Possession of a Controlled Substance in Ohio

The basics of Ohio's drug possession laws and penalties.

By , Contributing Author
Updated by Rebecca Pirius, Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated February 27, 2023

All states regulate the possession of controlled substances, though each classifies and penalizes drug possession offenses differently. Ohio 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 only the illegal possession of drugs in Ohio. Illegally making or selling drugs carries different penalties. Also, while marijuana and hashish are considered controlled substances, this article does not cover Ohio's marijuana and hashish possession and sale laws. Check out Ohio Marijuana Laws for more information.

How Ohio Classifies Controlled Substances

Ohio divides controlled substances 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. Schedule V drugs are considered the least dangerous.

Below are examples of drugs in each schedule.

Schedule I drugs: heroin, MDMA (ecstasy), mescaline, LSD, psilocybin, and salvia divinorum

Schedule II drugs: opium, oxycodone, fentanyl, amphetamine, and meth

Schedule III drugs: ketamine, buprenorphine, and certain anabolic steroids

Schedule IV drugs: barbital, diazepam, and lorazepam

Schedule V drugs: ephedrine, preparations with limited amounts of codeine, and FDA-approved cannabidiol drugs

(Ohio Admin. Code ch. 4729:9-1 (2022).)

Illegal Possession of Drugs in Ohio

Except for schedule I drugs, controlled substances are generally available through a valid prescription. However, knowing possession of a schedule I drug (always illegal) or a schedule II, III, IV, or V drug without a valid prescription is a crime.

In drug possession cases, the prosecutor must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew of the drugs and had actual or constructive possession of them. Actual possession refers to having the drugs on the person's body, such as in their hand or pocket. Constructive possession means the person intended to have control over them, such as drugs in one's backpack or in a glove compartment.

Penalties for Illegal Drug Possession in Ohio (Section 2925.11)

Ohio drug possession penalties vary according to the type and amount of drugs involved. In some instances, the law specifies penalties by dosage units or grams. This is the case with cocaine and LSD. Other drugs have a "bulk amount" assigned to them. For example, the schedule I opiate has a bulk amount of 10 grams or 25 dosage units. In these cases, the law doles out penalties based on whether the person possessed less or more than the bulk amount and, if more, how much more (5, 10, or 20 times more for example).

Below we identify the various penalties based on the type and amount of drug. To learn more about sentencing, check out: Ohio Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentence and Ohio Felony Crimes by Class and Sentence.

Penalties for Schedule I and II Drug Possession

A defendant who illegally possesses schedule I or II drugs (excluding marijuana, heroin, cocaine, LSD, hashish, and fentanyl-related compounds) is guilty of aggravated possession of drugs. Penalties vary according to the amount possessed.

  • Less than the bulk amount: felony in the fifth degree
  • More than the bulk amount but less than five times the bulk amount: felony in the third degree
  • Five times the bulk amount or more but less than 50 times the bulk amount: felony in the second degree (and a mandatory prison term)
  • Fifty times the bulk amount or more but less than 100 times the bulk amount: felony in the first degree (and a mandatory prison term)
  • One hundred times the bulk amount or more: felony in the first degree as a major drug offender (and a mandatory prison term).

Penalties for Schedule III, IV, and V Drug Possession

A defendant who illegally possesses a Schedule III, IV, or V drug faces the following penalties based on the amount possessed.

  • Less than the bulk amount: misdemeanor in the first degree for a first offense or felony in the fifth degree for subsequent offenses
  • Bulk amount or more but less than five times the bulk amount: felony in the fourth degree.
  • Five times the bulk amount or more but less than 50 times the bulk amount: felony in the third degree (with a presumptive prison term)
  • Fifty times the bulk amount or more: felony in the second degree (and a mandatory prison term)

Penalties for Cocaine Possession

Below are the penalties for illegal cocaine possession.

  • Less than five grams: felony in the fifth degree
  • Five grams or more but less than 10 grams: felony in the fourth degree
  • Ten grams or more but less than 20 grams: felony in the third degree
  • Twenty grams or more but less than 27 grams: felony in the second degree (and a mandatory prison term)
  • Twenty-seven grams or more but less than 100 grams: felony in the first degree (and a mandatory prison term)
  • One hundred grams or more: felony in the first degree as a major drug offender (and a mandatory prison term)

Penalties for LSD Possession

Below are the penalties for the illegal possession of LSD.

