Nevada "Drug Sale" Laws (NRS 453.321)
(Explained by Las Vegas Criminal Defense Lawyers)

Penalties for sale or selling of controlled substances in Nevada can be very harsh, including years in prison and fines of thousands of dollars. Moreover, a conviction gives you a criminal record and may deter prospective employers from hiring you for a job.

Keep reading to learn Nevada drug sale laws, common defenses, potential penalties, as well as the possibility of being granted probation instead of prison.

Definition of Selling a Controlled Substance in Nevada (NRS 453.321)

It is illegal to sell drugs (or to offer to sell drugs) in Nevada. This law applies to both illegal drugs such as cocaine in Las Vegas as well as prescription drugs such as Ambien. Note that this offense is commonly abbreviated "SCS" (short for Sale of Controlled Substances in NV).

The majority of narcotics sales arrests in Las Vegas result from either:

  1. a concealed officer witnessing a hand-to-hand drug sale, or
  2. an undercover officer setting up a sale with an alleged narcotics dealer

1) Police observation posts:

If the cops receive a tip that drug dealing is occurring at a particular location in Las Vegas, they may go to the site and set up a covert surveillance. This is often referred to as an "observation post." Boulder City criminal defense attorney Michael Becker explains what happens if the cops observe what they believe to be a hand-to-hand drug sale:

"The cops will usually then detain the alleged buyer and seller and search them for drugs. If the buyer admits he just purchased drugs from the seller, the cops sometimes release the buyer and arrest just the seller. The rationale is that selling drugs is a more serious offense than straight possession, and the cops are more concerned with busting commercial sellers than people who buy small amounts for personal use."

2) Undercover officers:

In an attempt to catch suspected dealers in the act, Las Vegas police set up "sting" operations (also called "controlled buys") where undercover cops contact an alleged seller to schedule a drug sale. It sounds unfair, but stings are legal in the U.S. as long as the police have reason to believe that the suspect is a drug dealer. Often the narcotics officers locate suspected dealers on websites such as Craigslist.

Other prohibited acts:

NRS 453.321 makes it a crime not only to sell drugs in Nevada but also to "import, transport, exchange, barter, supply, prescribe, dispense, give away, administer, or manufacture" controlled substances.

Therefore, the simple acts of trading drugs, giving drugs away for free or making drugs for personal use can be punished just as harshly as a drug sale in Nevada.

Drug Sale v. Trafficking

The Nevada crime of trafficking controlled substances is reserved for larger-scale drug sales. Specifically, drug trafficking charges can be brought only in the following circumstances:

  • When the drug sale was for at least four (4) grams of a schedule I narcotic or of drugs containing flunitrazepam or gamma-hydroxybutyrate
  • When the drug sale was for at least twenty-eight (28) grams of a schedule II narcotic.

Defenses to SCS (sale of a controlled substance) in Nevada

Which strategies your attorney should use to fight your Nevada controlled substances sale charges depend upon the specific facts of your case. Here are two common defenses that often come into play when fighting allegations of selling narcotics in Las Vegas.


If the police may have tricked you into carrying out a drug sale that you otherwise would not have done, the Nevada defense of entrapment could be effective in getting your case dismissed. Boulder City criminal defense attorney Michael Becker illustrates entrapment with an example:

"In Moapa, the police see John snorting coke. An undercover cop approaches John and asks to buy the rest of his coke. John says no and walks away. The cop follows John for several blocks and offers to pay him even more than the drugs are worth. John finally sells the cop his coke. In this case, John should not be liable for the Moapa crime of selling drugs because the undercover cop entrapped him to sell the drugs by harassing him and promising to pay a lot of money. Furthermore, John's actions of saying no and walking away suggest that John would not have sold the drugs but for the police pressure. And since the cop had never seen John sell coke before, the prosecution can't prove that John was otherwise inclined to sell drugs."

Lack of evidence

Remember that the prosecution has the burden to prove a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In cases that are not corroborated by physical evidence, there is a good chance that your case may be dismissed for insufficient proof. For example:

In Laughlin, a cop at a concealed observation post observes what appears to be a hand-to-hand drug sale. But there are no pictures or videos. Moreover, the officer's view was obstructed by other people walking by. The evidence in this case may be too weak to support a conviction.

In these types of cases where all the incriminating evidence boils down to the officer's testimony, your attorney can try to attack the cop's credibility on the witness stand to show the judge or jury that he is untrustworthy.

Penalties, Punishment & Sentencing for Selling Drugs in Nevada

Selling narcotics in Nevada is a felony under NRS 453.321. The exact penalty a judge can impose turns on two factors:

  1. the drug's "schedule" classification, and
  2. whether the defendant has any past drug offenses.

