What Are Drug Crimes?
Under California law, drug crimes involve the unlawful possession, manufacturing, or distribution of illegal drugs, narcotics, or controlled substances.
Drug-related crimes produce negative consequences for individuals, their families, and society. Drug addiction causes health deterioration and social isolation, ruining relationships and devastating careers, diminishing job advancement prospects. Families of drug addict experience constant fear, anxiety, and sometimes even physical violence. The side effects of drug addiction cause broader social problems, as well. Dealing with drug crimes and addiction requires vast financial and human resources. Law enforcement and other government agencies fighting drug crimes employ thousands of workers and use large amounts of tax money to minimize its devastating consequences on society. Similarly, social services providing help to drug addicts require significant resources funded by taxpayers. The whole community carries the burden imposed by expanding drug crime pandemic.
Types of Drugs
Drug crimes in California typically involve marijuana, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, prescription drugs, crystal meth, and other natural or synthetic drugs.
Depending on their effects on consumers, there are seven categories of narcotic drugs:
- Stimulants. They increase blood pressure, heart, and breathing rate, speeding up the central nervous system. Common stimulant drugs are cocaine, methamphetamine, and ecstasy.
- Depressants. Depressants have the opposite effects, lowering blood pressure and heart rate and slowing down the central nervous system. The most common depressant drugs are barbiturates, heroin, and benzodiazepines.
- Opioids. These types of drugs are highly addictive. Throughout history, people used them as painkillers. As a side effect, they cause a sense of euphoria. Some common opioids include morphine, opium, hydrocodone, codeine, etc.
- Hallucinogens. Altering consumers’ perceptions is the main effect of using hallucinogens. They change mood, disrupt normal brain function, and affect muscle control. Typical hallucinogens are LSD and Psilocybin (mushrooms).
- Inhalants. Inhalants are drugs everyone can find in a household: aerosol sprays, gasoline, glue, paint, and room deodorizers. People consume them by inhaling gases or fumes, experiencing short periods of euphoria.
- Dissociatives. Like hallucinogens, dissociatives distort the perception of reality. But instead of experiencing surreal images or feelings, people consuming them feel dissociated from themselves and their bodies. They feel as if they are watching their body outside of it. The most common dissociatives are Phencyclidine, Ketamine, and Dextromethorphan.
- Cannabis. Cannabis is a plant that produces mixed hallucinogen-depressant effects. Because of its partially positive impacts on health, there is an increase in its medical use. Still, cannabis abuse poses a grave health risk. Cannabis involves marijuana leaves, hashish, and hashish oil.
Negative Effects of Drugs
Regardless of type, all drugs produce severe health effects. The most common consequences of drug consumption include depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, memory loss, psychosis, paranoia, cognition distortion, lack of coordination, confusion, sleep disorder, and brain damage. Excessive drug consumption and drug abuse can eventually cause death.
Drug Crimes in California
California law recognizes different types of drug crimes. Below are the most common:
- Drug Possession
Possessing drugs or controlled substances in California is illegal. You must have a prescription or government authorization (license) to own drugs. Otherwise, you are committing a crime. Drug possession includes not only drugs but drug paraphernalia as well. Depending on the circumstances of the case, a prosecutor can charge a possessor or drop the case. Unlawful possession of the substances listed in the Health and Safety Code will always lead to prosecution, trial, and penalty. Contrarily, recreational possession and consumption of marijuana is not a crime in California since 2016. Under the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, adults over 21 can buy, possess, and consume a maximum of 28.5 grams of marijuana in their homes or other private premises. However, smoking marijuana is still illegal while driving a vehicle.
- Possession With Intent to Distribute
If you possess a drug or other controlled substance with the purpose of sale, the prosecutor can charge you regardless of the number of drugs or the place you hold it. In that case, you may face drug dealing charges. The penalties for possession with the intent to distribute vary, depending on the drug type, the amount, and prior convictions.
