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San Luis Obispo Substance Abuse Attorney


California Health and Safety Code 11350(a) HS

San Luis Obispo is an whimsical, Danish-styled village that attracts visitors from all over the world, and is a seemingly safe community many want to call home. However, even in a storybook place like this, the grip of drugs can easily take hold. Recently, a man was arrested after being found attempting to distribute 18 bags containing 1 gram each of cocaine. 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.

California Health and Safety Code 11350(a) HS

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 San Luis Obispo, this means that:

  • If you are in San Luis Obispo 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 walking into a festival and security finds LSD in your purse, you may be arrested and charged under this statute.

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


Under the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution, you have a right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure. This could mean a search warrant is defective, an illegal search in some cases might have occurred without your consent, or law enforcement searched more than they were allowed by a warrant.


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 this contact form.

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