Guide to Drug Laws in California

Marijuana

Laws regulating drugs are made at the federal, state, and local levels. Be sure to see our Guide to Drug Laws in the U.S., and guides to Drug Laws in the LA area and SF area.

1. In general

Is it illegal to be on drugs in public?

You may not be so high on drugs (or alcohol) that you are unable to exercise care for your own or others’ safety. It is also illegal if your intoxication leads you to block or prevent the use of the sidewalk or public street.1Cal Penal Code Sec 647(f)

Can I drive while on a legal or prescribed drug?

It is illegal to drive while “under the influence” of any drug, whether legal or illegal.2Vehicle Code Sec 23152 So, if your prescription pharmaceutical drug says it may cause drowsiness or would otherwise interfere with the safe operation of a vehicle, then it would likely be illegal to do so.

It is also illegal to actively smoke pot while driving.3Vehicle Code Sec 23221 See more about drugs & driving (and more) at our Guide to Laws for Drivers.

2Marijuana

Is it legal to purchase or use marijuana in California?

Yes, see our Guide to Marijuana Laws.

Can I smoke, vape, or use pot in public?

No, see our Guide to Marijuana Laws.

Doesn’t federal law still say marijuana is illegal?

Technically, yes. See our Guide to Marijuana Laws for more.

What about CBD?

See our Guide to CBD Law.

3. Prescription Drugs

Are there any restrictions on doctors giving out prescription medications?

Yes. Before initially prescribing (and every 4 months thereafter) narcotic painkillers like Oxycontin, Vicoden, etc., and steroids, sleep aids, and psychiatric medication, doctors and nurses must now check an electronic database for signs of drug abuse.4SB 482

4. Other drugs

What drugs are illegal in California?

Other than marijuana, most drugs that are not prescribed by a licensed medical doctor are illegal to possess, sell, or manufacture. This includes methamphetamine (“meth” or “crystal”),5CA Health & Safety Code 11377,11378 cocaine (“coke”, including salt or powder, crack cocaine, or coca leaves),6CA Health & Safety Code 11350, 11351, 11351.5 heroin and similar drugs (Raw opium, opium poppy and straw, as well as its derivatives morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and codeine),7CA Health & Safety Code 11350, 11351, 11351.5 ketamine (“special K”),8CA Health and Safety Code 11377 MDMA (“ecstasy” or “X”)9Health and Safety Code 11377, psilocybin mushrooms (“shrooms” or “magic mushrooms”),10Health and Safety Code 11377 LSD (“acid”),11Health and Safety Code 11377 peyote or mescaline,12Health and Safety Code 11377, PCP,13Health and Safety Code 11377 ayahuasca.

See the FULL LIST OF DRUGS REGULATED BY CALIFORNIA

However, some of these are legal in certain circumstances or are likely to be decriminalized in California. In particular, psychedelics or hallucinogens such as ketamine, ayahuasca, and psilocybin mushrooms.

Is ketamine legal in California?

Ketamine is legal to use and possess only when prescribed by a medical doctor. It has been approved by the FDA, and is often used to treat depression.

Are magic mushrooms, shrooms, or psilocybin legal in California?

As of May 2023, magic mushrooms are not legal for use or possession in California. However, a bill has been introduced in the state legislature to decriminalize the use and possession for personal purposes of shrooms. The bill is SB 58.

In addition, some cities in the San Francisco Bay Area have already decriminalized plant-based hallucinogenic drugs.

Is ayahuasca or DMT legal in California?

As of May 2023, ayahuasca and one of its components, dimethyltryptamine “DMT,” are not legal for use or possession in California. However, a bill has been introduced in the state legislature to decriminalize the use and possession for personal purposes of ayahuasca and/or DMT. The bill is SB 58.

In addition, some cities in the San Francisco Bay Area have already decriminalized plant-based hallucinogenic drugs.

Is MDMA or Ecstasy legal in California?

MDMA (“ecstasy”) is not currently legal in California. An earlier version of SB 58 would have decriminalized this drug, but it has been removed from the bill, and thus there are no plans to decriminalize MDMA in California.

Is LSD or acid legal in California?

LSD (“acid”) is not currently legal in California. An earlier version of SB 58 would have decriminalized this drug, but it has been removed from the bill, and thus there are no plans to decriminalize LSD in California.

What is the punishment for possessing or using drugs?

In general, the punishment for possessing for personal use of most of the above is up to 1 year in county jail (misdemeanors). Note: While it used to be considered potentially a “felony” with prison of several years, this was recently changed by voters passing Prop 47 in 2014.

What is the punishment for selling drugs?

For selling any of the above, the punishment is generally up to 4 years in state prison. 14Health and Safety Code 11377-78, 113500-11356.5

Resources

See options for getting legal help on drug related issues.

For more on the laws about using or possessing weed, see the California Department of Public Health website on that topic.

See more on marijuana laws and procedures for businesses at the Bureau of Cannabis Control website.

Author

  • Tristan Blaine

    Tristan Blaine is the founder of Law Soup Media, and has been a licensed attorney since 2013.

    About Tristan

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