Arizona, like other states, regulates legal and illegal drug possession. While Arizona lists drug schedules in its Controlled Substance Act, criminal penalties for illegal drug possession don't follow these drug schedules. Rather, Arizona groups drugs into specific categories for purposes of determining criminal penalties.
Arizona divides illegal drugs into numerous groups based on the type of substance the defendant possessed. This article will discuss penalties for the following categories:
Note that a person can legally possess certain drugs, such as codeine (a common painkiller), with a valid prescription.
If you've been arrested for drug possession, consult the Arizona Statutes to determine the category for the specific drug involved. Drug offenses can be found in title 13, chapter 34. You'll find drugs listed under the definitions (section 13-3401)—many will be found under the definitions of narcotics and dangerous drugs.
Arizona makes illegal possession of a narcotic drug a class 4 felony, punishable by 18 months to 3 years in prison. Narcotics generally refer to substances derived from opium or its synthetic substitutes, as well as drugs with similar effects on the central nervous system. Arizona lists the following drugs under the definition of narcotics: opium, heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, codeine, morphine, and oxycodone. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-3408 (2022).)
Arizona defines "dangerous drugs" as those containing hallucinogenic substances or having a stimulant or depressant effect on the central nervous system and a potential for abuse. Examples of dangerous drugs include LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, MMDA, amphetamine, meth, diazepam, PCP, and ketamine.
Possession of a dangerous drug carries a class 4 felony penalty and 1.5 to 3 years in prison. For certain first-time felony offenders, the judge may designate the offense as a class 1 misdemeanor on the condition that the offender successfully completes probation. This reduced penalty does not apply to any first-time felony offenders facing charges involving LSD, meth, amphetamine, or PCP. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-3407 (2022).)
Arizona permits recreational possession of one ounce or less of marijuana by adults age 21 and older in private settings.
For possession offenses above the legal recreational amount, the penalties increase as the amount of marijuana increases.
Petty offense. Possession of more than one ounce but not more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana is a petty offense, punishable by a fine of up to $300.
Class 6 felony. Possession of more than 2.5 ounces but less than 2 pounds of marijuana constitutes a class 6 felony. A class 6 felony is punishable by 6 to 18 months' incarceration. Judges may sometimes reduce a class 6 felony to a class 1 misdemeanor.
Class 5 felony. Possession of 2 pounds or more but less than 4 pounds of marijuana is a class 5 felony and carries 6 months to 2.5 years in prison.
Class 4 felony. Possession of 4 pounds or more of marijuana is a class 4 felony with penalties of 1.5 to 3 years in prison.
Personal possession of one ounce or less by an individual younger than 21 results in a civil fine for a first violation, a petty offense for a second violation, and a class 1 misdemeanor for a third or subsequent violation.
Possession of peyote is a class 6 felony, punishable by 6 to 18 months in prison. However, a defendant can defeat a charge of possession by proving the peyote was used for religious reasons during the course of a religious exercise and did not pose a threat to the community. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-3402 (2022).)
Arizona also makes it illegal to knowingly inhale or ingest any substance that contains or emits toxic vapors. These substances include glues and aerosol sprays that release fumes containing butyl alcohol, benzene, isopropyl alcohol, and other listed chemicals. Possession of a substance that emits toxic vapors is a Class 5 felony but may be reduced to a Class 1 misdemeanor by the court. A Class 5 felony is punishable by 6 months to 2.5 years' incarceration. If the conviction is sentenced as a Class 1 misdemeanor, the court can impose a six-month jail term. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-3403 (2022).)
Arizona also imposes enhanced penalties for repeat offenders and drug possession in drug-free school zones.
Repeat offenses. Repeat felony offenders face longer sentences under Arizona's general sentencing laws. The length of the sentence depends on the number of priors and whether aggravating factors were involved. Those convicted of repeat misdemeanor-level offenses generally face sentencing at the next higher misdemeanor class.
Drug-free school zones. A person convicted of possession of marijuana, peyote, dangerous drugs, or narcotic drug in a drug-free school zone will have an additional year tacked on to their minimum and maximum sentence. In addition, the person won't be eligible for a suspended sentence or probation and faces a minimum fine of three times the value of the drugs involved.
If you face drug possession charges, even something that seems minor, contact a local criminal defense attorney. Your attorney can evaluate the facts of your case and any possible defense strategies, such as seeking to exclude evidence of drugs based on an unlawful search or seizure.