Health & Safety Code 11377 (a) HS is the California drug law that makes it a crime to possess methamphetamines and certain other narcotics for personal use. For most defendants, HS 11377 simple possession of methamphetamines will be charged as a California misdemeanor.1
The consequences of a conviction can include:
- up to one (1) year in county jail, and/or
- a fine of up to $1,000.2
However, under HS 11377 possession of crystal meth can be charged as a felony if you have a prior conviction for:
The sentence for a felony violation can include 16 months or two or three years in jail.3
The best legal defense to California methamphetamine possession will depend on the facts of your case. However, common defenses to HS 11377 California methamphetamine charges often include:
- you held a valid prescription for the methamphetamines and possessed an amount consistent with the prescription’s purpose,
- the crystal meth actually belonged to someone else,
- you didn’t know the drugs you possessed were a controlled substance, or
- the police found the meth during an illegal search.
Our methamphetamine possession lawyers are experts when it comes to fighting meth possession charges. We know the most effective ways to fight California drug charges so that you are not labeled and stigmatized as a “drug offender.”
In this article, our California criminal defense attorneys answer the following frequently asked questions about HS 11377 and California simple meth possession:
- 1. What are Methamphetamines?
- 2. What is the Legal Definition of Meth Possession Under Health & Safety Code 11377 HS?
- 3. How Can I Fight HS 11377 Charges?
- 4. What are the Penalties for Possession of Methamphetamine Under Health & Safety Code 11377 HS?
- 5. California Methamphetamine Possession and Related Offenses
If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
Methamphetamine--commonly referred to as meth, crystal, crystal meth, speed, blow, rock, tina, chalk, ice, glass, or crank--is a controlled substance. A “controlled substance” is a drug or chemical whose manufacture, possession and use are regulated under the United States “Controlled Substances Act.”
Possessing methamphetamines is typically illegal without a valid prescription. An exception is a medical professional (pharmacist, veterinarian, doctor, etc.) who possesses such drugs in accordance with California’s drug laws.
Methamphetamine is a stimulant. It speeds up your body and brain. Meth is available as pills, powder or a chunky crystal “rock” form. Methamphetamines can be smoked, injected, swallowed, snorted, or “huffed” (that is, inhaled in a toxic gas form).
Meth was primarily used in the 1950s to help keep truckers, college students and athletes stay awake and alert. Today it is considered dangerous and is typically only prescribed for treating conditions like obesity and ADHD.
Methamphetamines are frequently abused and made or sold in an illegal manner.
Most meth involved in California methamphetamine charges currently comes from Mexico. But California still has many “meth labs,” also known as clandestine or “mom and pop” labs. They are particularly common in California’s Central Valley. People run these (often) makeshift “labs” out of their homes, garages, mobile homes, and warehouses.
Methamphetamine’s easy accessibility and relatively low cost make it attractive to everyone from addicts to children experimenting with drugs. As a result, California methamphetamine possession is an aggressively prosecuted crime.
In order to convict you of meth possession under Health and Safety Code 11377, the prosecutor must prove the following four “elements” of the offense:
- you possessed methamphetamines;
- you knew you possessed the meth;
- you knew what you had was a controlled substance (even if you didn’t know specifically that it was meth); and
- there was enough meth to be used as a drug--not merely useless traces or residue.4
Let’s take a closer look at these elements:
California’s criminal law defines “possession” in three ways:
- “actual” possession: the meth was on your person, meaning you were holding it or it was in something you were wearing or carrying;
- “constructive” possession: you exercised control over the location where the crystal meth was (either directly or through another person); or
- “joint” possession: you shared actual or constructive possession with one or more other people.5
Possessing meth in any of these three ways can subject you to a Health and Safety Code 11377 prosecution.
For you to be guilty under HS 11377, the prosecutor must prove:
- you knew of the drug’s presence, and
- you knew of its nature as a controlled substance.
If you didn’t know you had methamphetamines--or you didn’t know they were a controlled substance--you haven’t violated 11377 HS.
Example: Raul’s cousin stays at his house for a few days. When the cousin leaves, he leaves behind a bindle of meth in a closet.
Raul has not violated Health and Safety Code 11377 HS because he did not know that he possessed methamphetamine.
