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Types of Drug Offenses

The State of California classifies and punishes drug offenses in two broad categories: simple possession of drugs for users and possession of drugs with the intent to sell. As these two categories indicate, California distinguishes people who “use” drugs and those who “sell” drugs and punishes those crimes differently. 

In 2014, Prop 47 was passed and changed the penalties for simple possession of drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine to misdemeanors. The main consideration of California laws between simple possession (the use of drugs) and intent to sell often depends on the amount of drug, the manner of packaging, and intent. For a person to be charged with the sales, trafficking, and manufacturing, the district attorney must prove the offender possessed the drugs and intended to sell them. The district attorney has discretion in how these crimes are charged depending on the circumstances surrounding the crime.


The possession of drug paraphernalia is also a misdemeanor in the State of California. Drug paraphernalia is defined as any device or material designed to be used to conceal, inject, manufacture, or produce a narcotic for ingestion into the body. Common forms of drug paraphernalia include glass smoking pipes, bent or burnt spoons, foil, or wrapping. This crime is charged under the Health and Safety Code section 11364, and the penalties may include up to six months in jail and a $1000 fine. Certain professions that require licensures, such as teachers, lawyers, contractors, and real estate agents, must be cautioned because if convicted of possession of drugs or paraphernalia could result in a suspension of the state license. 

Simple Possession of Narcotics  

The possession of a small or usable amount of drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine fall underneath California Health & Safety (HS) Code 11350 and 11377. 

Additionally, if you are found to be in possession of prescription drugs such as Xanax or Adderall without a prescription, you may also be charged with possession of drugs. To be charged with this offense, the district attorney must prove you knowingly had the drugs in your possession and that it was illegal. For example, if you possessed a prescription medication for your spouse because you were picking it up from the pharmacy for them, this is not unlawful. The penalties for simple possession in California are classified as misdemeanors and could include up to a year in county jail and/or probation, community service, and fines. 

Possession with the Intent to Sell

The State of California places severer punishments on the sale, manufacturing, and trafficking of narcotics. These crimes are charged as felonies and may result in lengthier jail and or prison sentences. Possession with the intent to sell most narcotics is charged under Health and Safety Code section 11351. Health and Safety code section 11351 carries a potential penalty of two to four years in jail. Similarly, possession of methamphetamine with the intent to sell falls under Health and Safety Code section 11379 and carries a potential penalty of two to four years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine. For the district attorney to convict a person for HS 11351 or HS 11379, they must prove the offender possessed a usable amount of a controlled substance, was aware it was present, knew it was a controlled narcotic with intended to sell it. 

Trafficking Narcotics

The penalties for the possession of drugs for sale could significantly increase if you are charged with trafficking. Trafficking includes specific actions and can add years to the original possession with intent to sell sentence if convicted. For example, if you possess drugs with the intent to sell within 1000 feet of a drug treatment or detox facility, or a homeless shelter may constitute trafficking and could add one year to the base sentence of 2, 3, or 4 years. If you are convicted of transporting narcotics with the intent to sell across two California county borders, you may be sentenced to up to an additional nine years. Finally, if you possess one or more kilograms of methamphetamine, an additional 3 to 15 years could be added to the base sentence (2, 3, or 4 years). It is important to note these additional trafficking charges will be served in prison and are consecutive sentences. That means if convicted, the offender must serve the original 2, 3, or 4 years first and then serve the additional time imposed for the trafficking offense. Additionally, if you are charged with trafficking, you cannot participate in a drug diversion program.

Manufacturing Narcotics

Manufacturing a controlled substance is illegal in California and falls under the Health and Safety Code section 11379.6. This statute deals with the manufacturing, preparation, compounding, processing, or production of any controlled substance such as methamphetamine, ecstasy, heroin, cocaine, or opiates. This crime is a felony, is punishable by 3, 5, or 7 years and a potential fine of $50,000. Several factors that may increase the punishment for this offense include manufacturing a large quantity of the controlled substance, if the manufacturing led to death or injury of a person or person, or if children are residing in the area used to manufacture the controlled substance. Each of these could aggravate the crime and increase the punishment.

H Law Group Online

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