Possession of a Controlled Substance in Alabama

Learn how Alabama punishes illegal possession of drugs and what alternatives to jail may be available.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 4/28/2023

All states, including Alabama, regulate and control the possession of controlled substances, though each differs in its exact definitions and penalties for illegal possession. Read on to learn how Alabama punishes the unlawful possession of various drugs.

How Does Alabama Classify Controlled Substances?

Alabama divides its controlled substances into five "schedules" according to their degree of dangerousness, with schedule I being the most dangerous and schedule V the least. Below are examples of drugs listed in each schedule.

Schedule I includes drugs such as heroin, LSD, marijuana, and psilocybin.

Schedule II includes drugs such as opium, fentanyl, and cocaine.

Schedule III includes drugs such as amphetamines and preparations containing codeine and morphine.

Schedule IV includes barbiturates.

Schedule V includes drug preparations with very low amounts of codeine, dihydrocodeine, or other narcotics.

Except for schedule I drugs, most controlled substances may be possessed legally so long as the holder has a valid prescription.

(Ala. Code §§ 20-2-22 to 20-2-31 (2022).)

Penalties for Illegal Drug Possession in Alabama

Alabama law divides possession penalties into two primary categories:

  • unlawful possession of marihuana or salvia divinorum, and
  • unlawful possession of all other controlled substances.

Possession penalties apply generally to situations where the defendant possesses an amount for personal use. If the circumstances suggest possession with an intent to sell the drugs, harsher sale penalties may apply.

The Alabama Code does not define what amount or circumstances qualify as "personal use." Typically, circumstances that suggest possession with intent to sell include possessing large amounts of the drug, along with scales, ledgers, packaging materials, and cash. Possession of very large amounts can be considered drug trafficking in Alabama.

Penalty for Unlawful Possession of Schedule I to V Drugs

Except for possession of marihuana and saliva divinorum, a person who unlawfully possesses a schedule I, II, III, IV, or V controlled substance faces a class D felony. A conviction for a class D felony carries a minimum sentence of incarceration of a year and a day and a maximum of five years, plus fines of up to $7,500.

Penalties for Unlawful Possession of Marihuana and Salvia Divinorum

Unlawful possession of marihuana or salvia divinorum for personal use carries a class A misdemeanor penalty for a first conviction. A person convicted of this second-degree offense faces up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $6,000. Subsequent convictions are considered first-degree offenses and carry class D felony penalties of one year and a day to five years in prison.

It's also a first-degree offense to unlawfully possess marihuana or salvia divinorum for purposes not related to personal use. This offense is a class C felony. A conviction can mean a prison sentence of up to 10 years, plus a $15,000 fine. The minimum sentence is a year and a day.

Penalty for Possession of Drug Paraphernalia

Anyone who possesses drug paraphernalia for use to inject, ingest, inhale, or otherwise introduce the drug into the body commits a class A misdemeanor. This offense can mean up to a year in jail.

Additional Drug Offense Fees and Penalties

Alabama law imposes fees and penalties that apply only to drug convictions (on top of regular fines and restitution). A first drug conviction results in a penalty assessment of $1,000. The penalty assessment is $2,000 for subsequent drug convictions. Another set of fees (ranging from $40 to $60) applies to possession convictions.

(Ala. Code §§ 12-19-181, 12-19-281, 13A-5-6, 13A-5-7, 13A-5-11, 13A-5-12, 13A-12-212, 13A-12-213, 13A-12-214, 13A-12-214.1, 13A-12-260 (2022).)

Will You Serve Time in Jail for Illegal Drug Possession in Alabama?

It depends. Repeat offenders will likely spend some time behind bars, as will those who are convicted of possessing larger amounts of drugs. First-time offenders and some others, however, might qualify for drug treatment diversion or drug court options (assuming it's offered—not all local jurisdictions have these options).

Diversion-to-Drug Treatment

Alabama law allows certain offenders charged with possession of small amounts of drugs to ask the prosecutor to defer (hold off on) prosecution and instead place them in a diversion-to-treatment program. To be eligible, the offender can't have any prior felony drug convictions or pending felony charges. Qualifying amounts are defined in the law. For example, a person won't qualify if they're charged with possessing more than 4 ounces of cannabis, 50 milligrams of LSD, or 20 ecstasy pills.

In the program, the offender must undergo an evaluation, complete all recommended treatment, pay restitution to any victims, and pay all costs of the program (unless indigent). If successful, the prosecution may drop the charges. On the flip side, failure to complete the program means the prosecutor can proceed with the case. (Ala. Code § 12-23-5 (2022).)

Drug Court or Pretrial Diversion

A defendant who doesn't qualify for "diversion-to-drug treatment" might qualify for a pretrial diversion program or drug court. In pretrial diversion and drug court, the offender must plead guilty to enter the program.

  • With pretrial diversion, the program is generally directed by the prosecutor (with court approval) and hefty fees may be involved.
  • Drug court is a highly specialized court with a team of justice partners. Anyone who is accepted into drug court must abide by the drug court rules, attend court frequently, and pay fees. Those charged with or previously convicted of a violent offense are not eligible.

Successful completion of either program can result in the prosecutor reducing or dismissing the charges or the court dismissing the case. Failure to abide by the rules can result in sanctions or removal from the program. Upon removal, the judge will typically proceed with conviction and sentencing.

(Ala. Code §§ 12-17-226.6, 45-41-83.11 (2022).)

Repeat or Habitual Felony Offenders

If you're a habitual felony offender or felony drug offender, you likely won't qualify for any of the alternatives mentioned above. Alabama imposes increasingly harsh penalties on individuals with prior felony convictions. The exact enhancement depends on the felony class of the current and prior offenses, as well as the number of prior felony convictions. A defendant facing a class C or D felony may face charges for a higher felony class if they have multiple prior felony convictions.

(Ala. Code § 13A-5-9 (2022).)

Talk to an Attorney

Convictions for illegal drug possession can result in stiff financial penalties and extended incarceration. If you face drug possession or related charges, talk to a criminal defense attorney specializing in defending drug cases. The lawyer can review your options based on the current charges and any prior convictions. You might want to ask about the possibility of diversion or drug court and whether they'd be a good option for you.

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