Let’s then say that Raul finds the bindle. Not knowing that it contains a controlled substance, he drives it to his cousin’s new apartment to return it to him.
Raul is still not guilty under HS 11377 because he did not know that what he possessed was methamphetamine.
However, you do not need to know the name of a drug or its precise chemical makeup in order to be guilty of California methamphetamine possession. It is enough that you know generally that what you have is a controlled substance.6
You do not violate Health and Safety Code 11377 unless you have enough meth to smoke, snort, swallow, etc.7
You don’t have to possess enough meth to get high. It just means that you must have more than mere residue or traces in order to be guilty of methamphetamine possession under HS 11377.8
2.1. What is the difference between simple possession of methamphetamine and possession of methamphetamine for sale?
In deciding what California meth crime to charge you with, a prosecutor will consider whether the drugs were for your personal use or for sale.
HS 11377 applies to possession of meth for personal use—also known as “simple” possession. It is a less serious crime than Health and Safety Code 11378 possession of methamphetamines for sale.
The difference between HS 11377 and HS 11378 often comes down to:
- Your statements. If someone overheard you saying you intended to sell the meth, your statements could be used to show you violated HS 11378 by possessing methamphetamine for sale.
- The quantity of meth you possessed. The less crystal meth you had, easier it will be to convince the prosecutor, judge or jury the drugs were for your personal use and you are guilty of only simple possession of crystal meth.
- How the meth was packaged. Multiple bindles or baggies might indicate you intended to sell the methamphetamines. A single baggie, bindle or bottle would tend to prove the meth was for your personal use and an HS 11377 violation.
- Presence of drug paraphernalia. When the police also find drug paraphernalia such as a pipe, needles or straws for snorting, it can be evidence that the meth was for personal use.
However, even if you are charged with possession of crystal meth for sale, an experienced California drug crimes and methamphetamine possession attorney may be able to negotiate a reduced plea to HS 11377 simple possession. Simple possession of methamphetamine carries less severe penalties than possession for sale and is eligible for drug diversion (see Section 4.2 below).
2.2. Can medical professionals possess methamphetamine without violating Health & Safety Code 11377?
Medical professionals--such as doctors, pharmacists and veterinarians--do not violate HS 11377 when they possess methamphetamines in accordance with California and federal law.9
HS 11377 does not only ban methamphetamine possession. It also applies to other stimulants and to anabolic steroids, as well as to commonly used “party drugs.”
For example, Health and Safety Code 11377 also applies to
- California GHB possession,
- California ecstasy possession,
- California PCP possession, and
- California ketamine possession.10
If you are charged with California GHB possession, California ecstasy possession, California PCP possession, or California ketamine possession, you will face similar penalties to those for California simple possession of methamphetamine.11
The specific legal defenses for fighting California methamphetamine possession charges will vary depending on the circumstances of your case. However, common defenses to Health and Safety Code 11377 meth possession include (but are not limited to):
- you held a valid prescription for the methamphetamines and possessed only an amount consistent with the prescription’s purpose,
- the crystal meth actually belonged to someone else, or
- the crank was discovered in a manner that violated California’s search and seizure laws--perhaps because:
- the officer didn’t have a valid California search warrant (evidence found without a valid California search warrant may not be used against you), or
- you were stopped and searched without your consent and there was no probable cause.
California Health & Safety Code 11377 HS also specifically provides that you are not guilty of methamphetamine possession if all of the following are true:
- Somebody else had a prescription for the meth;
- You possessed the meth at the direction of or with the authorization of that person;
- Your only intent was to deliver the crystal meth to the prescription holder or else dispose of it for him/her in a lawful manner; and
- You did not personally use, distribute or sell the meth.12
Possession of meth in violation of HS 11377 is usually a misdemeanor. Consequences of misdemeanor possessing meth can include:
- up to one (1) year in county jail, and/or
- a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).13
However, you will face California felony penalties--including 16 months or two or three years in jail--for California methamphetamine possession if you have a prior conviction on your record for either:
- any of a small list of especially serious felonies, including murder, sexually violent offenses, sex crimes against a child under 14, or gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, or
- a sex crime that subjects you to California’s sex offender registration requirement.14
Prior to passage of the voter initiative Proposition 47 in November 2014, 11377 HS was a wobbler--which meant that it could be charged as a misdemeanor OR a felony. If you were convicted of this offense before the passage of Prop 47 and received a felony sentence, you may petition the court to reduce your sentence to a misdemeanor.
