Drug crimes involve illegal activities associated with possessing, manufacturing, distributing, or using controlled substances or illicit drugs. Being found guilty of these offenses can lead to substantial consequences, including incarceration and potential monetary fines. The severity of which depends on the specific law you have breached. A drug-related conviction will affect your social life, financial stability, and ability to secure employment. Thus, it is crucial to enlist the services of a seasoned drug attorney who will aggressively advocate for your defense.

The Monterey Criminal Attorney team systematically examines each type of drug crime and its corresponding penalties below, providing a clearer comprehension of these offenses.

Legal Definitions of Drugs and Controlled Substances

First, we must define two crucial terms to better understand drug-related offenses in California, namely:


Under California law, drugs include substances with potential misuse or abuse. This category includes both legal and illegal substances.

Legal drugs can only be obtained through a valid prescription from a licensed medical practitioner. They are intended for bona fide medical purposes. In contrast, illegal drugs are substances explicitly prohibited by the law. Examples of illicit drugs include cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.

Furthermore, legal drugs include prescription medications like opioids, sedatives, and stimulants. However, possessing them without a valid prescription is also considered unlawful.

Controlled Substances

Controlled substances are a distinct classification of drugs subject to regulation under both:

  • State statutes — Health and Safety Code Sections 11054 to 11058 of the California Health and Safety Code outline the controlled substance schedules. These schedules categorize controlled substances into distinct classes, from Schedule I to Schedule V. This classification is predicated on assessments of their potential for misuse and recognized medical applications. Additionally, these sections provide explicit details regarding the substances in each respective schedule.
  • Federal statutes — The primary federal framework governing controlled substances is the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This act is an all-encompassing federal law that meticulously oversees controlled substances' production, possession, distribution, and use. The CSA was established as an integral component of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 and finds its codification in Title 21 of the United States Code, specifically Sections 801 through 971.

Types of Drug Crimes

Different drug crimes are determined by the particular illegal activities an individual engages in. These activities can be broadly classified into several key categories, addressed below.

  1. Possession of a Controlled Substance

In California, one of the foundational drug-related violations is possession of a controlled substance, addressed in Health and Safety Code Section 11350. This statute makes possessing controlled substances, including illegal drugs and prescription medications, without a valid prescription illegal.

Possession falls into two distinct categories:

  • Actual possession — This refers to the tangible, physical control over a controlled substance. If you have drugs on your person, whether in your hand, pocket, or bag, you are considered to possess those drugs. Law enforcement can establish actual possession if they discover drugs directly on your body or within your immediate reach.
  • Constructive possession — On the contrary, constructive possession occurs when you possess the control or the right to control a controlled substance, even if it is not physically on your person. An example is when drugs are found in your home, vehicle, or any other location under your control. Authorities must prove that you were aware of the drugs' presence and had the ability to exert control over them.

If you are convicted of this offense, you could face these potential consequences:

  • A maximum of one year in jail
  • A maximum fine of $20,000 — This is likely, especially when your case has aggravating circumstances. These include:
    1. Your criminal past,
    2. The quantity of drugs involved,
    3. The use of a firearm,
    4. Whether you were found in possession of the substances on or near school grounds and
    5. The presence of minors, among others.

If you have a prior conviction for certain serious crimes, like sex offenses or offenses defined as "serious" in the Penal Code, you could face a minimum of three years in prison.

  1. Possession for Sale

Health and Safety Code Section 11351 deals with possession of a controlled substance for sale. This statute makes it unlawful to possess, intend to possess, or sell a range of illegal drugs explicitly listed in the law. These controlled substances include illicit street drugs like cocaine, heroin, and LSD and widely recognized prescription medications, for example, oxycodone (Oxycontin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and codeine.

Furthermore, the law prohibits purchasing these drugs with the intent to sell them.

