All states regulate and control the possession of controlled dangerous substances (CDS), though each differs in its exact definition of controlled substances and the penalties for possession. Louisiana classifies not only well-known drugs like marijuana, heroin, and cocaine as CDS but also the compounds used to manufacture them.
This article discusses the possession of CDS for personal use only. Different penalties apply for making and selling CDS, as well as possession with intent to sell.
Louisiana divides controlled substances into five "schedules" (I to V) according to their potential for abuse and accepted medical use (if any). Schedule I lists the most dangerous drugs, whereas schedule V contains the least dangerous drugs.
Examples of drugs within each schedule include:
(La. Rev. Stat. § 40:964 (2023).)
It's illegal in Louisiana to possess a CDS without a valid prescription. Penalties vary according to the schedule classification and amount of CDS involved.
Penalties for illegal possession of schedule I drugs depend on the type of drug, the amount possessed, and the defendant's criminal history.
Heroin. A person convicted of illegal possession of heroin faces two to four years in prison if the amount possessed was less than two grams. For two grams or more but less than 28 grams, the maximum penalty increases to 10 years of prison time and carries a fine of up to $5,000.
Marijuana. Possession of 14 grams or less of marijuana is a fine-only offense (maximum $100 fine). A person who possesses more than 14 grams of marijuana faces a jail or prison sentence depending on the number of prior convictions for the same offense. These penalties range from six months in a parish jail and a $500 fine to an eight-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine. (The law provides exceptions for legal possession of medical marijuana.)
Synthetic cannabinoids. A first conviction for possession of synthetic cannabinoids carries up to six months in parish jail and a $500 fine. For a second conviction, a defendant faces up to five years in prison and a $250 to $2,000 fine. Third and subsequent convictions can mean up to 20 years behind bars, plus a $5,000 fine.
All other schedule I drugs. For all other schedule I drugs, possession of less than two grams carries up to two years of incarceration and a $5,000 fine. Amounts of two grams or more but less than 28 grams can mean one to 10 years of prison time.
(La. Rev. Stat. § 40:966 (2023).)
The penalties for possessing a schedule II drug depend on the amount involved, with most sentences for possessing less than 28 grams ranging from one to five years in prison, fines up to $5,000, or both. Possession of fentanyl carries a minimum of two years and up to 10 years of prison time based on the amount. For possession of phencyclidine (PCP), the possible prison time increases to 20 years. (La. Rev. Stat. § 40:967 (2023).)
A person convicted of illegally possessing a schedule III CDS faces imprisonment from one to five years, a $5,000 fine, or both. (La. Rev. Stat. § 40:968 (2023).)
Penalties for possession of a schedule IV CDS include a fine of up to $5,000, imprisonment for one to five years, or both. However, convictions involving flunitrazepam (also called Rohypnol or ruffies) carry penalties of up to 10 years in prison. (La. Rev. Stat. § 40:969 (2023).)
Possession of a Schedule V CDS carries a maximum sentence of one to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both. (La. Rev. Stat. § 40:970 (2023).)
Louisiana law imposes harsh penalties for repeat drug offenses and possession offenses in drug-free zones.
A defendant convicted of a second or subsequent offense faces twice the applicable fine, prison term, or both, as described above, according to the schedule and substance involved in the violation. (La. Rev. Stat. § 40:982 (2023).)
Possession of CDS on or within 2,000 feet of properties designated "drug-free zones" increases the maximum penalties (both fines and imprisonment) by one and one-half times. Drug-free zones include schools, public playgrounds, public parks and recreational facilities, daycares, universities, colleges, and drug treatment facilities. (La. Rev. Stat. § 40:981.3 (2023).)
Defendants facing controlled substance charges have several defense strategies available to them.
Actual innocence. Defendants charged with a drug-related crime have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, such as "it wasn't me" or "the pills aren't illegal drugs."
Lack of knowledge. Defendants can also try to show the jury that they didn't have knowledge of the controlled substance being in their possession. For example, if the defendant gets a ride in a taxi and the police locate a bag of heroin under the defendant's seat, the defense could argue the defendant/passenger had no knowledge of the bag hidden under their seat.
Unlawful search and seizure. A common defense in drug possession cases includes asking the court to exclude evidence of the drugs at trial based on an unlawful search or seizure by police. Without evidence of the drugs, a prosecutor's case might fall apart, resulting in a reduction of charges or a dismissal altogether.
Being convicted of CDS possession crime might not seem like a big deal. But a conviction means not only possible jail or prison time but also a criminal record. Criminal records have a tendency to follow you everywhere—job searches, housing applications, and professional licensing renewals, just to name a few. Talk to a criminal defense attorney if you face drug charges.