NRS 453.321 - Nevada "Drug Sale" Laws


NRS 453.321
is the Nevada law that prohibits selling narcotics. The statute states that it "is unlawful for a person to...sell a controlled...substance."

Violating NRS 453.321 is a felony, though the judge may grant probation to first-time defendants. Defendants can fight drug dealing charges by claiming the police committed entrapment or conducted an illegal search.

In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys answer frequently-asked-questions about selling controlled substances in Nevada:

ecstasy pills, cash, and hands (NRS 453.321)
Selling controlled substances is a felony in Nevada under NRS 453.321.

1. What is the legal definition of selling drugs in Nevada?

Selling drugs is the exchange of controlled substances for money or anything of value. Merely offering to sell drugs is an NRS 453.321 violation even if no money or drugs change hands.

This offense is commonly abbreviated "SCS" for sale of controlled substances. "Controlled substances" comprise illegal drugs as well as prescription drugs.1

Many drug sale arrests occur when a concealed officer witnesses a hand-to-hand drug sale. If the police receive a tip, they may go to the site and set up covert surveillance. This is often referred to as an observation post.

Police also may set up "sting" operations -- called controlled buys. This is where undercover police contact an alleged seller to schedule a drug sale. Narcotics officers frequently locate suspected dealers on websites such as Craigslist.

For information on marijuana specifically, read our article on the crime of selling marijuana.

2. How is trafficking different?

A drug sale turns into a Nevada trafficking offense in only two circumstances:

  1. The sale involves at least four grams of a Schedule I narcotic or of drugs containing flunitrazepam or gamma-hydroxybutyrate; or
  2. The sale involves at least 28 grams of a Schedule II narcotic.

Therefore, it is impossible to commit trafficking by selling Schedules III, Schedule IV, or Schedule V drugs -- no matter the amount.

Trafficking also carries much harsher penalties than selling.2 Judges rarely grant probation for a trafficking conviction unless the police agree to use the defendant as an informant.3

3. What are the defenses?

gavel and handcuffs
Police entrapment is a defense to drug sale charges.

Two common ways to fight drug sale charges in Nevada are to argue that:

  1. The police entrapped the defendant; or
  2. The police conducted an unlawful search

3.1. The police entrapped the defendant

Police break the law whenever they "entrap" suspects. Entrapment is tricking or forcing people into committing a crime they are not predisposed to. It is not uncommon for police to overstep their bounds and entrap suspected drug dealers.

Example: Officer James is undercover at Fremont Street. He overhears a woman telling a friend that she has Molly in her purse and plans to get high tonight.

The officer then goes up to the woman and asks to buy the Molly. The woman refuses. The officer then threatens to report her to the cops for having drugs in her purse if she does not sell to him. The woman agrees. Then Officer James breaks cover and arrests the woman for selling drugs.

Here, Officer James entrapped the woman. The officer had no reason to believe that she was predisposed to selling drugs. And she refused to sell to him until he threatened her. Therefore, the court should drop the drug sale charge.

A simple way of determining whether entrapment occurred is the but/for test. Would the defendant have broken the law but for the police's deception? If the answer is no, then the police probably committed entrapment, and the charge should be dismissed.4

3.2. The police conducted an unlawful search

The Fourth Amendment puts strict limits on how police may conduct searches of a person's property. When police violate these rules, the defense attorney can ask the court to disregard ("suppress") any evidence found from this illegal search.

If the court grants the defendant's motion to suppress evidence, the D.A. may have insufficient proof to keep pressing charges. The D.A. may then have no choice but to drop the case.

4. What are the penalties?

The punishment for selling drugs in Nevada hinges on the type of drug and whether the defendant has prior offenses. Many first-time offenders can get probation rather than prison.5

Controlled substance

Nevada penalties for selling drugs*

Schedule I, or

Schedule II

1st offense

Category B felony:

The judge may grant probation instead of prison.

2nd offense

Category B felony:

  • 2 – 10 years in prison, and
  • Possibly up to $20,000 in fines

3rd or subsequent offense

Category B felony:

  • 3 – 15 years in prison,
  • Possibly up to $20,000 in fines

Schedule III,

Schedule IV, or

Schedule V

1st offense

Category C felony

  • 1 – 5 years in prison, and
  • Possibly up to $10,000 in fines

The judge may grant probation instead of prison.

