Introduction

Drug-related crimes are obviously rampant in Southern California and, in particular, Los Angeles County, for one simple reason: this is one of the main entry points of illicit drugs in the entire United States. Commensurately, local law enforcement agencies wage a particularly virulent and overzealous war against drugs, thereby exposing innocent residents to false accusations, unconstitutional searches & seizures, and overall police misconduct during investigations.

In 2021, California's governor Gavin Newson signed Senate Bill 73 to remove mandatory minimums for persons convicted of non-violent drug crimes. This protects defendants from unduly harsh sentences that are disproportionate to an offense. As a result, and in conjunction with an overall focus on social justice as opposed to incarceration for non-violent drug offenses, there has literally never been a better time in California history to be prosecuted for drug offenses.

Drug Crimes Defined

Drug crimes involve the illicit manufacturing, distribution, or use of drugs classified as controlled substances by the state or federal government. A crime can also constitute a combination of several offenses, significantly increasing the punishment imposed upon conviction.

"Drug crimes" is a broad term, and the facts of a case will dictate the most befitting charges. The most common drug crimes include drug trafficking and the illegal possession or manufacture of a controlled substance. See, for example, criminal offenses regarding meth:

Possession of Methamphetamine (California Health and Safety Code section 11377: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/health-and-safety-code/hsc-sect-11377.html)

Possession for Sale of Methamphetamine
(California Health and Safety Code section 11378: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/health-and-safety-code/hsc-sect-11378.html)

Sale or Transportation of Methamphetamine (California Penal Code section 11379: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/health-and-safety-code/hsc-sect-11379/

Possession of a controlled substance for personal use is prohibited when you lack a valid prescription.

See, e.g., Forging or Altering a Prescription (California Health and Safety Code section 11368 (https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/health-and-safety-code/hsc-sect-11368.html).

There are five different "schedules" or classifications of controlled substances. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous, highly addictive substances with the lowest level of accepted medicinal value.

Some of the controlled substances in each schedule are as follows:

  • Schedule I — Ecstasy, heroin, PCP, cocaine base, peyote, and other hallucinogens;

  • Schedule II — Methamphetamine, amphetamines, opium, and opioids such as morphine and Vicodin;

  • Schedule III — Ketamine, pentobarbital, and certain anabolic steroids;

  • Schedule IV — Tramadol, Xanax, diazepam, and Ambien (zolpidem);

  • Schedule V — Phenergan with Codeine, ezogabine, and Robitussin AC.

See: https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/schedules/;

https://www.dea.gov/drug-information/drug-scheduling.

When determining whether to charge you with a felony or misdemeanor, the prosecutor will consider the following:

  • The drug's schedule (schedule I drugs attract more severe charges and penalties);

  • The quantity of the controlled substance (possession for personal use or sale);

  • An offender's prior offenses; and

  • Other aggravating factors.

See, e.g., Possession of a Controlled Substance While Armed with a Firearm (California Health and Safety Code section 11370.1: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/health-and-safety-code/hsc-sect-11370-1.html);

Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Commit Sexual Assault (California Health and Safety Code section 11350.5: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displayText.xhtml?lawCode=HSC&division=10.&title=&part=&chapter=6.&article=1 & California Health and Safety Code section 11377.5): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/health-and-safety-code/hsc-sect-11377-5.html; and
Possession for Sale of Methamphetamine While on Bail (California Penal Code section 12022.1: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-12022-1.html).

Though most drug offenses attract misdemeanor charges, aggravating factors can allow the court to prosecute you for a felony or even hand the case off to federal authorities so you can be prosecuted under federal laws. Either way, you’ll face a far stricter penalty in the form of a potentially lengthy prison term.

See: U.S. Attorney's Office -- Central District of California (https://www.justice.gov/usao-cdca/contact

FBI: https://www.fbi.gov/about/faqs/what-is-the-fbi

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA): https://www.dea.gov

Common Drug Crimes in Los Angeles County

You can face drug crime charges for violating laws and regulations prohibiting controlled substances' possession, use, manufacture, or distribution. For instance, while marijuana possession for personal use is not illegal in California, possession of the drug for sale without a state-issued license is a crime.