  • Fewer than 10 unit doses in solid form or less than one gram in liquid form: felony in the fifth degree
  • Ten doses or more but fewer than 50 doses in solid form or one gram or more but less than five grams in liquid form: felony in the fourth degree
  • Fifty doses or more but fewer than 250 doses in solid form or five grams or more but less than 25 grams in liquid form: felony in the third degree
  • Two hundred fifty doses or more but fewer than 1,000 doses in solid form or 25 grams or more but less than 100 grams in liquid form: felony in the second degree (and a mandatory prison term)
  • One thousand doses or more but fewer than 5,000 doses in solid form or 100 grams or more but less than 500 grams in liquid form: felony in the first degree (and a mandatory prison term)
  • Five thousand doses or more in solid form or 500 grams or more in liquid form: felony in the first degree as a major drug offender (and a mandatory prison sentence)

Penalties for Heroin Possession

Below are the penalties for illegal heroin possession.

  • Fewer than 10 unit doses or less than one gram: felony in the fifth degree
  • Ten doses or more but fewer than 50 doses or one gram or more but not more than five grams: felony in the fourth degree
  • Fifty doses or more but fewer than 100 doses or five grams or more but not more than 10 grams: felony in the third degree
  • One hundred doses or more but fewer than 500 doses or 10 grams or more but less than 50 grams: felony in the second degree (and a mandatory prison term)
  • Five hundred doses or more but fewer than 1,000 doses or 50 grams or more but less than 100 grams: felony in the first degree (and a mandatory prison term)
  • One thousand doses or more or 100 grams or more: felony in the first degree as a major drug offender (and the maximum mandatory prison term)

Penalties for Fentanyl-Related Compounds

If a defendant knowingly possesses a drug that contains a fentanyl-related compound, the following penalties apply.

  • Fewer than 10 doses or less than one gram: felony in the fifth degree
  • Ten doses or more but fewer than 50 doses or one gram or more but not more than five grams: felony in the fourth degree
  • Fifty doses or more but fewer than 100 doses or five grams or more but not more than 10 grams: felony in the third degree
  • One hundred doses or more but fewer than 200 doses or 10 grams or more but less than 20 grams: felony in the second degree (and a mandatory prison term)
  • Two hundred doses or more but fewer than 500 doses or 20 grams or more but less than 50 grams: felony in the first degree (and a mandatory prison term)
  • Five hundred doses or more but fewer than 1,000 doses or 50 grams or more but less than 100 grams: felony in the first degree (and the maximum mandatory prison term)
  • One thousand doses or more or 100 grams or more: felony in the first degree as a major drug offender (and the maximum mandatory prison term)

Penalties for Controlled Substance Analogs

Below are the penalties for illegal possession of a controlled substance analog.

  • Less than 10 grams: felony in the fifth degree
  • Ten grams or more but less than 20 grams: felony in the fourth degree
  • Twenty grams or more but less than 30 grams: felony in the third degree
  • Thirty grams or more but less than 40 grams: felony in the second degree (and a mandatory prison term)
  • Forty grams or more but less than 50 grams: felony in the first degree (and a mandatory prison term)
  • Fifty grams or more: felony in the first degree as a major drug offender (and a mandatory prison term)

(Ohio Rev. Code §§ 2925.01, 2925.11 (2022).)

Additional Penalties for Drug Possession in Ohio

In addition to the penalties described above, the judge will suspend the defendant's driver's license for at least six months (and up to five years). The court must also send the conviction to any professional licensing boards that the defendant belongs to.

Penalty Reductions and Good-Samaritan Immunity

If a defendant charged with a fourth-degree felony can prove that the drugs were possessed solely for personal use, the judge may reduce the penalties to those for a fifth-degree felony or a misdemeanor.

Ohio also has a Good Samaritan law that provides immunity from drug charges for individuals who seek medical assistance for themselves or others experiencing a drug overdose. The Good Samaritan cannot be arrested, charged, prosecuted, convicted, or penalized for a minor drug possession offense if the evidence for the offense was obtained due to the emergency call and the person seeks addiction treatment services or a referral within 30 days.

(Ohio Rev. Code §§ 2925.11; 2925.38 (2022).)

Talk to an Attorney

Drug possession convictions can incur harsh fines and long periods of incarceration. A local criminal defense lawyer can review the facts of your case, explain your options, and advise you of the possible consequences.

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