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Oceanside Drug Crime Defense Attorneys

California’s Drug Laws

The landscape of drug possession, distribution, and legal penalties is changing all the time. Understanding how to navigate the current laws is beneficial. Keep reading to learn more about California drug laws, penalties, and available common defenses.

A controlled substance is a regulated drug that has been placed on a schedule of controlled substances by the State of California. The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 categorizes these controlled substances into five schedules based on how addictive they are and what their medicinal uses are. Here are the five schedules and some examples for each:

  • Schedule I: LSD, heroin, ecstasy
  • Schedule II: Vicodin, methamphetamine, cocaine
  • Schedule III: Codeine, ketamine, anabolic steroids
  • Schedule IV: Xanax, Ambien, Valium
  • Schedule V: Cough medication that contains codeine

While the majority of states adhere to the federal drug schedules, California has enacted legislation that has altered the way the courts approach controlled substances. For example, in November 2016, California voters approved Proposition 64, the Control, Regulate, and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which legalized recreational marijuana use. This made personal possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use legal for adults aged 21 and up. There are, nevertheless, a number of laws that California residents must follow in order to avoid state sanctions.

Some of the types of laws regarding drugs in California are related to possession and distribution.

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Drug Possession

Illegal Possession of Drugs

Possession is one of the lightest drug crimes in California, but the state will prosecute anyone who is found to be in illegal possession of a controlled substance pursuant to California Health and Safety Code section 11350.


If it is your first offense, you may only be charged with an infraction, which will result in a modest fine. However, a misdemeanor charge is more likely, which might result in up to a year in county jail. Immigrants may face more serious consequences, including possible deportation. You may be qualified to enter a diversion program or a rehabilitation center instead of heading to jail and have your charges dismissed if you have a solid legal defense.

It must be noted that the more harmful the controlled substance is in regard to the aforementioned schedules, the harsher the penalty. This is the case for marijuana as well, and while adult possession and use of marijuana is legal in California, anyone under the age of 21 can still be prosecuted under state law.


Unlawful Search and Seizure. A question a defense lawyer might ask is: Were you patted down by a police officer and subsequently arrested for possession? They may not have had the legal authority to do so, as all police officers must follow specific processes when searching and arresting a suspect. Hence, any evidence will be inadmissible.

Medical Necessity. This is also a common defense, as sometimes you might be legally entitled to be carrying a given drug with you but may not have the legal documentation to prove you are allowed to do so.

Mistaken Identity. If you live with others, the prosecution must prove that you were not only aware of the drugs’ presence but also that they were yours and someone else’s.

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Drug Sale and Distribution


A violation of California Health & Safety Code section 11351 occurs when a controlled substance is intended to be sold outside of specific pharmaceutical, medical, dental, or commercial operations. Law enforcement frequently refers to drug sales and distribution as “middle tier” or “street level” offenses. It is more serious than simple possession but not quite as hazardous as drug manufacturing and involvement in a drug cartel, commonly known as drug trafficking.

In drug sales and distribution instances, intent is critical. The prosecution must show that you planned to sell the drugs you had in your possession rather than consume them yourself.

While it is legal for licensed businesses to sell marijuana and individuals to possess and grow small amounts of it, if you have more than the legal limit or distribute it outside of commercial channels, you may be charged with intent to sell.


This “middle tier” status does not imply that you will be treated leniently by the authorities. If you are convicted of selling or distributing drugs, you will face felony charges and the following penalties: up to two, three, or four years in state prison; up to $20,000 in fines; and/or felony probation.

California uses an escalating penalty system based on the subjective nature of cases. For example, the more illegal substances you are accused of distributing, the higher the penalties associated with your conviction. Furthermore, distribution of more dangerous narcotics (based on the drug’s schedule) receives harsher penalties.

Common Defenses for Distribution

A skilled Oceanside drug crime lawyer can use a variety of defenses to get your charges reduced or removed, including arguing that you were not aware you were in possession of a controlled substance or that you were legally allowed to have that substance in a large quantity, that the drugs were for personal use and you had no intention of selling them, or that the police illegally searched your abode and seized the drugs illegally.

While the intent to sell is a highly specific offense under California law, prosecutors must successfully prove that you met each of the required elements of the crime in order to convict you.

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Schedule a Consultation With Oceanside Drug Crime Defense Attorney James N. Dicks

If you have been charged with possession or distribution of a controlled substance, get in touch with an Oceanside criminal defense lawyer at jD Law Criminal Defense Attorneys at (760) 638-5266 to discuss your case in a consultation. Attorney James N. Dicks is a former narcotics investigator and board-certified criminal law specialist with the qualifications to advise you.

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