Understanding Your Legal Rights in a Drug Possession Case

California may have lax laws regarding some controlled substances compared to other states. For example, you can wander into a marijuana dispensary and pick up a gram or two of weed.

Yep, it’s legal in California. The process is pretty similar to heading to a liquor store, just the doors are always locked and armed personnel are common.

Even though sometimes possession is legal, this doesn’t mean you still can’t get into legal trouble, which means navigating the complexities of drug possession charges. If you find yourself in this type of legal trouble, here’s what you should know.

What are Controlled Substances

In California, controlled substances are regulated by state and federal law, meaning you can’t legally walk around with these substances (drugs) in your pocket. Depending on the classification, some controlled substances are illegal. whether they’re on your person or in a locked box in a closet at home.

For example, with a prescription, you can have medications like morphine, Vicodin, and oxycodone. However, cocaine and heroin are always illegal, and no, you can’t get a prescription for these types of controlled substances.

Classification of Controlled Substances

Okay, brace yourself. Controlled substances are classified into five groups or schedules. The schedule indicates the risk for abuse and/or dependency (addiction). Schedule 1 controlled substances pose the highest risk, while Schedule V are medications commonly prescribed by medical professionals.

Just to note, this schedule reflects Federal standards, and states can add to the list. Some states, like California, are also choosing to ignore marijuana’s classification as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Something to note, state law doesn’t supersede federal law.

In other words, you can still face a drug possession charge in federal court in California even though the state has decriminalized almost all aspects relating to the possession of the substance.

  • Schedule I: There’s no medical use for these drugs, and they come with a dangerous risk of abuse and addiction. The list includes heroin, LSD, PCP, ecstasy, and other opiates and hallucinogens. Marijuana is in this group, but this is expected to change as laws continue to progress towards eventual federal legalization.
  • Schedule II: Amphetamine and methamphetamine, as well as their precursors, are in this group. You’ll also find Vicodin and morphine, which can be bought with a prescription.
  • Schedule III: The Schedule 3 drugs have some medical use but also a moderate risk of abuse and addiction. They include ketamine, testosterone, dronabinol, etc.
  • Schedule IV: Xanax is a controlled substance in this group, as well as valium and phentermine. The medical community approves using these drugs, but only with a prescription.
  • Schedule V: These have the lowest abuse and addiction risk and wide use in the medical community. Surprisingly, some cough medicines are in this group.

Understanding Possession of a Controlled Substance

Possession of a controlled substance comes with a wide range of potential fines and penalties. You may only have the drugs confiscated and receive a warning from the authorities, which is common if you’re only holding a gram or so of marijuana.

You can also face fines, community service, probation, and even jail time. The only time you may be exempt from any legal ramifications is if you’re holding a valid prescription and the amount of drugs in your possession matches or is under the prescribed amount.

Did you know it’s illegal to hoard your prescribed medications? This can be a form of possessing a controlled substance. So, what are the different types of possession?

Actual possession means exactly what the name implies. The authorities, usually the police, find the substance on your person. For example, in your pockets, shoes, or even the glove box of a vehicle registered in your name.

Constructive possession can also apply if the controlled substance is in your glove box, locker, or another place close by and with easy access. Sometimes, constructive possession applies when the authorities aren’t positive the drugs are yours since the substances aren’t in your immediate possession.

Joint possession occurs when several individuals have access to the controlled substance. Think of parties and other types of large social gatherings. If no one claims the controlled substance, everyone gets hit with a possession charge. Even if you’re not aware of the drug’s presence, you can still face charges.

Drug Possession Penalties and Prop 47

Drug possession convictions can range from misdemeanors to felonies. Misdemeanors can carry anything from 6 to 12 months in jail, a warning, community service, and/or drug counseling. Felony drug convictions typically result in a year or longer in jail, but there are exceptions, so it’s best to retain legal counsel.

Sometimes, you can get the charges reduced or even dismissed. If you have prior drug convictions, especially felonies, it may be harder to get your charges reduced.

How Prop 47 Can Affect Your Drug Possession Case

Proposition 47 has been on the books since 2014 and it effectively reduces most drug possession charges to misdemeanors. However, don’t think you can safely start carrying around pounds of marijuana or other types of controlled substances. There are limits to the proposition before serious legal penalties kick in.

The proposition basically limits your potential jail time to no more than one year. Exceptions that may apply include if you’re a convicted felon or a repeat offender.

Getting Your Drug Charges Dropped

Working with the right attorney may be able to get your drug possession charges dropped or dismissed. Some examples include:

  • Proving the drugs aren’t yours. If joint possession charges apply your attorney can argue you are unaware of the presence of drugs. This can also be an effective defense in some constructive and joint possession cases.
  • If you can produce a valid prescription by your court date, the charges are almost always dismissed.

Your attorney may also be able to prove the drug search and seizure was illegally committed. If this defense is valid, your charges may be dropped.

Work with an Experienced Attorney

In drug-related legal matters, consulting with an experienced attorney is the most effective way to fully comprehend and protect your legal rights. An attorney with expertise in drug cases brings a deep understanding of the law, including nuances that could significantly impact the outcome of your case.

While it might not always be possible to have the charges completely dismissed, a skilled attorney can explore various legal strategies that could lead to a reduction in charges.

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