Possessing drugs, narcotics or controlled substances without a prescription is a felony in Nevada. Even if the narcotics are for personal use and you do not intend to sell them, a possession conviction in Las Vegas could result in prison and hefty fines.
Perhaps most importantly, having any drug offense on your criminal record may deter employers from hiring you or even jeopardize your current job.
Our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys have great success in getting our clients' possession charges dismissed or reduced to misdemeanors. Below we explain the law and defenses, including how completing "Drug Court" may result in your charges being dropped.
If you are specifically searching for legal information about marijuana possession, please go directly to our section on Nevada marijuana laws. The information below does not address cannabis crimes.
Definition of Controlled Substance Possession in Nevada (NRS 453.336)
The legal definition of "unlawful possession not for purpose of sale" in Las Vegas, Nevada is when a person "knowingly or intentionally possesses a controlled substance, unless the substance was obtained directly from, or pursuant to, a lawful prescription."
In other words, drug possession in Nevada is deliberately owning or having control over drugs that you do not plan to trade for cash or valuables. Other common expressions for the Las Vegas crime of possessing narcotics include:
- PCS in Las Vegas (short for possession of a controlled substance in Las Vegas)
- straight possession of controlled substances/ narcotics in Las Vegas
- possession of drugs for personal use in Las Vegas
Types of drugs prohibited:
This law applies to illegal controlled substances (such as cocaine possession in Nevada) as well as prescription drugs which you do not have a prescription for (like OxyContin possession in Las Vegas). North Las Vegas criminal defense lawyer Michael Becker explains:
"Let's say you've formerly been prescribed Valium in Mesquite. You can still be prosecuted for the Mesquite offense of straight possession if you keep any Valium around the house without a current, lawful doctor's prescription."
Types of possession prohibited:
It is a common misconception that you can only be convicted of possession in Nevada if the drugs are physically on your person. In fact, however, "possession" has a broad legal meaning and may extend to any location you exercise control over, such as in your home or car.
As explained below, Las Vegas controlled substances law prohibits three types of narcotics possession: 1) actual, 2) constructive, and 3) joint.
Actual possession of controlled substances in Nevada:
Actual possession is when someone physically keeps the narcotics on their person. Examples include holding a baggie of crack in your hand or hiding it in your back pocket.
Constructive possession of controlled substances in Nevada:
Constructive possession occurs when someone stores narcotics in a location he/she has control over.1 Examples are hiding an ounce of cocaine in your dresser or keeping a bottle of Ambien (that you don't have a prescription for) in your medicine cabinet.
Joint possession of controlled substances in Nevada:
Joint possession refers to when two or more people share control or ownership over the same narcotics.2 For example if a wife knows her husband is storing heroin in their refrigerator, and she permits this to take place, she could also be prosecuted for possession even if she didn't use the drugs herself.
Being in Possession versus Being Under the Influence
Being "high" can get you arrested for the Nevada crime of being under the influence of a controlled substance. But unless drugs are found in your possession as well, you won't face possession charges even if you had been in possession earlier in order to get high.
Federal drug possession Law
Nevada possession laws are mostly similar to federal possession laws under 21 U.S.C. § 844 in terms of the definition of possession, defenses, and penalties. One difference is that unlike Nevada, federal law has no separate penalties for marijuana possession. Read more about federal drug possession law in Nevada in our article on federal drug possession law in Nevada.
Defenses to PCS (possession of controlled substance) in Nevada
There are several possible defenses your attorney may explore when fighting a Las Vegas charge of drug or narcotics possession. The following are two of the more frequently-used strategies in Nevada PCS cases:
The drugs did not belong to you
If you honestly did not know there were controlled substances in your possession, then you have committed no crime. North Las Vegas criminal defense lawyer Michael Becker elaborates on how "lack of intent" may get your charges dismissed:
"Suppose a friend borrows your car in Boulder City and leaves his drugs under the car seat without your knowledge. You aren't liable for breaking Boulder City narcotics possession law because you had no intention of having the drugs.