If the weight of the meth that you are convicted of possessing exceeds one kilogram, you face an additional three (3) to fifteen (15) years in prison—even if the prosecutor can’t prove you intended to sell it.15
You may be eligible for drug diversion (treatment) instead of jail time for a 11377 HS violation if:
- You are a first- or second-time non-violent offender, and
- The meth was for your personal use alone.
“Drug diversion” is an alternative sentencing option that allows a drug abuser to receive drug treatment instead of jail time.
California’s has three drug diversion programs:
Drug diversion is not available if you are convicted of or plead guilty to selling meth under HS 11379 or possessing it for sale under HS 11378. However, if you plead guilty to HS 11377 simple as a plea bargain from one of those more serious charges, you will retain eligibility for drug diversion/rehab.
As Fresno methamphetamine possession lawyer Neil Shouse16 explains:
“When circumstances make outright dismissal of California methamphetamine charges seem unlikely, a plea bargain can often get people with drug problems the help they need rather than a jail sentence. And if you successfully complete a drug diversion program, your drug charges will most likely be dismissed.”
A number of offenses are closely related to California Health and Safety Code 11377 HS simple possession of methamphetamines. Some of the most common are:
Health and Safety Code 11378 – possession of meth for sale
California Health and Safety Code 11378 HS makes it a felony to possess methamphetamines with the intent to sell them. Since no actual or attempted sale or transportation of the drugs is required, HS 11378 meth possession for sale, or can be difficult to prove.17
Health and Safety Code 11378 meth possession for sale carries a potential penalty of 16 months or two or three years in county jail. You may also—or instead—be fined up to $10,000.18
And unlike HS 11377, if you violate HS 11378 you are not eligible for drug diversion instead of jail time. But, as noted above, you may be able to obtain drug treatment if your California criminal defense lawyer can negotiate a plea deal to HS 11377 simple possession.
Health & Safety Code 11379 HS — transporting or selling methamphetamines
HS 11379 methamphetamine sale or transport, a felony, occurs when you:
- Sell or agree to sell meth in exchange for money, services or anything else of value,
- Transport crystal meth (even a short distance) with the intent to sell it,
- Give meth to someone else, and/or
- Administer the drugs to another person.19
Consequences of an HS 11379 conviction can include two, three, or four years in jail, and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
And if you transport drugs covered by this section across more than two counties, the sentence can increase to three, six, or nine years in jail.20
Health and Safety Code 11350 HS — possession of a controlled substance
Health and Safety Code 11350 HS, California’s law against possession of a controlled substance, is almost identical to HS 11377 possession of methamphetamines.21
However, HS 11350 applies to a wider variety of controlled substances, including (but not limited to):
- cocaine (and cocaine base),
- peyote, and
- prescription opioids such as codeine and hydrocodone (Vicodin).
Like possession of methamphetamine, HS 11350 is a usually a misdemeanor. Under Proposition 47, it is a felony only if you have one of the above-listed serious felonies or sex crimes on your record.22
Health and Safety Code 11351 HS — possession of a controlled substance for sale
Health and Safety Code 11351 HS California’s law against possessing a controlled substance for sale is the counterpart of HS 11378 meth possession for sale. It applies to cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens and prescription opioids, among other drugs.23
Violation of HS 11351 is a felony and is a slightly more serious offense than Health and Safety 11378 HS. Consequences under HS 11351 can include:
- two, three or four years in jail, and/or
- a maximum $10,000 fine.24
Health and Safety Code 11352 HS — transporting or selling a controlled substance
Health and Safety Code 11352 HS California’s law against transporting or selling controlled substances mimics HS 11379 except that it applies to a broader number of controlled substances.25
This offense is more serious than its either HS 11377 simple possession of meth or even HS 11379 sale/transportation of methamphetamines. Consequences under HS 11379 include:
- three, four or five years in county jail, or
- three, six or nine years (if you move the drugs across more than two county lines).
