Possession of a Controlled Substance in Arkansas

The basics of Arkansas's drug classifications and penalties for illegal possession.

By , J.D., University of Baltimore School of Law
Updated by Rebecca Pirius, Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated April 12, 2023

All states regulate and control the possession of controlled substances. Arkansas 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 the possession of controlled substances for personal use only. Possession of drugs for sale or distribution carries different penalties. For more information on possession with intent to sell or distribute, see Sale of Controlled Substances in Arkansas.

How Arkansas Classifies Controlled Substances

Arkansas classifies controlled substances into six schedules (I to VI), according to their potential for abuse and accepted medical use.

Schedules I to V generally follow the federal schedules and other state schedules with schedule I drugs having no medical use and the highest likelihood of abuse and schedule V drugs having accepted medical uses and the lowest likelihood of abuse. Schedule VI drugs are in their own category and include substances considered to be unsafe, highly abusive, and a public health risk that have no acceptable medical use.

Examples of drugs within each schedule are provided below.

  • Schedule I includes drugs such as heroin, psilocybin, mescaline, MDMA (ecstasy), and LSD.
  • Schedule II includes drugs such as raw opium, codeine, morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl, meth, and amphetamines.
  • Schedule III includes drugs such as pentobarbital, ketamine, and anabolic steroids.
  • Schedule IV includes drugs such as tramadol, diazepam, and barbital.
  • Schedule V includes drugs such as ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and cough medicines containing codeine.
  • Schedule VI includes drugs such as marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids, and salvia divinorum.

(Ark. Code §§ 5-64-203 to -216 (2022); Ark. Admin. Code 007.07.2 (2022).)

Arkansas's Penalties for Illegal Possession of a Controlled Substance

In Arkansas, illegal possession of controlled substances carries a range of penalties from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class A felony. These offense levels come with the following penalties:

  • Class A felonies can be punished by 6 to 30 years in prison.
  • Class B felonies carry 5 to 20 years in prison.
  • Class C felonies are punishable by 3 to 10 years in prison.
  • Class D felonies are subject to a maximum 6-year prison sentence.
  • Class A misdemeanors carry up to a year of jail time.

Along with incarceration, a defendant convicted of a felony faces fines of up to $10,000 or $15,000, and $2,500 for a Class A misdemeanor.

Possession crimes are primarily based on the type and amount of drug, and possession of large amounts falls under the crime of drug trafficking. Enhanced penalties may also apply.

Unlawful Possession of Schedule I or II Controlled Substances in Arkansas

Penalties for possession of schedule I or II drugs range from a Class D to Class B felony. Arkansas imposes three sets of penalties for unlawful possession of schedule I and II drugs—singling out harsher penalties for fentanyl, meth, heroin, and cocaine.

Fentanyl. Possession of less than one gram of fentanyl is a Class C felony.

Cocaine, heroin, and meth. The punishment for possession of cocaine, heroin, and meth is as follows.

  • Possession of less than 2 grams is a Class D felony.
  • Possession of 2 grams or more but less than 20 grams is a Class C felony.
  • Possession of 10 grams or more but less than 200 grams is a Class B felony.

All other schedule I and II drugs. Penalties for possession of all other Schedules I or II controlled substance are as follows.

  • Possession of less than 2 grams is a Class D felony.
  • Possession of 2 grams or more but less than 28 grams is a Class C felony.
  • Possession of 28 grams or more but less than 100 grams is a Class B felony.

Unlawful Possession of Schedule III Controlled Substances in Arkansas

The punishment for possession of Schedule III controlled substances ranges from a Class B felony to a Class A misdemeanor.

  • Possession of less than 2 grams is a class A misdemeanor except, if the person has 4 or more prior convictions, the penalty increases to Class D felony.
  • Possession of 2 grams or more but less than 28 grams is a Class D felony.
  • Possession of 28 grams or more but less than 200 grams is a Class C felony.
  • Possession of 200 grams or more but less than 400 grams is a Class B felony.

