I have been arrested for possession of a controlled substance. What happens next?

In Arizona, illegal possession of a controlled substance is a serious offense, likely resulting in felony charges. If convicted, you will risk significant incarceration and monetary fines. A felony charge may impact your ability to gain employment, receive federal loans or funding, and even your ability to vote.

An important distinguishing fact in your case is the nature of the controlled substance in question. In Arizona, charges stemming from possession of marijuana differ from those involving a ‘dangerous drug.’ The umbrella term ‘dangerous drug’ includes methamphetamine, cocaine, and prescription drugs including pain killers (e.g. Oxycontin), psychostimulants (e.g. Ritalin), anxiolytics (e.g. Xanax), and anti-depressants.

Possession or use of marijuana

As stated in Arizona law under A.R.S. §13-3405,” a person shall not knowingly possess marijuana for sale or personal use, produce marijuana, or transport marijuana.” If you are caught possessing marijuana in Arizona, the charges you face will vary with the quantity of marijuana in your possession at the time of arrest. Note that possession of any amount of marijuana can result in a felony charge.

For charges related to possession of marijuana for personal use, the magic numbers are 2 and 4. That is, a personal convicted of possession of less than 2 pounds of marijuana for personal use is guilty of a class 6 felony. Penalties associated with this charge range from probation only to a 5.75 year period of incarceration depending on whether the convicted is a repeat offender.

A person convicted of possession of an amount of marijuana totally between 2 and 4 pounds is guilty of a class 5 felony and faces a period of incarceration from 6 months to 7.5 years depending on whether the convicted is a repeat offender. A person convicted of possession of greater than 4 pounds of marijuana is guilty of a class 4 felony.  Penalties increase accordingly to a period of incarceration from 1 to 15 years.

An important distinction to make is that the above charges refer to the possession of marijuana for personal use. As the amount of marijuana increases, it becomes more difficult to assert that the marijuana in question was intended for personal use. In these cases, the accused is often charged with possession of marijuana for sale. These charges carry more stringent penalties. The magic number to remember is 2 pounds. This is often considered the threshold amount, above which the marijuana is usually considered for sale.

Possession or use of a dangerous drug

It you are found possession of a drug other than marijuana (including but not limited to methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, LSD, PCP), you will likely be charged under A.R.S. §13-3407 “Possession or Use of a Dangerous Drug.” Possession of dangerous drug is classified as a class 4 felony in Arizona and carries with it significant penalties. An important point to note is that, provided the drug in question is not methamphetamine or amphetamine, the judge may reduce the charge to a class 1 misdemeanor.

Penalties associated with possession of dangerous drug are often significant and vary based and the quantity possessed and the drug in question. The period of incarceration may range from probation without incarceration to 15 years in jail for repeat offenders. An important point is that quantity of drugs possessed greatly influences potential penalties, as a ‘threshold’ amount exists for each drug. Above this threshold, there will be a mandatory prison sentence upon conviction. Common threshold amounts include: 9 grams methamphetamine, 9 grams powdered cocaine, ¾ gram rock cocaine, 1 gram heroin, ½ ml liquid LSD, 50 units blotter LSD, and 4 grams PCP.

What about Arizona Proposition 200? How does this impact possessions charges?

Arizona proposition 200 is a voter approved referendum that was approved by Arizona in 1996. In an attempt to reduce crowding and costs associated with incarceration, it prohibits jail time for those non-violent offenders convicted of their first drug-related offense. The goal of this proposition is to provide a route towards treatment and rehabilitation instead of traditional incarceration. If both the drug and defendant both quality under Proposition 200, the defendant may not face jail time until their third “possession” offense. A period of probation and court mandated drug abuse treatment will be required instead,

It is important to note that Proposition 200 does not apply to all drug charges, nor does it apply to all defendants. One notable exception is possession of Methamphetamine. Proposition 301 has disqualified Methamphetamine possession and use from the protection offered by Proposition 200. A second caveat limits the protection of Proposition 200 to non-violent drug offenders.