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An overview of California’s drug possession laws

On Behalf of | Mar 17, 2022 | Drug Charges |

Many Californians know that the state has laws against both the possession and distribution of illegal drugs, but few understand the exact distinction or the different penalties applicable to each offense. This post will provide an overview of California’s drug laws and the various penalties for each type of offense.

The basics

California laws drug possession laws into two broad categories: simple possession and possession with intent to sell. The anti-drug possession laws also draw distinctions between “restricted dangerous drugs” from offenses related to marijuana, and separate categories are created for offenses involving phencyclidine (PCP) and methamphetamine.

A prosecutor can decide to charge a defendant with simple possession if the case contains little or no evidence of intent to resell the drugs. If, however, the prosecutor has evidence that the defendant intended to sell the drugs, the charge may be raised to possession for sale or purchase for the purpose of resale.

The passage of Proposition 47 in 2014 created a complex system of sentences whose length depend upon the drug involved.  Many drug offenses became misdemeanors.

In 2016, California voters decided to remove criminal sanctions from the recreational use of marijuana. Under the new statute, persons 21 years and older may purchase, possess and consume not more than 28.5 grams of marijuana and 8 grams of concentrated marijuana in their private residence or in an establishment licensed for on-site marijuana consumption. Possession of marijuana on the grounds of a school, day care center or youth center while children are present remains a criminal act.


Anyone accused of the illegal use of marijuana would be well-advised to consult a criminal defense attorney experienced in defending drug crimes. A knowledgeable defense attorney can provide a helpful evaluation of the evidence and an opinion about the likelihood of defeating the charges or negotiating an acceptable plea agreement.