Note that for a first offense of SCS in Las Vegas, probation may be possible.

When the drug is a schedule I or II:

Examples of schedule I drugs and schedule II drugs are:

  • Marijuana (I)
  • PCP (I)
  • Hydrocodone (I)
  • Methamphetamine (II)
  • Ecstasy (I)
  • Heroin (I)
  • Cocaine/ Crack (II)
  • Ritalin (II)
  • "Opium (II)"

For a first offense of selling these drugs in Nevada, your attorney may ask the judge to grant probation instead of a prison sentence. Judges usually agree to give probation for a first-timer. If probation is denied, the person faces a category B felony sentence of:

A second offense of engaging in a drug sale is also a category B felony in Las Vegas, with an increased sentence of:

  • two to ten years in Nevada State Prison, and
  • a fine of up to $20,000

Finally, a third or subsequent conviction of selling drugs is a category B felony in Las Vegas with a punishment of:

  • three to fifteen years in Nevada State Prison, and
  • a fine of up to $20,000

When the drug is a schedule III, IV or V:

Common drugs that fall under the categories of schedule III drugs, schedule IV drugs, and schedule V drugs include:

  • Anabolic steroids (III)
  • Xanax (IV)
  • Valium (IV)
  • Ambien (IV)
  • Rohypnol (IV)
  • Robitussin AC (V)

A first offense of making a drug sale in Nevada is probationable, which means that the judge may allow the defendant to be released without prison time. Otherwise, the defendant faces penalties for a category C felony in Las Vegas, including:

  • one to five years in Nevada State Prison, and
  • a fine of up to $10,000

Meanwhile a second offense for selling drugs is a category B felony in Las Vegas, carrying:

  • two to ten years in Nevada State Prison, and
  • maybe a fine of up to $15,000

And a third or subsequent conviction for selling drugs is a category B felony in Las Vegas as well. The sentence includes:

  • three to fifteen years in Nevada State Prison, and
  • a fine of up to $20,000

Increased penalties involving minors (NRS 453.3345)

A Las Vegas judge will double a prison sentence if the sale of a controlled substance took place in any of the following locations:

  • on the grounds or within 1,000 feet of a school, playground, public park, public swimming pool, recreational center or video arcade,
  • on a campus or within 1,000 feet of the Nevada System of Higher Education, or
  • within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop from one hour before school begins until one hour after school ends on school days.

Therefore if someone is convicted of selling drugs in Nevada and is given a prison sentence of two years, the judge will double that to four years if the sale took place on a school campus.

Sale of drug paraphernalia (NRS 453.560; NRS 453.562):

Selling drug paraphernalia (such as syringes and crack pipes) is a category E felony in Las Vegas. The sentence includes:

  • one to four years in Nevada State Prison (which is often probationable), and
  • a fine of up to $5,000

But this offense turns into a category C felony in Las Vegas when the seller is an adult of eighteen or older who allegedly gives the paraphernalia to someone both under eighteen and at least three years younger. The punishment is:

  • one to five years in Nevada State Prison, and
  • a fine of up to $10,000 as well as restitution for the minor taking a substance abuse program

For more about Las Vegas paraphernalia crimes, read our informational article on Drug Paraphernalia Offenses in Nevada.

Related Narcotics Offenses

  • Possession of Controlled Substances for Personal Use in Las Vegas, Nevada:

The Nevada offense of possession of drugs and controlled substances is one of the less serious narcotics-related felonies in the state. Charges for a first offense can often be dismissed if the defendant completes Las Vegas Drug Court.

  • Possession of Controlled Substances for Purpose of Sale in Las Vegas, Nevada:

Prosecutors charge someone with the Nevada offense of possessing drugs and controlled substances with the intent to sell when they believe he/she is planning to make a drug sale but it hasn't happened yet. It is possible for a first offense to result in probation without prison.

  • Trafficking in Controlled Substances in Las Vegas, Nevada:

A sale that involves large quantities of certain types of narcotics is considered the Nevada offense of trafficking drugs and controlled substances. Prison is usually mandatory. But the judge may suspend the sentence if the defendant agrees to help police in their investigations.

Further Resources

To learn about the California offense of selling controlled substances, go to our article on California drug sale laws under Health & Safety Code 11352 HS.

Arrested for selling narcotics? Phone us for help ...

If after going over this information you would like a free consultation with our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers, then contact us at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673). We might be able to get your Nevada narcotics sale charges reduced or even thrown out so your criminal record remains clean.

¿Habla español? Más información sobre el crimen de Nevada de la venta de drogas.






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