Two ballot initiatives have completely changed how prosecutors approach drug possession cases in California. Proposition 47, which was approved in 2014, made most drug possession charges simple misdemeanors punishable by no more than one year in a county jail. Proposition 64, which was approved in 2016, made the recreational use of marijuana legal. However, individuals who police and prosecutors believe planned to distribute drugs can still face felony charges and more severe sentences.
Drug possession with the intent to distribute
A conviction for possessing a controlled substance with the intent to distribute carries a custodial sentence of up to four years in California. Offenders can also be ordered to pay a fine of up to $20,000. Individuals found in possession of drugs in California usually face distribution charges when large amounts of illegal drugs are discovered or smaller quantities have been packaged for sale.
While consuming marijuana is now legal in California, individuals found in possession of more than 28.5 grams of the drug can still face up to six months in a county jail and a fine of up to $500. Possessing more than 8 ounces of concentrated cannabis is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $500 fine. Minors found in possession of marijuana are not charged with a crime, but may be ordered to perform community service and attend substance abuse counseling.
Drug possession defenses
Experienced criminal defense attorneys may ask judges to dismiss drug possession charges when the search that led to their discovery appears to have violated the Fourth Amendment. When the police officer involved did not first obtain a search warrant, attorneys could argue that they acted without sufficient probable cause. If a judge issued a search warrant, attorneys could seek a dismissal if police officers searched in places not mentioned in the warrant or otherwise exceeded its scope.