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Cocaine laws and penalties in California

On Behalf of | Feb 25, 2022 | Uncategorized

Cocaine is commonly made into powder from the leaves of the coca plant. Also called crack, it is a stimulant that is commonly injected or smoked. A person in California can face stiff penalties for possessing, trafficking or selling cocaine.

Overview of California drug laws

California groups controlled substances into five Schedules I through V, which are similar to the federal schedules, based on addiction risk. Schedule I drugs, such as LSD and heroin, have the highest potential for addiction with no legally accepted medical use.

Cocaine is a Schedule II substance, which means it has potential for addiction, and it has some restricted medical use. It can legally be used by a professional for anesthesia, but it is seldom used that way in the U.S.


The prosecution must prove that the defendant knowingly possessed the drug and/or had intent to sell it. However, a criminal defense strategy could argue that the defendant had no knowledge of the substance, or the substance wasn’t theirs.

If the defense believes that the substance isn’t cocaine, they can subpoena the substance to get tested in a lab. If the police illegally searched a person, vehicle or home, the evidence may get dismissed for violating Fourth Amendment rights.


New California laws have reduced penalties under Proposition 36 and allow alternative sentencing for nonviolent first offenders. Before Prop 36, the penalty was up to three years for cocaine possession, but it is now up to one year. Selling cocaine commonly includes a penalty of one to four years of state prison and up to seven years for selling to minors.

The intent to sell powder cocaine commonly includes a penalty of two to four years of jail and a $20,000 fine. The penalties increase at 1 kilogram or more of cocaine; vehicles may be confiscated, and government benefits may be stopped in addition to a jail sentence or fine.

An accused party can exercise their right to fight charges in court. They may be able to plea down to a lesser charge.