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Health and Safety Code 11350: Possession of a Controlled Substance


One of the most frequently-charged drug crimes is possession of a controlled substance, under California Health and Safety Code 11350 Possession of a Controlled Substance. It is prohibited possessing certain controlled substances without a valid prescription. Controlled substance is a chemical or a drug whose possession, manufacture, and use are regulated by the United States “Controlled Substances Act”.

Unlike Health and safety code 11365 which governs unlawful use of controlled substance, In order to being convicted of Health and Safety Code Section 11350 Possession of a Controlled Substance, the following elements must be established:

  • Defendant illegally possessed a controlled substance
  • Defendant was aware of its presence
  • Defendant was aware of the substance’s nature or character as a controlled substance
  • The controlled substance was in a usable amount.

What is Considered a “Controlled Substance” in California?

According to California Health and Safety Code a “controlled substance” can include a wide range of drugs, including, but not limited to stimulants, hallucinogens, depressants, opiates, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, PCP.

Three Types of Controlled Substance Possession in California

There are three types of controlled substance possession: actual possession, constructive possession and joint possession. Actual possession of a controlled substance means having drugs on person with immediate or direct physical control over it. Constructive possession means not having drugs on person but having the authority to control the possession of drugs. This means that the defendant does not need to be caught with drugs in his direct possession in order to be charged under HS 11350(a). Having joint possession means sharing actual or constructive possession with at least one other person.  

What Are the Legal Defenses for H&S Code 11350

Defendant Held a Valid Prescription

The defendant is excused from violation of Health and Safety Code 11350 as long as he held valid prescription for the drug and the possession was consistent with the purpose of the prescription. A legal written prescription is given form physician, dentist, podiatrist, or veterinarian licensed to practice in state. This defense won’t apply if the defendant possessed a fraudulent prescription for the drug or was found in possession of more drugs than was prescribed. 

Defendant Had Temporary Possession of the Controlled Substance

Temporary possession will serve as a legal defense in case the defendant possessed the drugs with the aim to dispose or destroy them for terminating its unlawful possession. This defense won’t absolve the defendant from criminal culpability in case he exercise control over the drug but willingly dispose it.

Defendant Didn’t Possess the Controlled Substance Defense

Health & Safety Code section 11350 specifically punishes for the possession of something illegal. Therefore, in case the defendant did not actually or constructively possess the controlled substance then he can’t be committed in violation under the essence of this law.

Lack of Knowledge Defense

According to Health & Safety Code section 11350 the defendant must be aware of the presence of controlled substance and knew its nature or character as a controlled substance. Therefore, knowledge is an essential part of this crime. In case the defendant wasn’t aware that the possessed drugs were illegal, he must be acquitted of illegal possession

Penalties for Health and Safety Code 11350 Conviction

Possession of controlled substances under Health and Safety Code 11350 is misdemeanor. Penalties for conviction are the following:

  • Up to one in county jail, and/or
  • Fine of up to one thousand dollars 

If the defendant has prior convictions for especially serious felonies, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, sex crimes against a child under 14, or sexually violent offenses he will face felony penalties such as sixteen months, two or three 3years in prison. Additionally, in case the defendant is not a citizen of the United States, a conviction for possession of illegal drugs can lead to deportation, denial of reentry and denial of naturalization.

H&S 11350 Defense Lawyer

For answers to any other questions you may still have about California Health and Safety Code 11350, about being present while controlled substances are used, or to discuss your case confidentially with our team of experienced California criminal defense attorneys, give us a call at (310) 943-1171. Our lawyers in Glendale, Los Angeles County, CA, are highly dedicated to serving the needs of our clients.

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