Unlawful Possession of Schedule IV or V Controlled Substances in Arkansas

The punishment for possession of Schedules IV or V controlled substances ranges from a Class D to a Class B felony.

  • Possession of less than 28 grams is a Class A misdemeanor except, if the person has 4 or more prior convictions, the penalty increases to Class D felony.
  • Possession of 28 grams or more but less than 200 grams is a Class D felony.
  • Possession of 200 grams or more but less than 400 grams is a Class C felony.
  • Possession of 400 grams or more but less than 800 grams is a Class B felony.

Unlawful Possession of Schedule VI Controlled Substances in Arkansas

The punishment for possession of Schedules VI controlled substances depends on the amount of the drug in the defendant's possession and whether the defendant has any prior convictions for possession of Schedule VI controlled substances.

  • Possession of less than 4 ounces is a Class A misdemeanor.
  • Possession of 1 ounce or more but less than 4 ounces when the defendant has 4 previous convictions for possession of Schedule VI drug is a Class D felony.
  • Possession of 4 ounces or more but less than 10 pounds is a Class D felony.
  • Possession of 10 pounds or more but less than 25 pounds is a Class C felony.
  • Possession of 25 pounds or more but less than 100 pounds is a Class B felony.
  • Possession of 100 pounds or more but less than 500 pounds is a Class A felony.

(Ark. Code §§ 5-64-419, 5-64-421 (2022).)

Arkansas's Penalties for Drug Trafficking

Possession of the following amounts of an illegal controlled substance constitutes trafficking and is punishable as a Class Y felony:

  • 1 gram or more of fentanyl
  • 200 grams or more of a Schedule I or II drug
  • 400 grams or more of a Schedule III drug
  • 800 grams or more of a Schedule IV or V drug, and
  • 500 pounds or more of a Schedule VI drug.

Class Y felony convictions can mean a prison term of 10 to 40 years or a life sentence.

(Ark. Code § 5-64-440 (2022).)

Arkansas's Enhanced Penalties for Drug Possession Crimes

Arkansas law provides harsher penalties for possession crimes committed by repeat offenders and inmates or near areas with vulnerable populations.

Felony Possession Near Schools, Public Facilities, and Other Designated Areas

A defendant convicted of a Class C felony possession or higher within 1,000 feet of these facilities may be punished by an additional 10 years' incarceration:

  • city or state park
  • public or private school, college, or university campus
  • school bus stop
  • skating rink, Boys Club, Girls Club, YMCA, YWCA, community center, recreation center, or video arcade
  • public housing project
  • drug or alcohol treatment center
  • daycare center
  • place of worship, or
  • shelter.

Repeat Offenders

The law allows extended terms of imprisonment for defendants with prior felony convictions.

Inmate in a Detention Facility

A defendant convicted of possession of drugs in a state, county, city, or juvenile detention facility will be punished under the next higher criminal classification.

(Ark. Code §§ 5-4-501, 5-64-411, 5-64-419 (2022).)

Penalties for Possession of Drug Paraphernalia in Arkansas

Arkansas also makes it illegal to possess and use drug paraphernalia—items used to ingest, inhale, inject, store, conceal, or weigh illegal controlled substances.

Possession of drug paraphernalia is a Class A misdemeanor. However, if a defendant has a prior drug conviction, a drug paraphernalia violation involving meth, heroin, fentanyl, or cocaine carries Class D felony penalties.

(Ark. Code § 54-64-443 (2022).)

Defenses to Drug Possession Crimes

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.

Drug possession crimes generally require proof that the defendant had actual or constructive possession of the drugs and knew what the drugs were. 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.

Another common defense strategy in drug possession cases is to challenge the legality of the search that led to the drugs. If police conducted an illegal search, typically, the evidence (the drugs) must be excluded. Without evidence of the drugs, the prosecution doesn't have much of a case.

Talk to an Attorney

Convictions for drug possession can result in heavy fines and incarceration, with even steeper penalties for people with a criminal history. A criminal defense attorney who specializes in drug crimes can review the facts of your case and advise you of your different options and their possible outcomes.

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