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Controlled Substance


California Health and Safety Code 11350(a) HS

Santa Barbara is an idyllic, storybook, and seemingly safe community many want to call home. However, even in a picture-perfect place like this, the grip of drugs can easily take hold. Just last year, 1.5 tons of methamephetamine were confiscated from attempted smugglers via water near Arroyo Quemada Beach. These types of activities combined with the increase in prescription drug availability mean residents of Santa Barbara County have easier and easier avenues to obtain drugs from both legal and illegal methods – and consequently face an increased risk of arrest for possession of a controlled substance.  

If you have been arrested for substance abuse, it does not automatically mean that you are guilty. It’s important to vigorously fight a substance abuse charge because a criminal conviction will stay on your record and can adversely affect job and educational opportunities down the road.

As a former Prosecutor for the District Attorney’s Offices in both Santa Barbara and San Diego Counties, Sanford Horowitz and our legal team will offer a free consultation, investigate all evidence against you, and give skilled legal advice about steps toward achieving the best possible results in your case. Call today: (805) 749-5670.

Our Firm Stands With You

Currently, it is a misdemeanor under California Health and Safety Code 11350(a) HS for anyone in the state to be unlawfully in possession of a controlled substance.

Controlled substances include illicit drugs such as heroin, LSD, and cocaine, but they also include possession of certain prescription narcotic drugs often abused – such as Oxycodone or Hydrocodone (Vicodin) – without a valid prescription.

In Santa Barbara, this means that:

  • If you are in Santa Barbara and found in possession of Vicodin pills you took from someone else,
  • pulled over for a traffic stop and have cocaine on you, or
  • are screened at a UCSB basketball game and security finds LSD in your purse, you may be arrested and charged under this statute.

It’s important to note that in Santa Barbara, like the rest of California, marijuana no longer falls under this statute after being legalized by Prop 64 for individuals 21 and older.

Fighting a Possession of a Controlled Substance Charge

A few key legal defenses to California’s possession of a controlled substance charge exist, but whether they may help you depends on the specific facts of your case.

Lack of Possession or Lack of Knowledge

In some cases, law enforcement will arrest and charge you for possession when the facts do not indicate you possessed the controlled substance. In others, you may not have known something – for example, a friend’s vehicle you borrowed – contained drugs.

Valid Prescription

If you can show you were arrested and charged under this statute for a controlled substance lawfully and validly prescribed to you, you have a valid defense against conviction. However, this defense doesn’t apply if you were doctor shopping, faked the prescription, or had more drugs than allowed in a valid prescription.

Authorization and Intent

If you can show you were arrested and charged under this statute for a controlled substance lawfully and validly prescribed to you, you have a valid defense against conviction. However, this defense doesn’t apply if you were doctor shopping, faked the prescription, or had more drugs than allowed in a valid prescription.

Unlawful Search and Seizure

The current law makes an exception for someone other than a prescription holder to have a controlled substance that falls under Health and Safety Code 11350(a) HS. However, that individual must satisfy two circumstances:

  1. They have the express authorization or direction of the prescription holder to possess the substance; AND
  2. Their only intent for possession is to either deliver the prescription to the holder for use as prescribed or to lawfully dispose of the controlled substance.

No matter how the situation occurred, Sanford Horowitz’s skilled legal team has years of experience dealing with possession of controlled substance cases throughout the Santa Barbara County area. We want to help you understand the charges you’re facing and your legal rights. 

If you’d like to schedule a consultation about your case, call (805) 749-5670 or fill out an online contact form


What does possession actually mean?

If someone controls a substance, whether it’s personally or by way of another person, the law deems they have possession. This means you can be charged with possession:
• Even if someone else also has possession
• If you knowingly have it in your pocket
• If it’s in the trunk of your car 
• If it’s in the closet of your bedroom and you are aware of it

How will a conviction affect me?

Outside of consequences like serving jail time, paying fines, participating in drug rehabilitation, or completing probation, a conviction for a drug offense like possession of a controlled substance can seriously affect your future.

A conviction can affect your professional license, impact your ability to get a loan or rent property, affect your ability to get or keep a job, restrict your gun rights, and even cause problems with your immigration status. The best situation is avoiding conviction, but if you are found guilty, once you serve your sentence and complete probation, you may be eligible for expungement – wiping the conviction off your record.

Legal Penalties for Possession of a Controlled Substance

California’s law for possession of a controlled substance is a misdemeanor, which is less severe than a felony but worse than an infraction. However, conviction under Health and Safety Code 11530(a) HS still carries stiff penalties that can significantly and negatively affect your life.

Most people found guilty of this crime must serve at least 90 days – but no more than 1 year – in county jail and will be placed on probation for up to 5 years. Courts may order you to complete a drug rehabilitation program instead of jail time, but you could end up being required to pay for the program. The court also possesses the power to impose fines up to $1000. First-time offenders may be able to complete drug court or a drug diversion program in some cases in exchange for dismissal of their charges.

However, repeat offenses within a 7 year period bring enhanced consequences if convicted. The law requires you to serve at least 6 months in jail and up to 1 year if you refuse to complete a reasonably available licensed drug rehabilitation program.

Don’t wait to contact Sanford Horowitz to ensure that your legal rights are protected. Call now: (805) 749-5670.

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