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What is California law for illegal use or possession of benzodiazepines?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Apr 16, 2019 | 0 Comments

benzos
Benzodiazepines, also known as “benzos,” are the most commonly abused type of prescription drug in the United States

Under California law, it is a crime for a person to either:

  1. use and be under the influence of a benzodiazepines, per Health and Safety Code 11550, or
  2. possess them, unless lawfully prescribed, per Health and Safety Code 11375.

Benzodiazepines, also known as “benzos,” are the most commonly abused type of prescription drug in the United States. Common drugs of this type include:

  • Valium,
  • Xanax,
  • Klonopin, and
  • Ativan.

A violation of HSC 11550 is charged as a misdemeanor in California. The crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year, and
  • drug counseling.

A violation of HSC 11375 can either be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the facts of a given case. Either charge can lead to imprisonment for up to a year or even more.

What are benzodiazepines?

Benzos are listed as Schedule IV drugs per the Controlled Substances Act. They are minor tranquilizers commonly prescribed for:

  • insomnia,
  • anxiety,
  • seizures,
  • drug and alcohol withdrawal, and
  • muscle spasms.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved 15 different types of benzos. The most common include:

  • Valium,
  • Xanax,
  • Klonopin, and
  • Ativan.

Benzodiazepines are the most commonly abused type of prescription drug in the United States.

What is a crime under Health and Safety Code 11550?

HSC 11550 is the California statute governing the use of controlled substances and narcotic drugs, including benzos. Under this statute, it is a crime for a person to:

  1. use a benzodiazepine, and/or
  2. be under the influence of the same.

It is permissible, though, for a person to do either of the above if he has a legal prescription for the drug taken.

With regards to being “under the influence,” Health and Safety Code 11550 only requires that a person be under the influence in any detectable manner. Impairment or other misconduct isn't necessary to prove an accused is guilty of this charge.

A violation of HSC 11550 is charged as a misdemeanor in California. The crime is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up ton one year. In addition, a guilty charge can lead to:

  • up to five years of informal probation,
  • drug counseling, and
  • possible community service or labor.

If a party suffers a third conviction of this section within seven years of his first conviction, and he has refused court-appointed drug treatment, he will be sentenced to a minimum of 180 days in the county jail.

What is a crime under Health and Safety Code 11375?

HSC 11375 is the California statute governing the:

  • possession for sale,
  • sale, and
  • possession

of certain controlled substances, including benzodiazepines.

Under this statute, it is a crime for any person to:

  • possess benzos with the intent to sell them, and/or
  • sell them.

Under HS 11375(b)(2), it is also a crime for any person to possess a benzos unless that person has a lawful prescription for the drugs.

The offenses of possession for sale and sale are wobbler offenses in California. This means they can be punished as either a California misdemeanor or a felony depending on the facts of a given case.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year. If charged as a felony, the offense is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years in the county jail or state prison.

A person guilty of possessing a benzos is guilty of either a misdemeanor or an infraction. If guilty of a misdemeanor, the defendant can face:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.

A defendant guilty of a possession infraction can face a substantial fine.

Are there legal defenses to Health and Safety Code 11550/11375 accusations?

A defendant can raise a legal defense if accused of a crime under either HSC 11550 or 11375. A successful defense can work to reduce a charge or dismiss one altogether.

Common defenses to HSC 11550 benzos use charges include that the defendant:

  • was not “under the influence,” and/or
  • had a valid prescription for the drug.

Common defenses to HSC 11375 benzos possession/sale accusations include that the defendant:

  • had a lawful prescription for the drug,
  • did not “possess” the drug (as that term is legally defined), and/or
  • had no intent to sell the benzos.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).

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