Determining possession with intent to sell in drug-related cases depends on evaluating various factors. While the specifics can vary depending on the circumstances of the case, the following are common signs that indicate an intent to sell:

  • Quantity of drugs — Having a larger quantity of drugs than typical for personal use is a strong indicator of intent to distribute. It implies the drugs were meant for sale rather than personal consumption.
  • Packaging materials — Discovering drug paraphernalia like baggies, scales, or packaging materials often associated with drug distribution can signal an intent to sell.
  • Cash — The possession of a significant amount of cash, especially in smaller denominations, can suggest involvement in drug sales.
  • Individual packaging — If drugs are divided into smaller, individually packaged units, it implies an intention to distribute to multiple buyers.
  • Drug sales tools — The presence of items linked to drug sales, for example, ledgers, records, or buyer lists, can indicate an intent to distribute.

These indicators differentiate possession with an intent to sell from simple possession.

Penalties for Possession for Sale

A violation of HSC 11351 is a felony. A conviction is punishable by the following penalties:

  • 2, 3, or 4 years in jail.
  • A maximum fine of $20,000 or both.
  • Formal probation instead of jail time.

The penalties increase to 3, 4, or 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000 if you are convicted of possessing or purchasing cocaine base with the intention to sell. You will also be subject to additional penalties outlined under the statute based on the quantity of cocaine base, heroin or cocaine in your possession.

  1. Possession of Marijuana

Health and Safety Code Section 11357 of California deals with the possession of marijuana, also known as cannabis, for personal use. It establishes clear rules and regulations regarding the possession of marijuana. Here is a look at them:

Possession of Small Amounts of Cannabis

Individuals under 18 years of age commit an infraction when they possess small amounts of marijuana. The penalties include the following:

  • Completion of four hours of drug education or counseling and up to 10 hours of community service within 60 days for a first-offender.
  • Completion of six hours of drug education or counseling and up to 20 hours of community service within 90 days for subsequent offenders.

For individuals aged 18 to 21, they also commit an infraction. They will pay a fine of up to $100 for the violation.

Possession of Large Amounts of Cannabis

Individuals under 18 years of age who possess large amounts of cannabis commit an infraction. The penalties include:

  • Completion of eight hours of drug education or counseling and up to 40 hours of community service within 90 days for first-time offenders and
  • Completion of ten hours of drug education or counseling and up to 60 hours of community service within 120 days for subsequent offenders.

For individuals 18 years or older, possessing large amounts of marijuana is a misdemeanor. A conviction results in:

  • Up to six months in jail or
  • A maximum fine of $500 or both.

Possession of Marijuana on School Grounds

You commit a misdemeanor violation if you are aged 18 years or older and you possess marijuana on school grounds. The penalties upon conviction are:

  • A fine of up to $250 if you are a first-time offender.
  • If you are a subsequent offender, a maximum fine of $500 or imprisonment in jail for up to 10 days, or both.

Possession on school grounds by individuals under 18 years of age is an infraction punishable by:

  • Completion of four hours of drug education or counseling and up to 10 hours of community service within 60 days for a first-offender.
  • Completion of six hours of drug education or counseling and up to 20 hours of community service within 90 days for subsequent offenders.
  1. Sale or Transportation of Controlled Substances

Health and Safety Code Section 11352 covers a range of activities related to controlled substances, including importing, transporting, selling, administering, furnishing, giving away, or attempting these actions. It applies to individuals engaged in these activities involving specific controlled substances listed in the statute unless they possess a valid written prescription from a licensed medical professional.

Furthermore, it is important to note that this section does not hinder or restrict the prosecution of an individual for aiding, abetting, conspiring to commit, or acting as an accessory to any action prohibited by this statute.

Note: Transporting drugs covers moving them from one place to another, regardless of the distance traveled. This can involve bicycle riding, walking, or using vehicles.

However, you could be deemed guilty of drug transportation only if your intention was for the drugs to ultimately be sold. If you transport drugs for purposes other than sale, you could still face charges related to simple possession under HSC 11350.

