Possession of a Controlled Substance in Iowa

The basics on Iowa's drug possession laws and penalties for illegal possession.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated April 20, 2023

All states, including Iowa, regulate and control the possession of controlled substances, though each state differs in its exact definitions and the penalties for drug possession.

This article reviews Iowa's classifications of controlled substances (except marijuana) and the penalties for illegal possession. Check out Iowa Marijuana Laws to learn how the state regulates the possession of weed.

How Does Iowa Classify Controlled Substances?

Iowa divides controlled substances into five schedules—Schedules I to V. Schedule I drugs are considered the most dangerous and highly addictive, while Schedule V drugs are the least dangerous and the least addictive. Below are some examples of drugs placed into each schedule.

Schedule I drugs include heroin, MDMA, LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin.

Schedule II drugs include raw opium, codeine, oxycodone, morphine, cocaine, carfentanil, fentanyl, and meth.

Schedule III drugs include ketamine, pentobarbital, and testosterone.

Schedule IV drugs include barbital, diazepam, lorcaserin, and butorphanol.

Schedule V drugs include ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and cough suppressants and other medicines containing low amounts of codeine or morphine.

For a complete list of scheduled drugs, consult Chapter 124 in the most recent version of the Iowa Code.

(Iowa Code §§ 124.204 to .212 (2023).)

Penalties for Illegal Possession of Controlled Substances in Iowa

Possession offenses (unlike sale offenses) for controlled substances all carry the same general penalty regardless of their schedules, except for marijuana. Penalties are based on whether the defendant is a first-time drug offender or a repeat drug offender. Enhanced penalties, however, apply only to Schedule I, II, and III drugs.

Penalties for Illegal Possession of Controlled Substances

Below are the punishments for a first, second, third, or subsequent offense.

First conviction. A first conviction for possession is a serious misdemeanor. Penalties include a fine of between $430 and $2,565, up to one year in jail, or both.

Second conviction. A second conviction is an aggravated misdemeanor. Penalties include a fine of between $855 and $8,540 and up to two years of incarceration.

Third and subsequent convictions. A third or subsequent conviction is a class D felony. Penalties include a fine of between $1,025 and $10,245, up to five years in prison, or both.

(Iowa Code § 124.401 (2023).)

Enhanced Penalties for Drug Possession Near a School or Public Park

In addition to the above penalties, a judge may impose 100 hours of community service if the defendant committed a possession crime involving a schedule I, II, or III drug:

  • on a school bus, or
  • in, on, or within 1,000 feet of an elementary or high school, a public park, a swimming pool, or a recreation center.

(Iowa Code §124.401B (2023).)

Penalties for Possession of Drug Paraphernalia

Iowa law also makes it a crime to possess drug paraphernalia, which includes any equipment used to inject, ingest, inhale, or otherwise introduce the drug into the human body. A conviction results in a simple misdemeanor.

(Iowa Code § 124.414 (2023).)

Will You Go to Jail for Illegal Drug Possession in Iowa?

Not necessarily. Some offenders might qualify for charging and sentencing alternatives offered by certain county attorneys and the courts.

County Attorney Diversion or Deferred Prosecution

Some county attorneys offer diversion or deferred prosecution programs that might allow a person to avoid charges and going to court. Most prosecution offices offer these options only to first-time offenders. When offered by county attorneys, eligible defendants will typically be required to sign a diversion or deferred prosecution agreement.

The agreement is basically a contract between the prosecutor and the defendant. The defendant will need to complete all the terms of the agreement, such as completing substance use treatment, abstaining from all drugs and alcohol, and not committing any other crimes. If successful, the prosecution often agrees to dismiss all charges.

Deferred Judgment, Deferred Sentencing, or Suspended Sentencing

Iowa law also provides judges with several sentencing options that give defendants a chance to avoid jail time or even a conviction. For instance, a court may defer (hold off) on entering a judgment or sentence and instead place a defendant on probation with conditions. Or the judge might enter the judgment and sentence but hold off on sending the defendant to jail. In any of these options, the defendant must comply with all the probation conditions to avoid having their probation revoked. (Iowa Code § 907.3 (2023).)

Drug Courts

Certain counties in Iowa have drug courts that aim to address a defendant's underlying substance abuse issues that led to the criminal charges. Drug courts involve intensive supervision of the defendant by the judge, county attorney, defense attorney, probation, and treatment professionals.

Defenses to Drug Possession Charges in Iowa

In drug possession cases, a defense attorney may raise several arguments to challenge the prosecution's case. The prosecutor must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Lack of Knowledge or Possession

Drug possession crimes generally require proof that the defendant had actual or constructive possession of the drugs and knew what the drugs were. If the prosecutor can't prove the defendant possessed the drug or knew what it really was, this may lead a jury to acquit. For example, a defendant might argue they thought the white pills were aspirin or that they had no idea how the drugs got into their gym bag.

Illegal Search or Seizure

Another common defense strategy in drug possession cases is to challenge the legality of the search that led to finding the drugs. If police conduct an illegal search, typically, the discovered evidence (the drugs) must be excluded. Without evidence of the drugs, the prosecution's case might fall apart.

Good Samaritan or 911 Immunity Defense

Any evidence police or others gather that resulted from a drug overdose emergency call cannot be used in a criminal case for possession charges. These protections apply to the overdose patient who calls for help or the person reporting the overdose. To fall under these protections, a person who reports the overdose must remain on the scene and cooperate with authorities. (Iowa Code § 124.418 (2023).)

Talk to an Attorney

If you are charged with drug possession, contact a local criminal defense attorney. Possession charges might seem minor, but a criminal record of drug charges can hurt a person's chances of getting a job or housing. It can also lead to harsher charges in any future cases.

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