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Understanding the Penalties of Drug Possession in Arizona

November 11, 2022

As you may have heard in the news, President Biden just announced that he is issuing an official pardon of those who have been convicted of federal charges of simple marijuana possession and is urging state governors to do the same on the state level. In Arizona, our drug possession laws have yet to change, and being charged with drug possession can have serious consequences that affect your finances, family and relationships, job, education, and more. Here’s some basic information about the penalties for a drug possession conviction in Arizona.

Definition of Drug Possession in the State of Arizona

The Arizona Revised Statutes §13.3408 define drug possession as:

  • the possession or use of a narcotic drug
  • the possession of a narcotic drug for sale
  • the possession of equipment or chemicals for the purpose of manufacturing a narcotic drug
  • the manufacturing of a narcotic drug
  • the administration of a narcotics drug to others
  • the procurement or administration of narcotic drug through fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation
  • the transportation or importation or offer of transfer or sale of a narcotic drug

Classification of Drug Possession

In the state of Arizona, drugs are classified as controlled dangerous substances, and are divided into six different categories:

  • Marijuana
  • Peyote
  • Prescription drugs
  • Dangerous drugs
  • Narcotic drugs
  • Substances that emit toxic vapors

The classification is further broken down into actual possession, constructive possession, and possession for sale.

  • Actual possession – the person arrested had direct physical control over the drug
  • Constructive possession – the person arrested knows of the drugs and has control or access over them, such as the driver of a vehicle in which drugs were found
  • Possession for sale – the amount of drugs in actual possession is beyond what is typically used for personal use

There are also threshold levels for possession that indicate possession with intent to sell. The penalties for possession with intent to sell are much harsher, and there is a sentence of mandatory prison time even if there is no direct evidence of past or present drug sales. The threshold amount for intent to sell is:

  • Heroin – 1 gram
  • Cocaine – 9 grams
  • PCP – 4 grams or 50 milliliters
  • Methamphetamine – 9 grams
  • Marijuana – 2 pounds

Sentencing Range and Penalties for Drug Possession in Arizona

If you have been arrested for drug possession, the arresting officer most likely charged you with more than one drug-related offense. The sentencing guidelines for each charge might depend on mitigating factors, such as whether it was a first-time offense, your age, your prior criminal history, the drug itself, and the amount that you had in your possession when arrested. Possible sentences and penalties for possession include:

  • Dangerous drug – class 4 felony if no prior convictions, fine of up to $2,000 or three times the value of the substance, and between 1-3.75 years in jail or prison
  • Narcotic – class 4 felony if no prior convictions, fine of up to $2,000 or three times the value of the substance, and between 1-15 years in jail or prison
  • Marijuana – if less than 2 pounds, class 6 felony for personal use and class 4 penalty for intent to sell, fine of $2,000 or three times the value of the substance, and between 1-3.75 years in jail or prison
  • Peyote – class 6 felony, up to 18 months in prison
  • Toxic inhalants – class 5 felony, up to 2.5 years in jail or prison

Aggravating and Mitigating Factors

Certain factors are considered aggravating or mitigating and might affect your sentence. Aggravating factors are ones that increase your sentence, and mitigating factors can decrease your sentence.

  • Aggravating factors – the amount in possession meets the threshold for intent to sell, you were arrested in a drug-free school zone, you have been arrested or convicted for drug-related offenses before, or you have a criminal record
  • Mitigating factors – you have a small amount, you are a first time offender, you have no criminal record, you are under 18, you have a medical marijuana license or prescription for the drugs in your possession

Probation and Alternative Penalties

First time offenders and those with mitigating circumstances may be eligible for alternative penalties like probation. You may be sentenced to attend an outpatient counseling and drug monitoring program rather than serve jail or prison time if you:

  • are not on active supervised probation for a prior offense
  • did not use dangerous weapons during the offense
  • have no prior serious violent behavior
  • have no more than one prior felony conviction
  • are not currently involved with methadone

First-Time Drug Possession Penalties

If you are a first-time drug possession offender in Arizona, you may be eligible for probation rather than jail or prison time, especially if there are other mitigating factors. However, even first time offenders will face jail time if:

  • the drug in possession was methamphetamine
  • the drug in possession was marijuana in two or more pounds
  • the charges include a violent offense or past charges for a violent offense are found on your criminal record

First-time offenders with no aggravating factors or additional criminal charges are typically ordered to complete a drug treatment or education program, along with completing a sentence of probation. While on probation, the probationer must meet all necessary conditions of the probation, which typically includes no further arrests or criminal activity, maintaining employment or attending school, no consumption of drugs or alcohol, no firearm possession or offenses, and maintaining contact with their probation officer. If a probationer fails to follow their conditions of probation, they may be sentenced to jail time and further fines. 

If You’ve Been Charges with Drug Possession in Arizona, Contact Janet Altschuler Today
If you’ve been charged with drug possession in Arizona, you’re entitled to a legal defense. An experienced defense lawyer can argue mitigating factors and negotiate a plea deal on your behalf that may result in a lesser sentence. Janet Altschuler is an experienced, compassionate defense lawyer who can dramatically improve your chances for a successful outcome in court. Call us today at (520) 247-1789 to schedule a free consultation or find out more information about how we can help you fight drug possession charges in Arizona.

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