Penalties for a Violation of HSC 11352

The sale or possession of controlled substances is a felony. A conviction is punishable by the following penalties:

  • Formal probation.
  • 3, 4, or 5 years in jail under California’s realignment initiative.
  • 3, 6, or 9 years in jail if convicted of transporting the controlled substances for sale across two or more counties in California.
  • A maximum fine of $20,000.
  1. Manufacturing a Controlled Substance

HSC 11379.6 addresses the offense of manufacturing, producing, compounding, converting, processing, preparing, or packaging a controlled substance. This law prohibits involvement in activities related to creating and producing controlled substances.

Importantly, you do not have to complete the entire drug manufacturing process to face charges under this statute. You can be deemed guilty if the District Attorney can prove two key points:

  • You knowingly participated in the production of a narcotic.
  • Your involvement occurred at either the initial or intermediate stages of the operation.

In essence, being part of drug production, even in its early or middle phases, can result in criminal charges under Health and Safety Code Section 11379.6.

A conviction on HSC 11379.6 charges is a felony violation punishable by the following penalties:

  • 3, 5, or 7 years in prison.
  • A maximum fine of $50,000.
  1. Under the Influence of a Controlled Substance

It is a crime under Health and Safety Code Section 11550 to be under the influence of a controlled substance. This law makes it unlawful for individuals to be intoxicated by a controlled substance, narcotic drug, or restricted dangerous drug unless they possess a valid prescription. Intoxication will happen if you use the drug.

It is important to clarify that, within this law, drug use must be recent, occurring immediately before arrest. The exact interpretation of this timeframe varies case by case. Some courts have considered drug use within 48 hours or even five days of an arrest, potentially leading to a conviction. Conversely, if withdrawal symptoms began before the arrest, signifying past drug use, it could result in an acquittal.

Additionally, the substance must have impacted one or more of the following to be classified under a controlled substance's influence. It should have affected the following:

  • Brain or mental condition.
  • Muscles or physical condition, or
  • Nervous system.

Notably, the standard for being under the influence per HS 11550 is less stringent than requirements in cases like drug-related DUIs or public intoxication. HS 11550 requires that an individual be under the influence in any detectable manner. Impairment or other forms of misconduct are not essential elements to establish this drug-related charge.

When law enforcement suspects an individual of being under the influence, they frequently involve a drug recognition expert (DRE) to evaluate whether the person is indeed under the influence of a narcotic substance. The DRE employs a 12-step assessment process to ascertain the presence of narcotic effects.

Penalties for Being Under the Influence of a Controlled Substance

A violation of HSC 11550 is a misdemeanor violation. A conviction will result in the following penalties:

  • A jail sentence of up to one year, or
  • A probationary period of up to five years, and
  • A fine of $70.
  1. Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

In California, driving under the influence of drugs, known as DUID, is addressed by specific sections of the California Vehicle Code, primarily Sections 23152(f) VC and 23152(g) VC.

VC 23152(f) - Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

Vehicle code 23152(f) prohibits anyone from operating a vehicle while under the influence of any drug. You will be considered to have used a drug, legal or illegal if it impairs your ability to operate a vehicle safely.

Notably, this law focuses on impairment rather than the specific type of drug.

Section 23152(g) VC - Driving Under the Combined Influence of Drugs and Alcohol

VC 23152(g) addresses situations where a driver is impaired by both drugs and alcohol simultaneously. It is illegal to drive when influenced by both substances.

Determining the legal limits for drugs in a driver's system is intricate. It involves chemical tests, for example, blood or urine tests. Unlike alcohol, which has established blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits, California does not have fixed limits for drugs. Instead, the emphasis is on assessing impairments. Law enforcement officers could conduct field sobriety tests and involve a drug recognition expert (DRE) to evaluate a driver's impairment.

Penalties for Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

A DUID offense is a misdemeanor. The crime is punishable by the following penalties:

  • 3 to 5 years of DUI probation.
  • A fine of at least $1,800 for a first offense.
  • Enrollment and attendance in a California DUI school program.
  • A driver’s license suspension, and
  • Possible jail time.