See, e.g., simple Possession of Marijuana (California Health and Safety Code section 11357: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/health-and-safety-code/hsc-sect-11357.html);

See also: https://cannabis.ca.gov/applicants/how-to-apply-renew/.

Also, it is an offense to drive under the influence of a controlled substance, irrespective of whether you have a valid prescription.

See: DUID -- Driving Under the Influence of a Drug (California Vehicle Code section 23152(f): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/vehicle-code/veh-sect-23152.html)

Some of the most common drug crimes include:

Possession of a Controlled Substance (California Health and Safety Code section 11350: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/health-and-safety-code/hsc-sect-11350.html)

Under Health and Safety Code § 11350(a), possessing a controlled substance without a valid prescription is illegal. The prosecution must prove five essential elements beyond a reasonable doubt to convict you of the particular offense.

These elements include:

  • You possessed a drug, narcotic, or its analog that is criminalized by California or federal law;

  • You did not have a valid prescription for the drug;

  • You knew about the presence of the controlled substance;

  • You know about the drug's nature as a controlled substance; and

  • You only possessed the illicit drug in a usable amount.

See: CALCRIM Number 2304 (“Simple Possession of Controlled Substance -- Health & Saf. Code §§ 11350, 11377”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2304/

"Possession" implies that you had control over a controlled substance and either had it in your direct possession or in an area you could easily access, such as your storage unit, office, or car.

On the other hand, "knowledge" about the presence of a drug entails that you knew that you possessed an illicit substance. However, the prosecution does not have to prove that you knew about the specific drug in your possession.

See also: CALCRIM Number 2400 (“Using or Being Under the Influence of Controlled Substance -- Health & Saf. Code § 11550”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2400/

CALCRIM Number 2401 (“Aiding and Abetting Unlawful Use of Controlled Substance -- Health & Saf. Code § 11365”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2401/

Penalties for Possession of a Controlled Substance Conviction (Health and Safety Code section 11350)

The possession of a controlled substance is a misdemeanor punishable by:

Possession for Sale of a Controlled Substance (Health and Safety Code section 11351: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/health-and-safety-code/hsc-sect-11351.html)

Under Health and Safety Code § 11351, possessing a controlled substance with the intent to sell it is a crime. Health and Safety Code section 11351 differs from Code section 11350 in terms of the possessor's intent. Unless a defendant voluntarily confesses to an offense, the prosecution must depend on extrinsic evidence to establish the plan to use or sell.

Some of the factors that prove intent to sell are:

  • Large quantities of a controlled drug or narcotic;

  • Scales and packaging baggies;

  • A significant amount of money in small denominations; and

  • Heavy foot traffic from people who enter your residence and leave shortly after.

The crucial elements the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to convict you of possession of a controlled substance for sale include:

  • You possessed a drug, narcotic, or its analog that is criminalized by state or federal laws;

  • You knew about the presence of the controlled substance;

  • You know about the drug's nature as a controlled substance; and

  • You intended to sell the illicit drug or possessed amounts enough to sell/ distribute.

See: CALCRIM Number 2302 (“Possession for Sale of Controlled Substance -- Health & Saf. Code §§ 11351, 11351.5, 11378, 11378.5”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2302/

CALCRIM Number 2335 (“Possession with Intent to Manufacture Methamphetamine or N- ethylamphetamine -- Health & Saf. Code § 11383.5(a)”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2335/

CALCRIM Number 2336 (“Possession with Intent to Manufacture PCP -- Health & Saf. Code § 11383(a)”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2336/

CALCRIM Number 2337 (“Possession with Intent to Manufacture Methamphetamine -- Health & Saf. Code § 11383.5(b)(1)”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2337/

CALCRIM Number 2338 (“Possession of Isomers or Precursors with Intent to Manufacture Controlled Substance -- Health & Saf. Code § 11383.5(c)-(f)”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2338/

Penalties for Possession for Sale of a Controlled Substance Conviction (Health and Safety Code section 11351)

Violating Health and Safety Code § 11351 is typically charged as a felony. However, in atypical circumstances, because this offense is considered to be a “Wobbler” (California Penal Code section 17(b): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-17.html).

