When an individual is charged with drug possession in California, the first thought that comes to mind is usually concern about sentencing and potentially serving jail time. A possession conviction and history of incarceration can make it difficult to obtain employment, apply to colleges and universities, apply for professional licenses, and enlist in the military. If you were charged with possession of controlled substances in Ventura County or Santa Barbara County, talk to a criminal defense attorney right away. The Ventura drug crime lawyers at The Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth, PLC offer free initial consultations for people accused of possessing narcotics in Southern California.

How Does Proposition 47 Affect Drug Sentencing in CA?

In 2014, California passed Proposition 47, which reduced penalties for low-level, nonviolent crimes. One of the provisions of this bill calls for “simple” drug possession (possession for personal use) to be charged as a misdemeanor rather than a felony. Proposition 47 was passed in an effort to prevent overcrowding in California prisons, as well as to show compassion for individuals who were or will be convicted of nonviolent drug crimes.

There are three different ways in which an individual can be charged with “possessing” an illegal substance:

  1. Actual Possession – You had the drug on your person or you exercised control over that drug. You are holding the drug or have immediate access to it.
  2. Constructive Possession – While you do not have immediate access to the illegal substance, you still have control of it or you have the right to control it. It could be in your house, office, or car, or a friend could be holding it for you.
  3. Joint Possession – Two or more people share actual or constructive possession over an illegal substance.

The type of possession you are convicted of will affect the defenses that are available for you to use at trial.
For sentencing purposes, California categorizes controlled dangerous substances (CDS) into different groups or “schedules” covering opiates, opiate derivatives, cocaine base drugs, synthetic cannabis (marijuana), hallucinogens, and other categories. Possession of the following substances as a first offense is considered a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year of incarceration in a California county jail:

  • Schedule I – Heroin, LSD, ecstasy
  • Schedule II – Cocaine, OxyContin, Vicodin, fentanyl, methadone, methamphetamine
  • Schedule III – Steroids, ketamine
  • Schedule IV – Xanax, Valium, Ambien
  • Schedule V – Cough syrup

The average jail sentence is typically shorter for marijuana possession in California. Possession of more than 28.5 grams of marijuana, not including concentrated cannabis, is punishable by up to six months of incarceration.
For more information, see our article on possession of controlled substances in California.

Sentencing for Possession of Drugs for Sale

An individual may be charged with possession for sale if the quantity of drugs possessed was too large to be considered only for personal use. Other indicators of intent to sell include:

  • Large quantities of cash (usually organized into smaller quantities).
  • Scales for weighing or measuring.
  • An influx of people entering and leaving your residence after small amounts of time spent there.
  • The drug being separated into many baggies or bundles.

Possessing controlled substances in order to sell them is a felony under California Health and Safety Code § 11351. Conviction of this crime can result in two to four years served in a county jail, and a maximum $20,000 fine. Being charged with this type of crime can also make an individual ineligible for drug diversion, which allows an addicted person to obtain substance abuse treatment rather than serve jail time.

Average Time Served for Drug Crimes in CA

According to a 2010 report issued by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the mean (average) months served for drug crimes was 4.7 months among felons. The average sentence varied slightly depending on the specific offense:

  • Sales Offenses, General – 5 months
    • Possession for Sale – 4.9 months
    • Sale – 5.8 months
    • Manufacturing – 8.8 months
    • Marijuana Possession for Sale – 3.5 months
    • Marijuana Sale – 4.6 months
  • Possession Offenses, General – 4.2 months
    • Possession – 4.2 months
    • Hashish Possession – 4.6 months
    • Marijuana, Other – 3.8 months

These statistics vary depending on how offender groups are broken down – for example, male offenders versus female offenders.

Drug Crime Sentencing Under Proposition 36

Proposition 36 (Deferred Entry of Judgment) was passed in California to provide treatment and education to individuals charged with certain drug crimes. Individuals who are charged with nonviolent drug crimes, such as possession without intent to sell, are eligible to enter into a drug diversion program. The program allows them to serve their sentence through substance abuse treatment and have their case dismissed. This type of sentencing is ideal for individuals who know they will face penalties such as jail time for possession of an illegal substance.

If an individual is aware that he or she has a drug addiction that is in need of treatment, entering into this program is a way of avoiding serving time in county jail while engaging in drug rehabilitation. In order to be suspend a criminal proceeding so that the defendant may enter into a drug treatment program, that individual must:

  • Enter a guilty plea.
  • Waive sentencing for 18 months.
  • Provide proof to the court that he or she has enrolled in an approved drug program within two weeks.
  • Provide proof of completion of a probation-approved substance abuse program within six months.
  • Pay a diversion restitution fee, an administrative fee and the cost of the drug program.

Courts will dismiss the charges if the defendant has completed and paid for the rehabilitation program and also has successfully completed the 18-month program without any new criminal charges.

Ventura Drug Crimes Defense Attorneys Can Help

If you or someone you love was arrested and charged with possession of an illegal substance, the experienced Santa Barbara prescription drug possession attorneys at The Law Offices of Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC may be able to help you. A Ventura criminal defense attorney will zealously advocate for you to protect your constitutional rights. To arrange a confidential, free consultation about drug charges in Ventura County or Santa Barbara County, call our Santa Barbara cocaine possession lawyers immediately at (805) 643-5555.