California Health and Safety Code sections 11350-11352 HS make it a crime to possess, sell, or transport controlled substances including cocaine and cocaine base. Simple cocaine possession is usually a misdemeanor that can be dismissed with no jail through drug diversion. Though trafficking cocaine is a serious felony potentially carrying several years in prison.
|California cocaine crime||Maximum jail/prison term (generally) |
|Simple possession – 11350 HS|| |
|Possession for sale – 11351 HS|| |
|Selling/transporting (“trafficking”) – 11352 HS|| |
|Being under the influence – 11550 HS|| |
|Driving under the influence – 23152f VC|| |
In this article, our California criminal defense attorneys summarize the state cocaine laws including potential penalties and legal defenses:
- 1. Possessing cocaine (11350 HS)
- 2. Possessing cocaine for sale (11351 HS)
- 3. Transporting or selling cocaine (11352 HS)
- 4. Being under the influence of cocaine (11550 HS)
- 5. Driving under the influence of cocaine (23152f VC)
- 6. How to fight criminal charges
- Additional resources
1. Possessing cocaine (11350 HS)
Health and Safety Code 11350 HS prohibits possessing drugs for personal use in California, called “simple possession.” To prove you are in possession of cocaine, the D.A. would need to show that either:
- you are knowingly holding the cocaine or carrying it on your person (“actual possession”); or
- you knowingly have control over the cocaine, such as keeping it in your house (“constructive possession”); or
- you and at least one other person share control of the cocaine (“joint possession”).
Most cocaine possession charges are misdemeanors carrying up to 1 year in jail and/or $1,000 in fines. Though you may be able to avoid jail and get the charge dismissed if you complete one of California’s drug diversion programs:
Note that simple possession of cocaine is prosecuted as a felony if you were previously convicted of certain serious offenses such as murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, or any sex crime that required you to register as a sex offender. Felony penalties for cocaine possession include up to $10,000 in fines and a jail sentence of:
- 16 months,
- 2 years, or
- 3 years.1
See our related article, possessing a controlled substance while armed (HS 11370.1).
2. Possessing cocaine for sale (11351 HS)
Health and Safety Code 11351 HS prohibits possessing drugs in California with the intent to sell them.2 To prove that you were planning to sell the cocaine rather than consume it personally, prosecutors will present such evidence as:
- you had large amounts of drugs divided into separate “ready to sell” bags or containers;
- you had a gun for protection during drug deals;
- you had large amounts of cash you earned from prior drug sales; and/or
- you were found in a location where drug sales typically take place.
Possession of cocaine for sale is a felony carrying two, three, or four years in California State Prison plus up to $20,000. Though if it was cocaine base, then the penalty for possession with intent to sell is three, four, or five years in prison plus up to $20,000.3
Note that if the amount of cocaine or cocaine base exceeds one kilogram, you face an additional three to 25 years in prison and up to $8 million in fines.4
3. Transporting or selling cocaine (11352 HS)
Health and Safety Code 11352 HS prohibits transporting or selling drugs in California (commonly called “trafficking”). For you to be convicted, the D.A. would have to prove that you either:
- transported cocaine,
- sold cocaine,
- imported cocaine into California,
- furnished cocaine,
- administered cocaine,
- gave away cocaine, or
- offered to do any of the above.
