California courts are very serious about prosecuting narcotics crimes within the state. Proximity to the southern U.S. border makes the potential for smuggling very high, especially in Southern California, and reducing drug availability is a top priority with both the state police and federal narcotics divisions. As a result, state legislators have taken steps to allow significant penalties for those convicted of even possessing small to moderate amounts of scheduled drugs. For multiple offenders, penalties can be even harsher.
Most simple possession charge cases are not high-end drug charges and will only result in a misdemeanor filing if the amounts are small enough and not packaged for distribution. The decision to file a felony charge is usually based on the amount of the drug found and the actual type unless there are aggravating circumstances that justify an enhancement. Those circumstances are usually based on extenuating factors such as a minor being present at the time of the arrest. Misdemeanors are punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and a $1000 fine unless there are aggravating circumstances, which can then result in a $2000 maximum. For those who can qualify for probation, working a fine off by community service is acceptable. Multiple offenders may receive enhanced punishment as well as under aggravated circumstances.
While most cases filed as felonies are actually trafficking charges, possession can also be charged additionally when multiple narcotics are found such as heroin and cocaine. These are non-prescription drugs that have no medical application, and a conviction will result in a significant term in a state facility for over one year and up to five years for the lowest felony class. These cases are considered high-end drug charges and can have significant ramifications on the life of the defendant going forward after the fact in addition to incarceration and extensive fines.