You can also face felony penalties for a DUID. Driving under the influence can escalate to a felony under specific circumstances:

  • If you are charged with DUI for the fourth time or more.
  • Even if it is not the fourth offense, having a prior felony DUI conviction can elevate a new DUI charge to a felony.
  • When a DUI causes injury to a third party.

Penalties for felony DUID convictions include:

  • A jail term of up to three years — If injury to a third party occurred, this can extend to four years.
  • Standard felony DUI fines of up to $1,000, while cases involving injury impose fines up to $5,000.
  1. Driving While Addicted to Drugs

Vehicle Code 23152(c) prohibits individuals from operating a motor vehicle while addicted to any narcotic drug.

In this context, addiction is a condition where an individual has developed a reliance on a narcotic substance to the extent that it has become an ongoing problem affecting their ordinary functioning.

VC 23152(c) categorizes addiction to drugs as an offense. However, you need not be actively under the influence of drugs or impaired while driving for this law to be applicable. The central focus is on addiction and the potential hazards of having an addicted person behind the wheel.

An important point to consider is that VC 23152(c) penalties could not be invoked for individuals actively participating in designated, approved drug treatment programs. These programs are purposefully structured to assist individuals in overcoming drug addiction. They can be a substitute for or component of the penalties typically associated with this offense. In the eyes of the law, participation in these programs can function as a mitigating factor. They could lead to reduced or alternative penalties for those seeking assistance and rehabilitation.

In practical terms, enforcing California's "driving while addicted to drugs" law, as outlined in VC 23152(c), is infrequent. Nonetheless, it remains an integral element of California's DUI laws. It can carry notable consequences if you are found guilty under this provision, especially if you have prior DUI convictions.

Penalties for a Violation of VC 23152

A first-time violation of VC 23152 is a misdemeanor offense with the following penalties:

  • Three to five years of informal DUI probation.
  • A minimum fine of $390 could total approximately $1,800 with added penalties and assessments.
  • While the maximum jail sentence can be six months, most counties do not impose jail time for first-time offenses without aggravating factors.
  • Expect a DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) driver's license suspension lasting at least six months.
  • Enroll in a mandatory three-month drug education program at a California DUI school.

Fourth-time offenders will face the felony penalties outlined under the section above, section (f) driving under the influence of drugs.

California’s Drug Diversion Program

PC 1000 applies to specific drug-related offenses like:

  • Controlled substance violations.
  • Personal marijuana use.
  • Solicitation for personal use and
  • Being under the influence of drugs.

You must meet specific criteria to qualify for the program. Some of the conditions you must meet include:

  • No recent drug-related convictions (except for these offenses).
  • No violence in the charged offense.
  • No evidence of other drug violations, and
  • No prior felony convictions in the last five years.

The prosecutor thoroughly reviews your case to determine your eligibility. If you meet the necessary criteria, the prosecutor will file a declaration or provide reasons confirming your eligibility. This crucial step sets the stage for a pretrial diversion hearing. However, if you are deemed ineligible for PC 1000, your sole recourse is to pursue an appeal after a conviction.

Once you are deemed eligible, referrals for pretrial diversion are directed toward certified county drug programs or credible programs that offer their services at no cost to participants. You have the flexibility to select a program in any county as long as it meets the established criteria.

It is worth emphasizing that PC 1000 does not shield administrative agencies from taking disciplinary actions or denying licenses in cases related to specific drug offenses. Furthermore, as part of the program, you could be required to undergo drug tests. Nevertheless, the results of these tests cannot be used as evidence in new criminal cases against you. This provision is designed to ensure that your involvement in PC 1000 does not lead to further legal repercussions.

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Facing drug crime charges can be extremely daunting. Hence, it is in your best interest to seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney. They are pivotal in guiding you through the legal complexities, safeguarding your rights, and striving for the most favorable resolution.

At Monterey Criminal Attorney, we will meticulously evaluate the evidence, develop a robust defense strategy, negotiate with prosecutors, and, if required, represent you in court. Our assistance will be invaluable in the outcome of your drug-related legal proceedings. Contact us at 831- 574-1791.