The felony penalties for trafficking cocaine are three, four, or five years in California State Prison. If the cocaine was transported across more than two county lines with the intent to sell the cocaine at the destination, the penalty becomes three, six, or nine years in prison.5
Note that if the cocaine or cocaine base amounted to more than one kilogram, the court will impose an additional three to 25 years in prison and up to $8 million in fines.6
4. Being under the influence of cocaine (11550 HS)
Health and Safety Code 11550 HS prohibits being under the influence of drugs in California, even if there are no drugs in the vicinity when police find you.7 To prove that you are “under the influence” of cocaine, the D.A has to show that:
- your physical or mental abilities are impaired “in any detectable manner”; and
- the reason for this impairment is drugs.8
Being under the influence of cocaine is a misdemeanor carrying up to one year in jail, though you may be able to avoid jail and a conviction by completing a diversion program instead.9
5. Driving under the influence of cocaine (23152f VC)
Vehicle Code 23152(f) VC prohibits driving a motor vehicle in California while under the influence of drugs.10 For you to be convicted of driving while high on cocaine, the D.A. has to show that the cocaine has:
“so far affected the nervous system, the brain, or muscles as to impair to an appreciable degree the ability to operate a vehicle in a manner like that of an ordinarily prudent and cautious person in full possession of his faculties.”11
Most charges for driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) are misdemeanors and punished the same as driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). First-time convictions carry up to six months in jail, up to $1,000 in fines, a driver’s license suspension, and DUI school.12
6. How to fight criminal charges
Here at Shouse Law Group, we have represented literally thousands of people charged with cocaine crimes. In our experience, the following six defenses have proven very effective with prosecutors, judges, and juries in California:
1) The police found the cocaine through an illegal search and seizure
If we can show law enforcement violated your Fourth Amendment rights during its search of your property – such as by failing to get a search warrant when one was necessary – the court may suppress the cocaine as evidence. This may then leave the D.A. with too weak a case to prosecute.13
2) The police entrapped you
If an undercover officer unduly pressured you to buy or sell cocaine when you were not predisposed to do so, then the court should dismiss the case because police are not allowed to coerce (“entrap“) you into criminal activity. As long as you would not have broken the law but for the police placing you under duress, then no crime occurred.
3) You did not know the cocaine was there
Perhaps someone planted the cocaine on you, or perhaps someone left it in your car without your knowledge. Unless the D.A. can prove beyond a reasonable doubt you knew the cocaine was there, then you violated no cocaine laws, and criminal charges should not stand.
4) You were not impaired
If you are facing charges for DUID or being under the influence of cocaine, we can argue that your allegedly “high” behavior was due to a medical or psychiatric issue unrelated to any drugs. It is not uncommon for police to mistake common medical episodes such as seizures or diabetic comas as signs of intoxication.
5) You were falsely accused
Maybe the accuser was angry at you and levied false allegations out of revenge. If we can show that the accuser had a motivation to lie, the D.A. may agree to drop the case (and then charge the accuser for making a false police report).
6) You had no intent to sell the cocaine
It may be possible to persuade the D.A. to reduce a possession for sale charge to simple possession by showing there is insufficient evidence that you intended to sell the drugs. For example if you carried a gun, we can argue that it had nothing to do with making drug deals, and you were simply exercising your Second Amendment rights and otherwise following all applicable firearm laws.
Typical evidence we rely on includes any available surveillance video, eyewitness accounts, and/or medical records. We may also use expert witnesses to call into question whether the substances the police found were indeed illegal drugs and whether the police in their handling of them broke protocol or violated cocaine laws.
For help or more information beyond California cocaine law, refer to the following:
- Narcotics Anonymous (NA) – A 12-step program to overcome drug addiction.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) – 24/7 treatment referral service.
- What is Cocaine? WebMD article about the drug’s properties and treatment.
- Cocaine – Drug Enforcement Administration fact-sheet on cocaine.
- Cocaine – Alcohol and Drug Foundation overview of cocaine.
- California Health and Safety Code 11350 HS. See also California Health and Safety Code 11372 HS. California Penal Code 1210.1 PC. California Penal Code 1000 PC.
- California Health and Safety Code 11351 HS.
- California Health and Safety Code 11351.5 HS.
- California Health and Safety Code 11370.4 HS.
- California Health and Safety Code 11352 HS.
- See note 4.
- California Health and Safety Code 11550 HS.
- People v. Enriquez (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 661.
- See note 7.
- California Vehicle Code 23152f VC.
- See note 8.
- See note 10.
- People v. Lee (Cal. App. 2019) 40 Cal. App. 5th 853.