Or suppose your roommate in Laughlin hid drugs in the garage unbeknownst to you. Even though the garage is a common area, you didn't put them there or know that they were there at all. This lack of knowledge is a good defense against Laughlin narcotics possession charges."
The cops did an illegal search
The 4th Amendment to the Constitution requires the authorities to follow strict rules when searching people, cars, homes and executing search warrants in Nevada. If the police violate these rules (such as searching without probable cause), then evidence they find from the search usually cannot be used against you.
A method exists for asking a judge to exclude evidence stemming from an improper search in a Las Vegas PCS case. Your criminal defense attorney files a Nevada motion to suppress evidence. This motion makes a case to the judge that the cops violated your rights when they searched you and seized the drugs.
If the judge then grants the suppression motion and throws out the evidence obtained from the illegal search, the state's case against you will be severely weakened. Consequently, your Nevada drug possession charges might then be dismissed for lack of proof.
Penalties, Punishment & Sentencing for Drug Possession in Nevada
The typical sentence a judge may impose for possession of a controlled substance in Nevada under NRS 453.336 depends on 1) the drug's "schedule" classification, and 2) whether you have been convicted of drug offenses in the past.
Note that if you have no prior drug-related convictions, you may be eligible for Nevada drug court. This could allow you to get your possession case totally dismissed as long as you complete a drug education course or (if necessary) a rehabilitation program.
When the drug is a schedule I, schedule II, schedule III or schedule IV:
Common drugs that fall under this schedule I-IV category in Nevada include:
- PCP (I)
- Ecstasy (I)
- Methamphetamine (II)
- Heroin (I)
- Hydrocodone (I)
- Cocaine (II)
- Ritalin (II)
- Anabolic steroids (III)
- Xanax (IV)
- Valium (IV)
- Rohypnol (IV)
- Ambien (IV)
A first or second offense of schedule I-IV drugs possession is a category E felony in Nevada, carrying one to four years in prison. But a first offense is often probationable, which means you may avoid prison and a conviction if you do a drug education or rehab program.
A third or subsequent offense of possession of a controlled substance is a category D felony in Nevada, which carries:
- one to four years in Nevada State Prison, and
- maybe a fine of up to $20,000
If the drug in your case is the schedule I controlled substance GHB, then the possible sentence range is one to six years in Nevada State Prison. If the drug in your case is the schedule I controlled substance of marijuana, the above penalties do not apply. Visit our page on the Nevada crime of marijuana possession to learn the standard sentence.
When the drug is a schedule V:
Key drugs that fall under this schedule V category in Nevada are:
- Robitussin AC
- Codeine (no more than 200 milligrams per 100 grams)
- Opium (no more than 100 milligrams per 100 grams)
- Demerol (no more than 2.5 milligrams and not less than 25 milligrams of atropine sulfate per dosage unit)
A first offense of schedule V simple possession is a category E felony in Nevada, which carries one to four years in prison. But remember, a first-time charge can often be dismissed as long as you successfully complete a Las Vegas diversion program called "Drug court."
A second or subsequent PCS offense is a category D felony in Nevada, which carries:
- one to four years in Nevada State Prison, and
- maybe a fine of up to $5,000
When the drug contains flunitrazepam or gamma-hydroxybutyrate:
The common drug that falls under this category in Las Vegas is GHB. In this case a narcotics possession conviction is a category B felony in Nevada, carrying one to six years in Nevada State Prison. But a first offense might be dismissed if you complete Drug Court.
Possession of drug paraphernalia:
Possession of drug paraphernalia in Las Vegas (such as crack pipes or syringes) is an entirely separate crime from possession of drugs. It's only a misdemeanor in Nevada, carrying:
- up to six months in jail, and/or
- up to $1,000 in fines
For more information about other paraphernalia crimes, please see our article on the subject: Drug Paraphernalia Offenses in Nevada
Getting a Drug Possession charge reduced to a misdemeanor:
If you are ineligible or unwilling to do Drug Court, there is still a chance to escape a felony conviction. Your attorney might convince the prosecutor to reduce the case down to a Nevada misdemeanor narcotics charge. The standard sentence often includes:
- an order not to get arrested again while the case is pending,
- community service, and
- a suspended jail sentence (so you would not do time unless you violated a term of the plea deal)
Getting a felony drug charge reduced to Drug Possession:
Suppose you get arrested for a more serious narcotics charge such as drug sales in Las Vegas. Then a favorable plea bargain may include reducing the charge down to straight drug possession. It is still a felony, but straight possession has less of a stigma than selling.
