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California Drug Distribution Laws

California's drug distribution laws broadly criminalize the sale, transport, transfer, and import of controlled substances (although up to 28 g of marijuana may be transported or transfered by adults over the age of 21). In addition, drug distribution crimes may include prescription drugs if the defendant did not have a license to dispense the drugs or improperly sold the drugs. A prosecutor might pursue criminal charges against an individual or group engaging in the sale of drugs in a community, the transport of drugs from one county to another, or the import of drugs.

For a charge of drug distribution such as sale or transport, a prosecutor must be able to differentiate the defendant's conduct from possession of drugs for personal use. The prosecutor may try to establish the state's case by introducing evidence of drug sales or distribution. This evidence might include the amount of drugs attributed to the defendant and items such as packaging materials, scales, weapons, and other paraphernalia that may show possession for sale rather than personal use.

Enhancements for Crimes Involving Minors

State law includes enhancements to further penalize adults who involve minors in drug-related activities such as distribution or trafficking, who conduct drug-related activities in close proximity to schools or other areas designated for children, or who directly sell drugs to minors.

California Drug Distribution Laws Overview

Below you will find key provisions of California's drug distribution laws. The penalties available for a conviction on drug distribution or trafficking charges depend on the type of drug, the activity, the defendant's prior criminal record, and any applicable sentencing enhancements permitted by California law.


California Health and Safety Code Sections 11351-11379 et. seq. (Uniform Controlled Substances Act)


  • Transport, import, transfer, or sale of controlled substances may result in felony sentencing of 3 to 5 years. Transport from one California county to a non-contiguous county can result in an increased sentence of 3 to 9 years of imprisonment.
  • Crimes involving the hiring or employment of minors to sell or distribute controlled substances, or the sale of controlled substances to minors, can result in sentences of 3, 6, or 9 years in state prison.
  • California law allows adults 21 and older to transport less than 28.5 grams (or less than 8 g marijuana concentrate).
  • California law also criminalizes the transport, import, transfer, or sale of chemicals used as ingredients for the manufacture of phencyclidine (PCP) and methamphetamine, or the transport, import, transfer, or sale of the drugs themselves. Conviction may result in sentences of imprisonment lasting sixteen months to six years

Note: In addition, state law allows the prosecutor to pursue increased punishments if the defendant has committed prior offenses.

Possible Defenses

  • Possession for personal use
  • Entrapment

Selling Drugs Near a School

California law also includes a sentencing enhancement when drug-related distribution activities occur within 1,000 feet of schools, school-related programs, or playgrounds during operational hours, additional one to two years in prison. If you are at least four years older than the minor involved, you face a separate and additional one , two or three years state prison.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

California Codes and Legal Research Options

Additional Resources

If you have additional questions about California’s drug distribution laws, click on the following links:

Get Legal Help with Your Drug Distribution Case in California

Selling drugs, making a living, being an enterprising young entrepreneur – whatever you want to call it, distributing drugs for sale is illegal under California law and can land you in state prison and possibly subject you to federal charges in certain situations. If you've been charged under California drug distribution laws, it's in your best interest to contact an experienced drug crime attorney in California to learn about legal defenses that may be available to you.

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  • Complex drug crimes usually require a lawyer
  • Experienced drug crime lawyers can seek to reduce or eliminate criminal penalties
  • Drug crime laws involve many specifics that can quickly change a case

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