS can be of any class. Misdemeanor crimes face shorter periods of incarceration and smaller fines than felonies.

Idaho

Misdemeanor crimes are less serious than felonies and are punished with significantly shorter periods of incarceration and smaller fines. The possession of Schedules I (other than narcotics and LSD), III, IV, V, or VI CDS is a misdemeanor punishable by a period of incarceration of up to one year, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

Illinois

Illinois divides felonies into five classes: X, 1, 2, 3, and 4. CDS possession crimes can be of any class other than Class X. Class 1 felony possessions are the most serious and receive the harshest penalties. Misdemeanors are divided into three classes: Class A, B, and C. Class C misdemeanors are the least serious CDS possession crimes.

Indiana

Indiana divides felonies into four classes: A, B, C and D. Class A felonies are the most serious. Felony possession crimes can be of any class. Misdemeanors are divided into three classes: Class A, B, and C. The only misdemeanor possession crime is a Class A.

Iowa

A first conviction is a serious misdemeanor. Penalties include a fine of between $315 and $1,875, up to one year in jail, or both. A second conviction is an aggravated misdemeanor. Penalties include a fine of between $625 and $6,250 and one year in jail; or no fine and up to two years in prison. A third or subsequent conviction is a class D felony. Penalties include a fine of between $750 and $7,500, up to five years in prison, or both.

Kansas

Kansas divides CDS into five “Schedules”. Schedule I lists the most dangerous drugs, which have a high probability of abuse and addiction, and no recognized medical value. Schedules II, III, IV, and V decrease in dangerousness and probability of abuse, and increase in recognized medical uses.

Kentucky

With limited exceptions (such as possessing legally prescribed prescription drugs), it is illegal to possess CDS in Kentucky. The crime you are charged with—and the applicable penalties—will depend on the type and amount of CDS that was involved in the violation.

Louisiana

Louisiana divides CDS into five “schedules.” Schedule I lists the most dangerous drugs, which have a high probability of abuse and addiction, and no recognized medical value. Schedules II, III, IV, and V decrease in dangerousness and probability of abuse; and increase in recognized medical uses.

Maine

Maine divides CDS into five “schedules.” Schedule W lists the most dangerous drugs, which have a high probability of abuse and addiction, and no recognized medical value. Schedules X, Y, and Z decrease in dangerousness and probability of abuse and increase in recognized medical uses.

Maryland

Maryland divides CDS into five “schedules.” Schedule I lists the most dangerous drugs, which have a high probability of abuse and addiction, and no recognized medical value. Schedules II, III, IV, and V decrease in dangerousness and probability of abuse; and increase in recognized medical uses.

Massachusetts

It is illegal in Massachusetts to possess CDS without a valid prescription. Penalties vary according to the type of CDS possessed. (Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 94C § 34.) First convictions for possessing class A, B, C, and D substances (excluding heroin) include a fine of up to $1,000, up to one year in jail, or both. Second and subsequent convictions incur a fine of up to $2,000, up to two years in prison, or both.

Michigan

Michigan divides CDS into five “schedules.” Schedule 1 lists the most dangerous drugs, which have a high probability of abuse and addiction, and no recognized medical value. Schedules 2, 3, 4, and 5 decrease in dangerousness and probability of abuse; and increase in recognized medical uses.

Minnesota

It is illegal in Minnesota to possess CDS without a prescription from a licensed physician. Penalties vary according to the type and amount of the CDS involved. Possessing the following types and amounts of CDS is punished with a fine of up to $1,000,000, up to 30 years in prison, or both. Second and subsequent convictions are punished with a fine of up to $1,000,000, at least four (and up to 40) years in prison, or both.

Mississippi

It is illegal in Mississippi to possess CDS without a valid medical prescription. Penalties vary according to the type and amount of the CDS involved, measured by dosage unit (a one milliliter solution for liquid substances, or one “stamp”, “square”, or “dot” for substances like LSD), or by weight of the CDS involved.

Missouri

It is a class C felony in Missouri to possess CDS without a valid medical prescription. Penalties include a fine of up to $5,000; and either up to a year in jail or, at the sentencing judge’s discretion, at least two (and up to seven) years in prison. (Mo. Stat. Ann. § 195.202.)

Montana

Montana divides CDS into five “schedules.” Schedule I lists the most dangerous drugs, which have a high probability of abuse and addiction, and no recognized medical value. Schedules II, III, IV, and V decrease in dangerousness and probability of abuse, and increase in recognized medical uses.

Nebraska

Nebraska criminalizes the possession of CDS and CDS precursors (substances used to manufacture CDS). Penalties for personal possession (possession without intent to sell the CDS) include a fine of up to $10,000, up to five years in prison, or both. (Ne. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 28-451, & -452.)

Nevada

Nevada divides CDS into five “schedules.” Schedule I lists the most dangerous drugs, which have a high probability of abuse and addiction, and no recognized medical value. Schedules II, III, IV, and V decrease in dangerousness and probability of abuse, and increase in recognized medical uses.

New Hampshire

It is illegal in New Hampshire to possess CDS without a valid medical prescription. Penalties vary according to the type and amount of CDS involved in the violation. All first offenses have a mandatory minimum fine of $350, and $500 for second and subsequent offenses. (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 318-B:26.)

New Jersey

Possessing any amount of a schedule I, II, III, or IV CDS incurs a fine of up to $35,000, at least three (and up to five) years in prison, or both. Possessing any amount of a Schedule V CDS incurs a fine of up to $15,000, up to 18 months in prison, or both. Using or being under the influence of any CDS not for the purpose of treating a sickness or injury (as legally prescribed by a licensed physician) incurs a fine of up to $500.

New Mexico

It is illegal in New Mexico to possess CDS without a valid prescription. Penalties vary according to the type and amount of CDS involved in the violation. (N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-31-23.) Possessing a Schedule I, II, III, or IV CDS—excluding methamphetamine and other CDS specified below—incurs a fine of at least $500 (and up to $1,000), up to one year in jail, or both.

New York

Possessing eight or more ounces of CDS listed as narcotic drugs; or 5,760 milligrams or more of methadone, is a class A-I felony. Penalties include a fine of up to $100,000, at least 15 (and up to 25) years in prison, or both.

North Carolina

North Carolina divides CDS into six “Schedules”. Schedule I lists the most dangerous drugs, which have a high probability of abuse and addiction, and no recognized medical value. Schedules II, III, IV, V, and VI decrease in dangerousness and probability of abuse, and increase in recognized medical uses.

North Dakota

It is a class C felony to possess CDS without a valid medical prescription in North Dakota. Penalties include a fine of up to $5,000, up to five years in prison, or both. (N.D. Cen. Code Ann. §19-03.1-23 (7).) It is a class B felony to possess CDS on or within 1,000 feet of school property (including day care and preschool facilities). Penalties include a fine of up to $10,000, up to ten years in prison, or both. (N.D. Cen. Code Ann. §19-03.1-23 (7).)

Ohio

Penalties vary according to the type and amount of CDS involved in the violation, and are measured according to a specified “bulk amount” assigned to each CDS. For example, the Schedule III CDS ketamine (or “Special K”), has a bulk amount of 95 milliliters when its strength is 100 mg/ml. Other Schedule III CDS have different bulk amounts. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2925.11.)

Oklahoma

Oklahoma divides CDS into five “Schedules.” Schedule I lists the most dangerous drugs, which have a high probability of abuse and addiction, and no recognized medical value. Schedules II, III, IV, and V decrease in dangerousness and probability of abuse, and increase in recognized medical uses.

Oregon

All states regulate the possession of controlled dangerous substances (CDS), though each differs in its exact definition of CDS and the penalties for illegal possession. Oregon classifies not only well-known drugs like marijuana, heroin, and cocaine as CDS, but also the compounds used to manufacture them.

Pennsylvania

It is illegal in Pennsylvania to possess CDS without a valid medical prescription. Penalties include a fine of up to $5,000, up to one year in jail, or both. Second and subsequent convictions incur a fine of up to $25,000, up to three years in prison, or both.
However possessing gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) incurs a fine of up to $250,000, up to 15 years in prison, or both. (35 Penn. Stat. §780-113.)

Rhode Island

Rhode Island divides CDS into five “Schedules.” Schedule I lists the most dangerous drugs, which have a high probability of abuse and addiction, and no recognized medical value. Schedules II, III, IV, and V decrease in dangerousness and probability of abuse, and increase in recognized medical uses.

South Carolina

Possessing a Schedule I or II narcotic CDS and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is a misdemeanor. Penalties for a first offense include a fine of up to $5,000, up to two years in prison, or both. Second offenses are felonies, and incur a fine of up to $5,000, up to five years in prison, or both. Third and subsequent offenses incur a fine of fine of up to $10,000, up to five years in prison, or both.

South Dakota

It is a Class 4 felony in South Dakota to possess CDS without a valid medical prescription. Penalties include a fine of up to $20,000, up to ten years in prison, or both. (S.D. Cod. Laws § 22-42-5.)

Tennessee

It is illegal in Tennessee to possess CDS without a valid medical prescription. First and second convictions are a class A misdemeanor, and penalties include a fine of up to $2,500, up to one year in jail, or both. Third and subsequent convictions are class E felonies, and incur a fine of up to $3,000, at least one year (and up to six years) in prison, or both.

Texas

Texas divides CDS into four “penalty groups” (and two sub-groups). Penalty Group 1 lists the most dangerous drugs, which have a high probability of abuse and addiction, and no recognized medical value. Groups 1-A, 2, 2-A, 3, and 4 decrease in dangerousness and probability of abuse, and increase in recognized medical uses.

Utah

It is a third degree felony to possess Schedule I or II CDS. Penalties include a fine of up to $5,000, up to ten years in prison, or both. Second and subsequent convictions are second degree felonies, incurring a fine of up to $10,000, at least one (and up to 20) years in prison, or both.

Vermont

Vermont has adopted the federal CDS classification scheme under the federal Controlled Substances Act, which divides CDS into five “Schedules”. Schedule I lists the most dangerous drugs, which have a high probability of abuse and addiction, and no recognized medical value. Schedules II, III, IV, and V decrease in dangerousness and probability of abuse, and increase in recognized medical uses.

Virginia

Schedule I or II penalties include a fine of up to $2,500, up to one year in jail, or both; or at least one year (and up to ten years) in prison. Schedule III penalties include a fine of up to $2,500, up to one year in jail, or both. Schedule IV penalties include a fine of up to $1,000, up to six months in jail, or both. Schedule V penalties include a fine of up to $500. Schedule VI penalties include a fine of up to $250.

Washington

It is illegal in Washington to possess any CDS, within any of the five Schedules and no matter the amount, without a valid medical prescription. Penalties include a fine of up to $10,000, up to five years in prison, or both. (Wa. Rev. Code Ann. § 69.50.4013.)

West Virginia

A defendant charged with CDS possession who has no prior drug convictions in West Virginia, any other state, or federally is entitled to a “conditional discharge.” This means that, without entering a judgment, the judge will defer the court proceedings, and place the defendant on probation with terms and conditions.

Wisconsin

Possessing a Schedule I or II narcotic CDS is a class I felony. Penalties include a fine of $10,000 three years and six months in prison; or both. Possessing all other Schedule I or II CDS, or a Schedule III, IV, or V CDS is a misdemeanor. Penalties include a fine of between $500 and $10,000, between 30 days and nine months in jail, or both.

Wyoming

Penalties for possessing Schedule I, II, III, or IV CDS include a fine of up to $1,000, up to one year in jail, or both. Third and subsequent offenses of this type incur a fine of up to $5,000, up to five years in prison, or both.

Talk to a Defense Lawyer

Charged with a crime? Start here to find a lawyer.
HOW IT WORKS
how it works 1
Briefly tell us about your case
how it works 2
Provide your contact information
how it works 1
Connect with local attorneys
LA-NOLO3:DRU.1.6.3.6.20141124.29342