How Long Do You Go to Jail for Drug Possession in California?

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Many judges, prosecutors, and inexperienced defense attorneys fail to pay attention to the effects of drug possession charges in California.

In addition to prison time and fines, a drug possession conviction in California carries many collateral consequences.

While jail or prison time and fines create serious immediate repercussions for those arrested and charged with drug crimes, the collateral consequences can create long-term barriers to moving forward with your life.

As such, it is important that those facing criminal charges consult with experienced California criminal defense attorneys to learn about their rights and defenses. 

Drug Possession Offenses in California 

The criminal repercussions of a drug possession charge in California largely hinge on the precise type of charge the accused is facing. The main types of drug possession charges include the following:

  • Possession,
  • Possession of a controlled substance while armed,
  • Possession of drugs without a prescription, and
  • Possession for sales.

The California Health and Safety Code and the United States Controlled Substances Act primarily control the criminal consequences of drug possession charges. 

How Much Jail Time for Drug Possession?

Drug possession jail or prison time depends on various factors, such as the following:

  • Exact charges,
  • Type of drug,
  • Amount of drug,
  • Reason for possession,
  • Criminal history, and 
  • Experience of the accused’s criminal defense attorney.

California’s Health and Safety Code sections 11350-11356 provide criminal penalties for drug possession charges. 

  • Possession of a controlled substance. This offense carries up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Possession of a controlled substance while armed. The penalty for this charge is up to four years of prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
  • Possession of drugs without a prescription. This charge carries a penalty of up to one year in county jail.
  • Possession for sale. The penalty for this charge is two, three, or four years in
    “local prison” or up to a $20,000 fine.

Depending on the facts and circumstances of the case, a drug crimes attorney can assist those accused of drug possession to secure alternatives to jail time.

For instance, drug diversion programs and drug court alternatives may eliminate or reduce a potential jail sentence. 

Defenses to Drug Possession Crimes 

Given the broad scope of penalties, it is crucial to consult with an experienced defense attorney if you have been accused of drug possession.

A California criminal defense lawyer can raise various legal defenses to get the charges reduced, dropped, or dismissed.

Some common defenses to a drug possession charge include arguing the following:

  • You did not possess the drugs;
  • You had a valid prescription; 
  • The drugs did not belong to you;
  • You did not know the substances were drugs; or
  • Evidence of drug possession stemmed from an illegal search or seizure. 

Defending against these crimes requires a comprehensive understanding of complex state and federal evidentiary, procedural, and substantive laws. 

Have You Been Arrested for a California Drug Crime?

You might wonder, How long do you go to jail for drug possession in California? To get answers based on the specifics of your case, contact a dedicated California drug defense attorney.

At The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, we have extensive experience defending clients charged with California narcotics offenses, and we know what it takes to beat even the toughest cases.

Often, our clients do not need to worry about jail time at all because we can help them avoid a conviction altogether. However, even if a conviction is unavoidable, our attorneys are skilled at putting our clients in the most favorable light to minimize their sentence.

To schedule a free consultation with a California criminal defense attorney at The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, give us a call at 619-304-2058.

You can also connect with us through our online contact form.

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

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