Illegal drug production is a criminal offense in California. No matter your role in the manufacturing chain, you can face charges for participating in drug or controlled substance manufacturing. That includes producing synthetic drugs such as amphetamines, LSD, and ecstasy or extracting natural drugs (cannabis). However, California law allows adults to grow up to six plants of cannabis on their private land (backyards or other places). To produce marijuana for recreational purposes, one must keep the sight secured and secluded (not visible from public spaces).
- Drug Prescription Forgery
California Health and Safety Code (HS 11368) criminalizes forging narcotic drug prescriptions by forging a signatory, altering the content, issuing a document with a fictitious signature, or using a forged prescription. The most common narcotic drugs involved in prescription forgery are Diazepam, Codeine, Morphine, Phenobarbital, Oxycodone, Amphetamine, etc.
Drug trafficking is a more dangerous crime than drug possession or drug dealing. It involves a network of cooperates and a more complex organization. Trafficking refers to selling, transporting, or importing narcotic drugs. Drug trafficking is a federal crime, meaning the laws fighting it applies to the entire nation (not only the specific state), and the penalties are severe (possible life imprisonment). Trafficking is typically a form of organized crime, extending internationally over multiple continents. It includes not only narcotic drugs but prescription drugs as well.
What is a Drug Paraphernalia?
Drug paraphernalia refers to items used in drug consumption and manufacturing. In essence, paraphernalia is drug consumption and production equipment. It can involve everyday items such as matches, lighters, kitchen scales, or objects specially made for drug consumption or production (bongs, hookahs, syringes, needles, foils, tubes, etc.). Depending on the drug type, possessing drug paraphernalia can be illegal in California. For example, if you legally own marijuana for recreational use, you can use rolling paper and matches to consume it. On the other hand, possessing paper tubes, syringes, spoons, and needles for heroin/cocaine consumption is illegal.
How Does California Judicial System React to Drug Crimes?
Drug crimes are serious criminal offenses. In some cases, they are considered felonies under federal laws (trafficking). California law enforcement and the judicial system recognize the negative personal and social consequences of drug pandemics, so the penalties for drug offenders can be harsh. The most common are fines, probation, community service, court-ordered counseling, and incarceration (potentially life imprisonment).
For example, simple marijuana possession is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine (like a minor traffic offense). Next, depending on your criminal history and the specific facts surrounding your case, prescription forgery can be treated as a misdemeanor and carry an incarceration sentence of up to one year in County Jail. On the other hand, a conviction for prescription fraud as a felony carries imprisonment of up to three years in State Prison. The most serious is drug trafficking, which is a federal crime (felony) punishable by life imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000.
Sentencing for a drug-related crime involves complex factual and legal analysis. First, the courts consider the type of drug. Possessing marijuana and trafficking heroin are very different crimes from a legal and social standpoint. Next, the amount of drugs is decisive. Carrying small amounts of marijuana with the intent to sell differs from organizing an international cocaine distribution network. The purpose of drug possession also plays a critical role – whether you possess drugs for personal consumption or distribution. Finally, your previous drug convictions can make a significant difference in sentencing.
California Diversion Programs
California diversion programs help drug addicts get back on track and become productive members of society. Including drug addicts in diversion programs proved to be more effective than incarceration. Most diversion programs focus on non-violent drug offenders, helping them avoid charges after successful treatment. They consist of daily counseling, meetings, and random drug testing.
How Can Jose A. Velasquez Help?
In Salinas, CA, law enforcement takes drug crimes seriously. Drug offenses can range from simple possession to trafficking and manufacturing of drugs. For example, you could face jail time and heavy fines if convicted of a drug crime. Therefore, having an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side is essential in case of drug offense charges.
Jose A. Velasquez is a former California Superior Court Judge with more than three decades of experience. As a criminal defense attorney, Mr. Velasquez handled hundreds of criminal cases. Using his extensive experience, he can employ the most effective defense strategies to help you avoid criminal charges or receive milder penalties in case of conviction.