An Overview of Drug Offenses in California

California is tough on drugs. Take the harshest set of sentencing guidelines in the country, combine it with a “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” policy and a California drug charge can spell disaster for even the most recreational user. Put "Getting arrested in California" on your “don’t-under-any-circumstance-do-this” list right now. We’ll wait.

Common Drugs in California

California is at war with all drugs and those who abuse them, but the most commonly-abused substances they deal with are:

  • Marijuana - Grown in closets, sheds, and backyards, it provides feelings of euphoria and relaxation in many users. The drug may also be used legally for medical purposes to relieve pain and other symptoms associated with illnesses such as cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and diabetes.
  • Methamphetamines - Manufactured in dangerous “labs” which are often as simple as a bathtub, meth increases alertness and energy but can also lead to poor impulse control, criminal activity, and large-scale craziness.
  • Heroin and crack cocaine - Rated first and third in drug-related deaths respectively, both are highly addictive and dangerous. Chemically, heroin becomes morphine when it enters the body, putting users in a protective “bubble” that life cannot permeate. Cocaine provides a “high” or a “rush” that can last for hours.
  • Ecstasy - Known simply as “E” on the street, Ecstasy is a club drug most commonly used by youth. It can cause feelings of euphoria and closeness with others. A large amount of Ecstasy is cut with other substances, making it incredibly dangerous.
  • Prescription pills - Often, the most hazardous drugs are the ones in your own medicine cabinet. Prescription drug abuse is a growing problem in California and across the nation. From Adderall (a stimulant) to Oxycontin (a powerful painkiller), these drugs are abused and sold at an alarming rate.

The Consequences of Drug Offenses in California


If you’re caught with drugs in California, there are several different types of drug charges you can be saddled with, depending on the circumstance, including:

  • Misdemeanor drug possession - This primarily for marijuana possession, being found under the influence of drugs (but not in possession of the drugs themselves) or having drug paraphernalia. Possession for approved medical purposes is excluded from this charge.
  • Felony drug possession - This is for possession of any drug other than marijuana.
  • Drug possession with intent to sell - If you’re found with a large quantity of drugs or if your drugs are packaged to sell, you’re busted! The rules are different for this charge: wiretaps are admissible in court and the judge will hear witness testimony about suspicious or abundant activity at your home.
  • Drug trafficking - This is for those who are running drugs across state lines and the people who help them.
  • Manufacturing drugs - Methamphetamine labs and marijuana growing sites fall into this category.

A drug offense in California carries a variety of penalties. A misdemeanor can cost you a year in jail and a $1,000 fine; felonies can have a much more dramatic effect. Your prior criminal history can help determine your sentence, as will the severity of the offense and the sentencing guidelines. Even the most lax judge will impose fines, court fees, and prison or probation. California’s “three strikes” law means that your third felony drug offense could net you 25 years to life in prison!

Maybe you won’t get caught. Maybe you won’t get addicted. But even with a top-notch California defense attorney, the state's harsh sentencing guidelines and the very real possibility of spending some time in jail for a night of fun, the gamble just isn’t worth it.

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