You may also (or instead) be fined up to a maximum of $10,000.26
California Vehicle Code 23152(f) VC — driving under the influence of meth
If you are caught driving under the influence of meth (or any other drug)--whether or not you possess methamphetamine at the time--prosecutors can charge you with Vehicle Code 23152(f) VC driving under the influence of drugs (“DUID”).27
A typical “first offense” for Vehicle Code 23152(f) driving under the influence of drugs subjects you to
- up to one-year in a county jail,
- a maximum $390 fine before penalty assessments,
- a court-imposed driver’s license restriction for a minimum of six months, and
- a minimum three-month drug education class.
It is not uncommon for defendants to be charged simultaneously with VC 23152(f) driving under the influence of drugs and HS 11377 methamphetamine possession.
Health and Safety Code 11550 HS — being under the influence of a controlled substance
If you are under the influence of methamphetamine (in addition to or apart from possessing methamphetamine), prosecutors can additionally charge you with Health and Safety Code 11550 HS California’s “under the influence of a controlled substance law”.28
The drugs addressed in this law include controlled substances that are also covered by Health and Safety Code 11377 HS, such as
- GHB, and
A conviction for this misdemeanor drug offense subjects you to up to one (1) year in county jail. However, eligible defendants may be able to participate in a drug diversion program instead.29
Health & Safety Code 11379.6 -- manufacturing a controlled substance
Health & Safety Code 11379.6 HS (manufacturing a controlled substance) makes it a felony to manufacture, compound, produce, derive or process an illegal controlled substance.30
Methamphetamine is one of the few major street drugs derived from local ingredients and “cooked” in underground meth labs. Consequently, a fair number of prosecutions under this section tend to be for manufacturing meth. And HS 11377 possession of methamphetamine is sometimes charged along with this offense.
A conviction for HS 11379.6 manufacturing a controlled substance subjects you to:
- three, five, or seven years in jail, and
- a fine of up to fifty thousand dollars ($50,000).31
Health & Safety Code 11383.5 – possession of materials for manufacturing methamphetamine
Possession of materials for manufacturing methamphetamine is a felony under Health and Safety Code 11383.5 HS--and thus a more serious offense than simple methamphetamine possession. You can be convicted of this crime if you possess certain chemicals or combinations of chemicals with the intent to use them to cook meth.
Possession of materials for the manufacture of methamphetamine carries a jail sentence of two (2), four (4) or six (6) years.32
Call us for help…
If you or a loved one is charged with Health & Safety Code 11377 HS possession of methamphetamines and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone.
Our methamphetamine possession lawyers have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California. You may also want to visit our page on methamphetamine crimes in California.
For information about Nevada possession of methamphetamine laws, please see our page on Nevada possession of methamphetamine laws.
¿Habla español? Visite nuestro sitio Web en español sobre el delito de posesión de metanfetamina de California.
- Health and Safety Code 11377 HS -- Possession of methamphetamines.
- Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (“CALCRIM”) 2304
- CALCRIM 2304 — Simple Possession of [Methamphetamines] (Health & Saf. Code, §§ 11350, 11377).
- People v. Guy (1980) 107 Cal.App.3d 593, 600-601.
- People v. Rubacalba (1993) 6 Cal.4th 62, 66.
- People v. Leal (1966) 64 Cal.2d 504, 512.
- Health and Safety Code 11377 HS -- Possession of methamphetamines, endnote 1 above.
- Health and Safety Code 11370.4 HS — Convictions under specified sections with respect to methamphetamines.
- Fresno methamphetamine possession lawyer and Shouse Law Group managing attorney Neil Shouse uses his experience as a former Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney to defend clients accused of drug crimes throughout California.
- Health and Safety Code 11378 HS — Possession of meth for sale.
- Health and Safety Code 11379 HS — Sale/transportation of methamphetamines.
- Health and Safety Code 11350 HS — Possession of controlled substances.
- Health and Safety Code 11351 HS — Possession for sale of controlled substances.
- Health and Safety Code 11352 HS — Sale/transportation of controlled substances.
- Vehicle Code 23152(f) VC — Driving under the influence of drugs including methamphetamines.
- Health and Safety Code 11550 HS — Being under the influence of a controlled substance.
- Health and Safety Code 11379.6 HS — Manufacture of a controlled substance.
- Health and Safety Code 11383.5 HS — Possession of materials for manufacturing a controlled substance.