Written by attorney Nicholas Milan Loncar

A Guide to California Drug Crimes

Drug possession and sales make up a big percentage of criminal cases in California. Even simply possessing certain drugs for personal use is a felony and can lead to time in State Prison. In addition to criminal sanctions, drug crimes can affect employment and even eligibility for federal financial aid (students must be very careful to avoid even a marijuana possession conviction if they wish to maintain federal student aid eligibility. In addition to being very common, drug crimes are notable for being the most likely type of case to be dismissed because of an unlawful search, illegally obtained search warrant, and other deceptive tactics by law enforcement. Despite the nature of drug crimes as generally being non-violent and even "victimless" crimes, they are heavily pursued by law enforcement agencies at every level. Police will lie, plant drugs, falsify affidavits to obtain search warrants and otherwise invade your Constitutionally-protected rights and liberties to make an arrest. It is important to know and assert your rights as explained here. If you are arrested for or charged with any of the following, contact a criminal defense attorney to represent your interests: POSSESSION OFFENSES: HS 11350 - Possession of a Controlled Substance Health & Safety Code 11350 makes possessing drugs like cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, Xanax, Percocet and more a felony. This crime is punishable by up to 3 years in state prison. There are diversion programs that allow people charged with drug possession to avoid a conviction (PC 1000) or avoid time in custody in favor of drug treatment (Prop 36). While HS 11350 is a strict felony (not reducible to a misdemeanor), it may be possible to negotiate a reduction to a lesser charge (e.g. HS 11377) that can later be reduced to a misdemeanor. HS 11550 - Under the Influence of a Controlled Substance Health & Safety Code 11550 makes it a misdemeanor to use or be under the influence of a controlled substance, even if you do not have any illegal substances in your possession. HS 11364 - Possession of Drug Paraphernalia It is a misdemeanor under Health & Safety Code 11364 to possess any drug paraphernalia, including pipes, bongs, needles, etc. This charge is often PC 1000 or Prop 36 eligible and often the result of an unlawful search that can lead to a dismissal. HS 11377 - Possession of Methamphetamine, PCP, GHB, etc. Most commonly applied to possession of Meth in Southern California, Health & Safety Code 11377 makes it illegal to possess Methamphetamine and other drugs. Unlike HS 11350, HS 11377 can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. This decision is left to the DA. Even if originally filed as a felony, the charge may be negotiated down to a misdemeanor or even later reduced to a misdemeanor after successful completion of probation (17B motion). SALES/MANUFACTURING OFFENSES: HS 11351 - Possession of Narcotics for Sale It is a felony under Health & Safety Code 11351 to possess illegal drugs with the intention to sell them. Packaging, quantity, dealer paraphernalia (e.g. scales, baggies), large sums of cash, and other factors will determine whether someone is charged with possession or possession for sale. Sales offenses are generally not eligible for PC 1000 or Prop 36 diversion, but it may be possible to negotiate a lesser charge to keep your record clean and keep you out of jail. Possession of Methamphetamine for sale is usually charged as HS 11378. HS 11352 - Sale/Transportation of a Controlled Substance It is a felony under Health & Safety Code 11352 to sell (or even give away) illegal drugs. Like HS 11351, this charge is generally not eligible for PC 1000 or Prop 36 diversion. Nonetheless, you might still have strong defenses under Fourth Amendment search and seizure law or entrapment law. Sale of Methamphetamine is usually charged as HS 11379. HS 11379.6 - Manufacture of Narcotics Health & Safety Code 11379.6 provides the harshest punishments of all California drug crimes. It can apply to anything from pressing kief into hash up to operating a meth lab. These charges are very serious, but you may have defenses. The Fourth Amendment may make the search that led to an arrest unlawful. Marijuana laws are treated differently and will be the subject of a future post.

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