What is the Sentence for Drug Possession in California?

Officer conducting a pat down in Riverside

Despite recent changes in California criminal law intended to address certain inequalities and other problems, drug possession remains a serious offense. Those convicted face a range of criminal sanctions summarized below, and they should speak with a drug crime defense law firm right away.

Under the California Health and Safety Code 11350 HSC, it is a misdemeanor to be in the unlawful possession of a controlled substance, which is defined under the United States Controlled Substances Act as any illicit street drugs and certain prescription medication possessed without a lawful prescription.

Examples of controlled substances include the following:

Some controlled substances covered by this law include such illegal drugs:

  1. Cocaine
  2. LSD
  3. Heroin

Examples of prescription drugs not validly prescribed to the person found in possession include

  1. Oxycodone (Oxycontin)
  2. Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  3. Valium, and
  4. Xanax


There are different levels of drug offenses in California. For example, If one is found in possession of small quantities of drugs, the offense is usually charged as a misdemeanor. If the quantity is large or the person is found in possession of the drugs for sale or distribution, then the offense will often be charged as a felony, which is more serious with heavy criminal sanctions.

For simple drug possession, the offense is punishable by:

  1. Serving time in a county jail for up to one year and/or
  2. A maximum fine of $1000

In some cases, a judge may exercise discretion and only impose some form of probation as punishment, usually for first-time offenders or when the judge deems probation warranted as the optimum punishment.

However, it is important to note that a seemingly light criminal punishment, including probation, is not the only consequence a person who has been convicted of a drug possession crime faces. There are other consequences, such as facing deportation if the person is in the country illegally or losing their gun rights or jobs.

What the Prosecutor Must Prove in Drug Possession Case

Before getting convicted for a criminal offense, the prosecutor is required by law to prove what is known as the “elements of the crime.” For drug possession, there are five elements that the prosecutor must prove with evidence, and these are:

  1. The person charged with the offense (the defendant) possessed a controlled substance as defined under Federal and California law,
  2. The defendant did not have a valid prescription for the substance,
  3. The defendant knew he or she had the substance,
  4. The defendant knew that the substance was a controlled substance, and
  5. The controlled substance was of a usable amount.

All the prosecutors must show in proving possession is that the person charged had control over the controlled substance. It is not necessary to show that the person, in fact, held the substance in their hands or touched it; it is enough to show that they had control over the substance.

For knowledge, the prosecutors need only show that the accused person had knowledge of both the presence of the controlled substance and that they knew the substance is one of the controlled substances.

Speak with a Riverside, CA Drug Offenses Attorney Today

If you have been charged with a drug possession crime, contact DeLimon Law today for a consultation. We can assess your situation and options for your strongest defense.

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