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.
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.
(Ark. Code §§ 5-64-203 to -216 (2022); Ark. Admin. Code 007.07.2 (2022).)
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:
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.
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.
All other schedule I and II drugs. Penalties for possession of all other Schedules I or II controlled substance are as follows.
The punishment for possession of Schedule III controlled substances ranges from a Class B felony to a Class A misdemeanor.
The punishment for possession of Schedules IV or V controlled substances ranges from a Class D to a Class B felony.
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.
(Ark. Code §§ 5-64-419, 5-64-421 (2022).)
Possession of the following amounts of an illegal controlled substance constitutes trafficking and is punishable as a Class Y felony:
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 law provides harsher penalties for possession crimes committed by repeat offenders and inmates or near areas with vulnerable populations.
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:
The law allows extended terms of imprisonment for defendants with prior felony convictions.
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).)
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).)
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.
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.