What is a Felony Drug Charge in California?

In California, crimes are divided into infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. California Penal Code § 17 (a) states that a felony is a crime punishable by death or imprisonment in a state or county jail.

All other crimes are infractions or misdemeanors and warrant only up to one year in jail.

Types of Felony Drug Crimes

In California, several factors influence the charges you receive.  For example, wobbler offenses are crimes that can be either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the facts.

More severe drug offenses are charged as a straight felony. 

Straight Drug Felonies

California Health and Safety Code § 11351 makes it a felony to possess any controlled substance with the intent to sell it. These charges could arise if police find evidence indicating you might be selling drugs.

Being found with large amounts of drugs packaged in individual baggies with scales and money lying around could lead police to believe you intended to sell the drugs in your possession.

Another common straight felony is transporting a controlled substance. California Health and Safety Code § 11352 prohibits anyone from transporting, importing, selling, furnishing, or offering to do such things. These are only a couple of felony drug crimes you could be charged with.

Felony Drug Possession

After Proposition 47 was enacted, many felony drug charges became misdemeanors. One of these was simple drug possession under California Health and Safety Code § 11350.

Although this has been downgraded to a misdemeanor, simple possession can still be a felony under varying circumstances. For example, being convicted of a previous sex crime or another felony could turn a mild offense into a significant charge.

What Factors Make a Drug Charge a Felony?

Each case is unique and charged differently in California. Location of the drugs, amount of drugs, and other illegal items in your possession at the time of the arrest all factor into whether you’ll be charged with a misdemeanor or felony.

Type/Amount of Drug

California’s schedule of controlled substances categorizes drugs based on their ease of abuse. The schedule goes from one to five—one being primarily narcotics with the most potential for abuse and five being drugs with the least potential for abuse. Not only that, but the amount of the drug in your possession matters too.

Even drugs with lenient laws like marijuana have regulations on the amount you’re allowed to have at a time, and if the amount you have exceeds this limit and there are signs you might intend to sell it, you could face felony charges.

Prior Drug Convictions

Your criminal background could be the difference-maker in determining your current felony drug charges. A first offense for simple drug possession could result in only a misdemeanor. However, convicted sex offenders and individuals with previous felonies could face a felony charge.


Even where you are found to have drugs in your possession matters in your case—for example, possessing drugs within 1,000 feet of a school or other drug-free area could increase a misdemeanor to a felony fast. Other laws force harsher penalties on those who commit any drug crime in the presence of a minor.

Having a Weapon  

Having items like a firearm in your possession at the time of your arrest could warrant heavier penalties than if you were found without one. You could go from facing up to one year in prison for a misdemeanor to serving at the most four years in prison if police find a gun in your possession during an alleged drug crime.

California Drug Laws & Penalties

Individuals convicted of violating California’s drug laws face several sentencing options. Unlike other states where convicted felons are given a range of years to serve in prison, California has low, middle, and high sentencing options that the judge must choose from.

Essentially, convicted felons face any sentence over 16 months in jail and fines up to $10,000. Here are some specific offenses and their corresponding penalties:

Facing Felony Drug Charges In Oakland? Call Morris Law

The penalties are severe, even for a first-time felony drug charge. However, your situation isn’t hopeless. Several defense options might be available to you, and attorney Seth Morris’ goal is to dismiss your charges and get you back to your life.

Call 510-225-9955 or submit a request online for the felony drug lawyer you need.