When a defendant engages in multiple sales of a controlled substance, the court will impose a penalty for each separate count of the offense upon conviction, which entails the following sentence:

  • Imprisonment for one year in county jail, or

  • 2 to 20 years' incarceration if there are aggravating factors.

Sale or Transportation of a Controlled Substance (Health and Safety Code section 11352: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/health-and-safety-code/hsc-sect-11352.html)

Health and Safety Code § 11352 makes it a crime to sell, transport, administer, import, or furnish a controlled substance. Some of the street drugs prohibited in the statute include cocaine and heroin, as well as common prescription drugs like codeine and hydrocodone. Among the drugs exempted from H.S. § 11352 are methamphetamine and marijuana.

You can be convicted for sale or transportation of a controlled substance if you engage in any of the following acts:

  • Selling, distributing, or otherwise trafficking a controlled substance;

  • Furnish it;

  • Administer an illicit drug to another person;

  • Transport it for sale or import it into the state;

  • Give it away;

  • Volunteer to sell, transport, furnish, import, administer or give away a controlled substance.

See: CALCRIM Number 2300 (“Sale, Transportation for Sale, etc., of Controlled Substance -- Health & Saf. Code §§ 11352, 11379”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2300/

CALCRIM Number 2301 (“Offering to Sell, Transport for Sale, etc., a Controlled Substance -- Health & Saf. Code §§ 11352, 11379”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2301/

CALCRIM Number 2315 (“Sale of Substitute Substance -- Health & Saf. Code §§ 11355, 11382”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2315/

CALCRIM Number 2316 (“Offer to Sell Substitute Substance -- Health & Saf. Code §§ 11355, 11382”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2316/

The prosecution will need to prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt to convict you under H.S. § 11352:

  • You sold, transported, imported, furnished, administered, or gave away a controlled substance;

  • You knew about the drug's presence;

  • You knew of the drug's nature as a controlled substance; and

  • You possessed a controlled substance with the intent to sell it.

In 2014, the legislative amendments made transporting a controlled substance a crime under section 11352 but only when a drug is moved with the intent to sell it. Before that, you could face felony charges under this same statute merely for moving a drug, irrespective of the distance covered or the means of transportation used.

Penalties for Sale or Transportation of a Controlled Substance Conviction (Health & Safety Code section 11352)

The penalty for violating H.S. § 11352 depends on the particular facts of a case, as well as the criminal history of a defendant. Penalties for the first offense include:

  • Formal probation;

  • Imprisonment for 2, 4, or 5 years in county jail; or

  • 3, 6, or 9 years' incarceration (if you transport drugs across multiple county lines).

The above is merely the basic penalty for selling or transporting a controlled substance. If aggravating factors exist, the court can impose sentence enhancements and extend jail time up to 25 years.

Possession of Drug Paraphernalia (California Health and Safety Code section 11364: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/health-and-safety-code/hsc-sect-11364.html)

Health & Safety Code § 11364 prohibits the possession of drug paraphernalia. These are instruments or devices used to illegally consume a controlled substance. Some typical paraphernalia used to smoke, inject, or otherwise consume illicit drugs include opium pipes, miniature cocaine spoons, syringes, hypodermic needles, and glass pipes.

There are three vital elements the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to convict you:

  • You possessed or had control over drug paraphernalia;

  • You know about the paraphernalia's presence; and

  • You knew that what you had was drug paraphernalia.

See: CALCRIM Number 2410 (“Possession of Controlled Substance Paraphernalia -- Health & Saf. Code § 11364”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2410/

CALCRIM Number 2411 (“Possession of Hypodermic Needle or Syringe -- Bus. & Prof. Code § 4140”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2411/

Penalties for Possession of Drug Paraphernalia Conviction (Health and Safety Code section 11364)

Violating H.S. § 11364 is a misdemeanor, and a conviction attracts the following punishment:

  • Incarceration for up to 6 months in county jail.

Transportation of Marijuana (Health and Safety Code section 11360(a): https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sectionNum=11360.&lawCode=HSC)

Possession of marijuana for recreational use is not illegal in California. However, the sale of the drug is still regulated within the state, and you must have a license to sell marijuana legally. Health and Safety Code § 11360 makes it illegal to sell, give away, transport, or import any amount of marijuana or hashish (concentrated cannabis) without a valid state license.

The elements of the offense are as follows:

  • You sold, furnished, transported, imported, administered, or gave away a usable quantity of marijuana;

  • You lacked a valid license to distribute the drug;

  • You knew about the drug's presence and nature.

See: Sale, Furnishing, Administering, or Importing of Cannabis (California Health and Safety Code section 11360(a): https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sectionNum=11360.&lawCode=HSC);

Possession for Sale of Cannabis (California Health and Safety Code section 11359: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/health-and-safety-code/hsc-sect-11359.html)

See also: CALCRIM Number 2350 (“Sale, Furnishing, Administering, or Importing of Cannabis -- Health & Saf. Code § 11360(a)”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2350/

CALCRIM Number 2351 (“Offering to Sell, Furnish, etc., Cannabis -- Health & Saf. Code § 11360”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2350/

CALCRIM Number 2352 (“Possession for Sale of Cannabis -- Health & Saf. Code § 11359”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2352/

Penalties for Transportation of Marijuana Conviction (Health and Safety Code section 11360(a))

Violating H.S. § 11360 is a wobbler offense charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the facts of the case. A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by:

  • A county jail sentence for up to 6 months.

A felony conviction for the unlicensed sale or transportation of marijuana entails the following penalty range:

  • A county jail sentence for 2, 3, or 4 years.

See also: Sale or Transportation of a Controlled Substance (California Health and Safety Code section 11352: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/health-and-safety-code/hsc-sect-11352.html).

Manufacturing a Controlled Substance (California Health and Safety Code section 11379.6: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/health-and-safety-code/hsc-sect-11379-6.html)

Under Health and Safety Code § 11379.6, it is an offense to manufacture a controlled substance. The prosecution can prove such a case by establishing two essential elements:

  • You manufactured, produced, prepared, or compounded an illicit drug; and

  • You knew the nature of the drug was an illegal narcotic.

Penalties for Manufacturing a Controlled Substance Conviction (Health & Safety Code § 11379.6)

If convicted for violating H.S. § 11379.6, the punishment to expect includes:

  • A state prison sentence for 3, 5, or 7 years.

Operating or Maintaining a Drug House (California Health and Safety Code section 11366: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/health-and-safety-code/hsc-sect-11366.html)

Health and Safety Code § 11366 criminalizes the operating or maintaining of a drug house. The premise is any place where people unlawfully use, sell, or give away controlled substances. Often, an H.S. § 11366 violation will also tag along with other drug crimes such as possession for sale under H.S. § 11351, possession of a controlled substance under H.S. § 11350(a), or the sale or transportation of a controlled substance under H.S. § 11352.

The elements of the offense are as follows:

  • You operated or maintained a place; and

  • You intended to give away, sell or allow people to use controlled substances within the premise.

A drug house can be any structure like an apartment, house, motel, or hotel room. On the other hand, to "operate or maintain" a drug house entails that you gave away or sold controlled substances within the structure continually.

See also: CALCRIM Number 2440 (“Maintaining a Place for Controlled Substance Sale or Use -- Health & Saf. Code § 11366”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2440/

Health and Safety Code § 11366 is a “Wobbler” (California Penal Code section 17(b): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-17.html), and therefore the facts of a specific case will determine whether the prosecution will file felony or misdemeanor charges.

Penalties for Operating or Maintaining a Drug House Conviction (H.S.C. section 11366)

The punishment for a misdemeanor conviction includes:

  • Up to 1-year in county jail.

A felony conviction for operating or maintaining a drug house entails:

  • State prison for up to 3 years.


Being Under the Influence of a Controlled Substance (California Health and Safety Code section 11550: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sectionNum=11550&lawCode=HSC)

Another common drug crime is being under the influence of a controlled substance without a valid prescription. The offense is a misdemeanor, and a defendant can benefit from alternative sentencing under California Penal Code section 1000: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=PEN&sectionNum=1000) or Proposition 36 if the crime is not violent.

See: https://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_36,_Changes_to_Three_Strikes_Sentencing_Initiative_(2012)

See also: https://lao.ca.gov/ballot/2000/36_11_2000.html

The prosecution must prove that you were under the influence of a drug or narcotic criminalized by state or federal law. Evidence can be obtained through chemical test results, the testimony of the arresting officer, or testimony of a Drug Recognition Expert (“DRE”): https://www.chp.ca.gov/programs-services/for-law-enforcement/drug-recognition-evaluator-program/schedule-of-classes/dre

Moreover, the prosecutor must prove two crucial elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • You willfully used a controlled substance or narcotic; and

  • You were willfully under the influence of this substance.

See: CALCRIM Number 2400 (“Using or Being Under the Influence of Controlled Substance -- Health & Saf. Code § 11550”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2400/

CALCRIM Number 2401 (“Aiding and Abetting Unlawful Use of Controlled Substance -- Health & Saf. Code § 11365”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2401/

Penalties for Being Under the Influence of a Controlled Substance Conviction (H.S.C. section 11550)

Being under the influence of a controlled substance is a misdemeanor. The offense is punishable by:

  • County jail time for up to 1 year.

Forging or Altering a Prescription (California Health and Safety Code section 11368 (https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/health-and-safety-code/hsc-sect-11368.html):

Health and Safety Code § 11368 prohibits forging or altering a narcotic prescription. It is also an offense to obtain or attempt to obtain a controlled narcotic using a forged or altered prescription. Finally, you can also face charges for possessing controlled substances obtained by using a falsified prescription.

See: Forging or Altering a Prescription (California Health and Safety Code section 11368 (https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/health-and-safety-code/hsc-sect-11368.html)

See also: CALCRIM Number 2320 (“Forged Prescription for Narcotic -- Health & Saf. Code § 11368”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2320/

CALCRIM Number 2321 (“Forged Prescription for Narcotic: with Possession of Drug -- Health & Saf. Code § 11368”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/2300/2321/

Health and Safety Code § 11027(a): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/health-and-safety-code/hsc-sect-11027.html describes a "prescription" as an order for a controlled substance given verbally, in writing, or through an electronic transmission by a licensed prescriber directly to a patient. The offense can carry a harsh penalty, especially when the drug is considered dangerous and/or poses a high risk of addiction.

The elements the prosecution must prove to convict you under Health and Safety Code § 11368 include:

  • You altered or forged a prescription;

  • You gave someone a forged or altered prescription; or

  • You used or tried to use a forged or altered prescription to obtain a narcotic drug.

If you are arrested for presenting a falsified prescription for a narcotic given to you by someone else, you can still be convicted under H.S. § 11368 if you knew it was forged. Either way, the offense is a wobbler.

Penalties for Forging or Altering a Prescription Conviction (Health & Safety Code section 11368)

A misdemeanor conviction attracts the following penalty:

  • Imprisonment in county jail for up to 1 year.

If charged as a felony, forging or altering a prescription is punishable by:

  • 16 months, 2, or 3 years in state prison.

The Los Angeles Defense Attorney Law Firm (LADALF)

Over the last eighteen years (since 2005), LADALF’s founder Ninaz Saffari has established herself as a highly skilled, knowledgeable, and experienced narcotics defense attorney – her “Case Results” on this website’s homepage speaks for itself. She has successfully argued numerous motions to exclude evidence, as well as motions to dismiss, based on the government’s trampling of her clients’ federal and state Constitutional rights.

See: Motion In Limine (California Evidence Code section 350: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=EVID&sectionNum=350; California Evidence Code section 352: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sectionNum=352.&lawCode=EVID)

Motion to Dismiss (California Penal Code section 995: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-995.html);

Motion to Suppress Evidence (California Penal Code section 1538.5): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-1538-5.html