Drug Possession


Drug Possession Information

In the United States, federal and state drug possession laws make it a crime to willfully possess illegal controlled substances such as marijuana, amphetamine, cocaine, LSD and heroin.  These laws criminalize the possession of “precursor” chemicals used in drug cultivation and manufacturing, as well as accessories related to drug use.

California Drug Possession Information


Drug possession laws vary from state to state and based on the type, amount, and geographic area of the drug offense.  Possession of small quantities may be deemed “simple” possession, while possession of large amounts may result in a charge of presumed “possession with intent to distribute and sell.”


California has some of the harshest sentencing guidelines for drug offenses in the United States. Having illegal drugs on your person or in your house or car is defined as possession and you can go to jail for it. For most controlled substances, possession for personal use is a felony. Misdemeanor charges include marijuana (cannabis) possession, being under the influence of a drug, and possession of drug-related items called paraphernalia (pipes, bongs, etc.). To be convicted, the prosecution must prove that you knew about and controlled the drug in question. Even if you didn’t have drugs on you when you were arrested, you can be convicted if drugs were found in your car, house, or purse.

Drug Possession with Intent to Sell


Anyone who contributes to the production, packaging, distribution or sale of narcotics can be charged with drug dealing in California. The penalty for distributing drugs is usually prison, and drug dealers are rarely given probation in California, even for first-time offenses.


It is a felony to possess or buy illegal drugs that you intend to sell. The prosecution doesn’t have to prove that you sold them—just that you intended to sell them. Money need not change hands to be convicted of drug possession for sale.


Intent to sell can be proven by evidence such as drug packaging (small bundles), weighing scales, cutting agents, people coming to/going from your home at all hours, fortified windows, conversations with police informants, undercover officers, or wiretapped telephone (cell, portable or landline) conversations.

California Proposition 36


The Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, also known as Proposition 36, was passed by 61% of California voters on November 7, 2000. This vote permanently changed state law to allow first- and second-time nonviolent, simple drug possession offenders the opportunity to receive substance abuse treatment instead of incarceration. Proposition 36 went into effect on July 1, 2001, with $120 million for treatment services allocated annually for five years. Over 36,000 Californians enter treatment each year through Prop 36.


By July 2006, when initial funding for the program ran out, over 150,000 people benefited from Prop 36 treatment and California taxpayers saved about $1.3 billion. Requests for expanded funding in 2006 were ignored, and again in 2007 Governor Schwarzenegger threatened to keep funding at 2000 levels, which amounts to a significant cut.


The University of California at Los Angeles, which was chosen to run the required evaluation of Proposition 36, has issued five annual reports on the implementation and impact of the program since 2003. These reports provide data and analysis that will help state legislators determine the future of the program. The latest report, released in April 2007, shows that Proposition 36 treatment is severely under-funded, and that this is affecting treatment quality. According to researchers, the program needs at least $228.6 million to provide adequate treatment. UCLA’s contract with the state has been extended, and researchers will continue to collect and analyze data on the law and its impacts.