2nd offense

Category B felony

  • 2 – 10 years in prison, and
  • Possibly up to $15,000 in fines

The judge may grant probation instead of prison.

3rd or subsequent offense

Category B felony:

  • 3 – 15 years in prison, and
  • Possibly up to $20,000 in fines

* The prison sentence doubles if the drug sale took place at any of the following locations:

  • On a campus of the Nevada System of Higher Education;
  • Within 1,000 feet of a school ground, campus, playground, park, pool, recreational center, or arcade; or
  • Within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop from 1 hour before school begins until 1 hour after school ends during scheduled school days.6

5. Can the charges get dismissed?

Nevada prosecutors take drug sale allegations very seriously. They usually will not dismiss these charges unless there is insufficient evidence.

Therefore, the defense attorney's job is to show prosecutors that their case is not strong enough to win a "guilty verdict" at trial. (Scroll up to section 3 for typical defenses to NRS 453.321 charges.) If prosecutors begin to doubt that a jury would convict the defendant, they may offer to reduce the charges or dismiss them outright.

6. Can I get my record sealed?

Magnifying glass over paper with the text criminal record.
Nevada drug seal convictions are sealable five years after the case closes.

Defendants convicted of selling drugs must wait five years after the case ends to get a record sealed. But defendants can petition for a record seal right away if the charge gets dismissed.7

Anyone arrested for drug crimes is advised to petition the court for a record sealed as soon as possible. Otherwise, the cases will show up on background checks and may disqualify the defendant for certain jobs. Learn about how to get a Nevada record seal

7. What are the immigration consequences?

Selling drugs is a deportable offense. Therefore, visa-holders and green card-holders who get convicted of it face removal from the U.S.8

Non-citizens charged with selling narcotics should retain an aggressive attorney to try to get the case dismissed or changed to a non-deportable offense. Otherwise, the U.S. will likely deport them once their sentence is over.

8. Other prohibited acts under NRS 453.321

"Selling" controlled substances is just one of the acts that NRS 453.321 prohibits. This law also prohibits doing the following with drugs:

  • importing
  • transporting
  • exchanging
  • bartering
  • supplying
  • prescribing
  • dispensing
  • giving away
  • administering
  • manufacturing

Therefore, simply giving drugs away or making drugs for personal use can be punished just as harshly as a drug sale in Nevada.9

9. Related drug crimes

9.1. Possession

The least serious drug offense is simple possession (NRS 453.336). This is when the defendant has drugs for personal use and has no intention of selling them. Possession is typically a felony, though first-time offenders can often avoid prison time.

9.2. Possession for sale

The next most serious drug crime after possession is possession with the intent to sell (NRS 453.337 & NRS 453.338). This is a difficult charge for the D.A. to prove because it involves the defendant's state of mind. Depending on the case, prosecutors may agree to reduce the charge to simple possession.

9.3. Sale of drug paraphernalia

Selling drug paraphernalia such as syringes and crack pipes is a lesser felony than selling actual narcotics. But the penalties become harsher if the customer is a child. Learn more about drug paraphernalia offenses.

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Call our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE for a FREE consultation today.

10. Should I hire an attorney?

If you are facing drug dealing charges in Nevada, you need an experienced attorney fighting for you. Your lawyer will thoroughly search for all the inconsistencies and holes in the state's case. The prosecutors may then agree to reduce or dismiss the charges when they see your attorney will not back down.

For a free consultation, call our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673). Our goal is to get you the best resolution possible as quickly as possible. 

¿Habla español? Obtener información acerca de las leyes de Nevada sobre la venta de drogas.

Arrested in California? Go to our article on drug sale laws (Health & Safety Code 11352 HS).

Arrested in Colorado? Go to our article on drug sale laws (18-18-405 C.R.S.).


Legal References

  1. NRS 453.321; NRS 453.046.
  2. NRS 453.3385; NRS 453.339; NRS 453.3395.
  3. NRS 453.3405.
  4. Sheriff, Humboldt County v. Gleave, 104 Nev. 496, 761 P.2d 416 (1988).
  5. NRS 453.321.
  6. NRS 453.3345.
  7. NRS 179.245; NRS 179.255.
  8. 8 U.S.C. § 1227.
  9. NRS 453.321.

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