Guide to Drug Laws in California

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 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.


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, including 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,8CA Health and Safety Code 11377 MDMA (“ecstasy” or “X”)9Health and Safety Code 11377, psilocybin mushrooms (“shrooms”),10Health and Safety Code 11377 LSD/acid,11Health and Safety Code 11377 peyote or mescaline,12Health and Safety Code 11377, PCP13Health and Safety Code 11377.


What is the punishment for using or selling 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.

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


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.


Share the Legal Info With Your Friends: