Possession of a Controlled Substance in California

California classifies not only well-known drugs like marijuana, heroin, and cocaine as controlled substances, but also the compounds used to manufacture them.

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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. California classifies not only well-known drugs like marijuana, heroin, and cocaine as controlled substances, but also the compounds used to manufacture them.

This article discusses possession of CDS for personal use only. The possession of CDS for sale or distribution carries different penalties. For more information on possession of CDS for sale or distribution, see Sale of Controlled Substances in California.

Some CDS, like codeine, a common painkiller, may be possessed legally so long as the holder has a valid prescription.

How California Classifies Possession Crimes

All drug possession crimes in California are classified as infractions, misdemeanors, "wobblers," or felonies. Infractions are the least serious and do not include jail time; misdemeanors can result in up to a year in jail, and felonies carry state prison sentences of a year or more (although first offenders may be eligible for probation). A "wobbler" is an offense that may be charged or sentenced as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances and the decisions of the prosecutor and/or judge.

Until recently, all CDS possession crimes were either misdemeanors, wobblers, or felonies, but in November 2014, California voters passed an initiative (Proposition 47) downgrading such crimes to misdemeanors for certain offenders, as explained below. The law took effect on November 5, 2014.

How California Classifies Controlled Dangerous Substances (CDS)

California divides its CDS into six “schedules.”

  • Schedule I drugs (such as opiates or marijuana).
  • Schedule II drugs (such as raw opium and morphine).
  • Schedule III drugs (such as pentobarbital and anabolic steroids).
  • Schedule IV drugs (such as diazepam and zolpidem).
  • Schedule V drugs (such as low doses of codeine).

If you’ve been arrested for possession for personal use of CDS, consult the statute specifying your offense, then look at the California Code that list precisely which drugs, and in what amounts, fit into each group. Those statutes are California Health and Safety Code Sections 11053 through 11057.

Possession of Schedule I, II, III, IV CDS

Possession of any amount of the following CDS is punishable by up to one year of incarceration in the county jail:

  • Schedule I opiates, opium derivatives, cocaine base, mescaline, peyote, or synthetic cannabis (including their isomers, esters, ethers, salts, and salts of isomers, esters, and ethers)
  • Schedule II narcotics or opiates
  • Schedule III hallucinogens, and
  • Schedule III, IV or V narcotics without a valid prescription.

However, under Proposition 47, these reduced penalties are available only to offenders who are not registered sex offenders, or who ndo not have convictions for specified serious or violent crimes—such as murder and certain sex and gun crimes. Defendants who do not qualify for misdemeanor treatment may be charged with wobblers or felonies, depending on the drug and the amount at isue.

Possession of Marijuana

 The unlawful possession of marijuana is punished based on the amount of the CDS involved.

  • Possession of any amount of concentrated cannabis is punishable by incarceration of up to 1 year, a fine of up to $500, or both.
  • Possession of not more than 28.5 grams of marijuana, other than concentrated cannabis, is an infraction and is punishable by a fine of not more than $100.
  • Possession of more than 28.5 grams of marijuana, other than concentrated cannabis, is punishable by incarceration of up to 6 months, a fine of not more than $500, or both.
  • A person over the age of 18 who possesses less than 28.5 grams of marijuana, other than concentrated cannabis, on the grounds of an elementary, middle, or high school during school hours is guilty of a misdemeanor and is subject to incarceration of up to ten days, a fine of $500, or both.
  • A person under the age of 18 who possesses less than 28.5 grams of marijuana, other than concentrated cannabis, on the grounds of an elementary, middle, or high school during school faces a fine of up to $250 for the first offense. Subsequent offenses are punishable by a fine of up to $500 and commitment to a juvenile facility for up to ten days. (California Health and Safety Code 11357.)

For more information see Possession of Marijuana in California.

Talk To An Attorney

CDS convictions incur both fines and incarceration. A lawyer who practices CDS defense will review the facts of your case, explain your options, and advise you of the possible consequences.

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