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CA Health and Safety Code 11350 HS

Possession of a Controlled Substance

California Health and Safety Code 11350 (HS11350) is the statute that makes it a crime to unlawfully possess a controlled substance, such as illegal drugs or prescription drugs. This section is often referred to as “simple possession” or “possession for personal use”.

How can I be found

Guilty of Drug Possession?


You unlawfully possessed a controlled substance


You knew of its presence


You knew of the substance’s nature or character as a controlled substance


The controlled substance was a usable amount.

Consider the following example: Minnie, who doesn’t realize a cop is watching, pulls out a baggie of ecstasy pills to show off to her friends. In this situation she could be arrested for possession of an illegal drug.

A closer look at

Possession of a Controlled Substance

A controlled substance is a drug or chemical whose manufacture, possession, and use are regulated by the government under the United States Controlled Substances Act. Note that this section does not cover possession of marijuana `{`web link`}`. Below is an example of the controlled substances covered by this section.









Having Knowledge of the

Controlled Substance

The government does not have to prove that you have knowledge over which specific controlled substance you possessed. It must only be demonstrated that you knew of its presence, and the fact, that you knew of it as a controlled substance. 

Consider the following example: Jessica is at a college party that is getting shut down. She falls down onto the lawn, and a small bag falls out of her purse. In the bag is an assortment of pills that a friend told her to hold on to. 

When she is questioned by the police, she admits that she’s holding onto drugs, but they are not hers. The government does not have to prove that she knew what type of drugs she had, but only that she was aware of their presence and of their nature.

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A usable amount is a quantity that is enough to be used by someone as a controlled substance. Any useless traces are not usable amounts. However, a usable amount does not have to be enough in either amount or strength to affect the user. 

Liam is at a music festival. Police must escort him out for disorderly conduct. When detained, they ask him to see his backpack in which they find two empty baggies, with only what appears to be white, left-over, residue. Under these circumstances, he can only be arrested for being drunk in public, but not for possession of a controlled substance. An empty baggie with useless traces does not count as a usable amount.

Defenses to

Possession of a Controlled Substance

If you are charged with possession of drugs, a criminal defense attorney can help determine which defense best suits your case. Some defenses challenge the stated facts, testimony, or evidence in the case. Other defenses will target procedural errors.

The controlled substance in possession was prescribed 

Under HS 11350, you cannot be found guilty of possessing a controlled substance if you had a valid prescription for the substance from a physician, dentist, podiatrist, or veterinarian. 

Lack of possession

It may sound obvious or counter-intuitive, but “lack of possession” happens quite often. This defense can be used when the prosecution has the burden of proving that the defendant had “constructive” or “joint” control over the controlled substance.  For example, drugs in a house, where the homeowner is absent but a renter is present. 

Example:  There are drugs in a house where renters are present but the homeowner is absent.

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