Cocaine Possession Penalties in California
Cocaine possession is one of the most common drug prosecutions in California. The crime can be charged whether cocaine is possessed as powder or crack. It can be charged even if the cocaine is not on the accused’s person, if there is evidence that the accused had control over it.
Penalties for cocaine possession depend on the quantity possessed. Small amounts will usually (but not always) lead to a charge of simple possession. Large quantities can lead to the more serious charge of possession for sale. But even a small quantity can lead to a possession for sale charge if the police have evidence that the accused planned to sell or give the cocaine to someone else.
Cocaine charges can lead to jail time, loss of employment, and denial of professional licenses. An individual who is arrested or contacted by the police in connection with cocaine possession should obtain immediate advice from an experienced California criminal defense attorney.
Cocaine is a Schedule II controlled substance. That means it can lawfully be used or prescribed by licensed healthcare professionals. Cocaine is rarely prescribed, but it is occasionally used by doctors and oral surgeons as an anesthetic during surgical procedures involving the mouth or nose.
Crack (identified in California law as “cocaine base”) is a Schedule I controlled substance that has no approved medical use. Crack is a hardened form of cocaine that can be smoked. No prescription can be written for crack.
Since cocaine is almost never prescribed and crack cannot be prescribed, it is almost always illegal to possess cocaine, regardless of the form it takes.
Possession can consist of actual possession or constructive possession. Actual possession means the accused had the cocaine in his or her presence and control. Carrying cocaine in a jacket pocket is an example of actual possession.
Constructive possession refers to having control over cocaine that is not in the accused’s presence. Placing cocaine in a locker and keeping the key to the locker is an example of constructive possession.
Penalties for Simple Possession
The crime of simple possession of cocaine is charged when an accused possesses the drug with no intent to transfer it to another person. As a practical matter, that usually means the accused possessed the drug for personal use.
Simple possession of cocaine is a misdemeanor that can be punished by a sentence of up to one year in a county jail. The crime can be charged as a felony, however, if the accused has a prior conviction for certain serious felonies or is required to register as a sex offender. A sentence for the felony charge can be 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years.
Jail is not automatic for a conviction of simple possession of cocaine. In fact, a conviction is not automatic. Many offenders qualify for a drug diversion program that allows the accused to receive drug treatment rather than a conviction. Offenders who cannot participate in a drug diversion program may be able to serve a term of probation rather than a jail sentence.
Penalties for Possession for Sale
Prosecutors charge the crime of possession for sale when they believe the accused planned to sell, give away, or otherwise transfer possession of the cocaine. The police often infer an intent to sell from the drug quantity. A heavy user might possess several grams for personal use, but it is reasonably clear that someone who possesses a kilogram of cocaine plans to sell it.
Possession for sale can be punished by a jail sentence of 2, 3, or 4 years. An accused can also be placed on probation. Drug diversion programs are not usually an option.
The facts surrounding possession for sale, however, are not always clear. An accused might purchase a large quantity for personal use in order to save money or to avoid the risk of making several drug purchases. Informers who claim the accused was selling drugs may be lying to protect their own source of drugs.
A skilled California drug defense attorney can often negotiate to reduce a charge of possession for sale to a charge of simple possession. That eliminates the risk of a longer sentence and makes all the sentencing options for simple possession available, including drug diversion programs that avoid a conviction.