Of all the narcotics-related felonies in Nevada, possession for personal use carries the least severe penalties. The following are other major drug crimes in the state, in order from least serious to most:
Drug Possession with Intent to Sell:
Possession of controlled substances with intent to sell in Nevada makes it a crime in Las Vegas to possess drugs for the purpose of selling them. If the accused has little or no criminal history, a judge may impose probation.
Prosecutors may bring a charge of sale of controlled substances in Nevada when they believe a drug sale has already taken place. Probation is possible for a first-time conviction.
Trafficking in controlled substances in Nevada is reserved for cases where the defendant is suspected of selling, making or transporting large quantities of drugs. Prison may be avoidable if the defendant agrees to help the police in investigating other crimes.
Drug Possession and Immigration
If you are an immigrant or other non-citizen in Nevada, drug crimes are taken very seriously by the courts and may get you removed from the United States altogether. If you are an alien who's been arrested or charged with a drug crime, it is vital you hire a good criminal defense attorney to negotiate with prosecutors to try to lower your charges to a non-deportable offense. Learn more about deportable offenses in Nevada.
- Narcotics Anonymous: An international organization offering a twelve-step program to overcome addiction.
- Eighth Judicial District Court Drug Courts: An explanation of the various Drug Court programs offered in Clark County, Nevada.
- U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Drug Scheduling List: A complete list of narcotics and their schedules.
- California drug possession law: Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys explain the law, defenses and penalties for the California offense of possession of controlled substances.
Accused of possessing narcotics? Call us for help ...
If after reading this you would like a free consultation with our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys, call us at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) today. We may be able to get your Nevada possession charges lessened or even dismissed so your criminal record remains clean. If you face charges in California, visit our page on California Health & Safety Code 11350 HS: Possession of a Controlled Substance.
- Return to our page on Nevada drug crimes.
For more information, you may find the following articles helpful: Nevada marijuana laws; Nevada crime of marijuana possession; cocaine possession in Nevada; OxyContin possession in Las Vegas; heroin in Las Vegas; search warrants in Nevada; Nevada motion to suppress evidence; California drug possession law; category B felony in Nevada; misdemeanor in Nevada; Nevada misdemeanor narcotics charge; Possession of Controlled Substances with Intent to Sell in Nevada; Sale of Controlled Substances in Nevada; Trafficking in Controlled Substances in Nevada; Drug Paraphernalia Offenses in Nevada; and Nevada crime of being under the influence of a controlled substance; California Health & Safety Code 11350 HS: Possession of a Controlled Substance; and deportable offenses in Nevada.
1Palmer v. State, 112 Nev. 763, 768-769, 920 P.2d 112, 115 (1996) ("The law, in general, recognizes two kinds of possession: actual possession and constructive possession. A person who knowingly has direct physical control over a thing, at a given time, is then in actual possession of it. A person, who, although not in actual possession, knowingly has both the power and the intention at a given time to exercise dominion or control over a thing, either directly or through another person or persons, is then in constructive possession of it. Black's Law Dictionary 1163 (6th ed.1990). In cases addressing narcotics possession, this court has stated that " 'possession may be imputed when the contraband is found in a location which is immediately and exclusively accessible to the accused and subject to [his] dominion and control.' " Sheriff v. Shade, 109 Nev. 826, 830, 858 P.2d 840, 842 (1993) (quoting Glispey v. Sheriff, 89 Nev. 221, 223, 510 P.2d 623, 624 (1973)).")
2Maskaly v. State, 85 Nev. 111, 114, 450 P.2d 790, 792 (1969) ("Two or more persons may have joint possession of a narcotic if jointly and knowingly they have its dominion and control.").