Under Arizona law, the possession, distribution, manufacture, sale or transportation of controlled substances is a crime. Drug crimes can be charged as felonies or misdemeanors, depending on the amount involved, the type of substance and other factors. Drug crimes do not only involve street drugs like heroin or cocaine, but also include marijuana and prescription drugs. Drug crimes can result in harsh prison sentences and have an impact on the rest of your life. If you or a loved one was arrested in connection with a drug crime, you should talk to an experienced drug crime defense attorney who will fight for you.

Drugs Under Arizona Law

Arizona regulates drugs under the Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS), Title 13, Chapter 34. Drugs are categorized as:

  • Prescription-only drugs
  • Dangerous drugs
  • Narcotic drugs
  • Marijuana
  • Vapor-releasing substances
  • Peyote

The type of drug involved and amount in possession can impact whether the crime is treated as a felony or misdemeanor. Felonies are divided into six categories, with a class 1 felony being the most serious with significant penalties and class 6 generally having lower penalties. For example, a class 2 felony for a nonviolent drug offense may carry a presumptive sentence of five years in prison. A class 6 felony for a nonviolent drug offense carries a presumptive sentence of one year in prison. Mitigating factors may reduce the prison sentence, and aggravating factors can result in a longer prison sentence.


Marijuana has a long and complicated history in the U.S. It is still categorized as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law. Marijuana also remains illegal under Arizona law, even though a handful of other states have legalized it for recreational use. Medical marijuana was legalized under the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, which went into effect in 2010.

Medical marijuana patients can legally possess marijuana if they are qualifying patients, with a qualifying medical condition diagnosed by a doctor. They then have to obtain an Arizona Medical Marijuana Registry ID card. After that, medical marijuana patients can possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and can grow up to 12 marijuana plants. If the defendant is not a certified medical marijuana patient, dispensary agent or caregiver, he or she can face criminal charges.

Under ARS 13-3405, possession, use, possession for sale, production and transportation of marijuana are all against the law. The criminal penalties depend on the amount of marijuana involved and what the defendant was doing with it.

Simple possession is the lowest-level offense. If the defendant possessed less than 2 pounds of marijuana, he or she may be charged with a class 6 felony. Possession of 2 pounds or more can carry greater penalties. In some cases, prosecutors may grant the defendant probation for a misdemeanor violation. The defendant may have to attend a drug education class and perform community service.

Possession of marijuana for sale is a class 2, 3 or 4 felony. Marijuana production is a class 3, 4, or 5 felony. Transport for sale, import into Arizona or offering to transport marijuana can be charged as a class 2 or 3 felony. The class of felony is based on the amount of marijuana involved. In some cases, the defendant can receive probation for a felony marijuana charge.


Under ARS 13-3402, "a person who knowingly possesses, sells, transfers or offers to sell or transfer peyote is guilty of a class 6 felony." Arizona provides a defense for some people to use peyote as part of their religion, but proving that the peyote is intended for religious use can be complicated. The defendant must show that peyote is for use in connection with the bona fide practice of a religious belief, as an integral part of a religious exercise, and in a manner not dangerous to public health, safety or morals.

Prescription-Only Drugs

Under ARS 13-3406, possession of a prescription-only drug without a valid prescription is a criminal offense. Possession is a class 1 misdemeanor. Possession for sale is a class 6 felony. Some prescription drugs can also be categorized under Arizona law as dangerous drugs, which can carry more serious penalties.

Vapor-Releasing Drugs

Under ARS 13-3403, it is against the law to breathe, inhale, sell or offer to sell a vapor-releasing substance. Businesses that sell these chemicals also have restrictions on who they can sell to and must follow specific rules when carrying these chemicals. This includes certain glues, aerosol spray, acetone, benzene, alcohols and other chemicals. Also known as huffing, inhaling vapor often involves individuals spraying or pouring a chemical into a rag or bag to inhale. Vapor-releasing drug offenses are a class 5 felony. In some cases, defendants may receive probation.

Dangerous Drugs

Under ARS 13-3407, the possession, use, possession for sale, manufacture, possession of equipment or chemicals to manufacture, or transportation of dangerous drugs is a criminal offense. Drugs are classified as dangerous depending on their chemical composition. Under Arizona law, LSD, MDMA, GHB, methamphetamine and PCP are considered dangerous drugs. Possession of dangerous drugs is a class 4 felony. Sale, manufacture and transportation of dangerous drugs can be charged as a class 2 felony. Subsequent drug convictions can result in a longer prison sentence.

Narcotic Drugs

Under ARS 13-3408, the possession, use, possession for sale, manufacture, possession of equipment or chemicals to manufacture, or transportation of narcotic drugs is a criminal offense. Under Arizona law, drugs such as OxyContin, Percocet, heroin and cocaine are classified as narcotic drugs. Simple possession of narcotic drugs is a class 4 felony. Sale, manufacture and transportation of narcotic drugs can be charged as a class 2 felony, with subsequent drug offenses leading to increased prison time.

Federal Drug Charges

Drug crimes can be charged as state or federal offenses. Generally, if federal law enforcement officers are involved, the defendant will be charged with a federal drug crime. Here in southern Arizona, many individuals are arrested on drug charges by federal agents and face federal criminal prosecution. Federal drug offenses have serious consequences, with prison time to be served in a federal penitentiary.

The specific penalties for federal drug charges will depend on what schedule drug is involved. The federal government regulates drugs under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA). Drugs are separated into five schedules based on their perceived potential for abuse, medical uses and how safe they are perceived to be.

Schedule I

These drugs are categorized as having a high potential for abuse, with no accepted medical value in the U.S. Marijuana is still included on this list as a Schedule I drug, despite it having been legalized for medical use in many states, including Arizona. Marijuana is still treated as a Schedule I drug, along with heroin, MDMA, mescaline, LSD and GHB.

Schedule II

Schedule II drugs have a high risk of abuse, but also have a currently accepted medical value. They include methamphetamine, OxyContin, Percocet, fentanyl, morphine and codeine.

Schedule III

These drugs are considered to have a currently accepted medical use, but still have some potential for abuse. Schedule III drugs include some appetite suppressants, depressants and steroids.

Schedule IV And V

These drugs have a lower potential for abuse than Schedule III drugs. These include commonly prescribed drugs such as prescription cough medicine, Xanax, Klonopin, Lunesta, Valium, Zantyl, Ambien and Ativan.

The manufacture, distribution or possession with the intent to distribute drugs can result in a minimum five-year sentence for smaller amounts of drugs or a minimum 10-year sentence for a greater quantity. An individual can face 10 years in prison if the offense involves:

  • 10 g or more of LSD
  • 1 kg or more of heroin
  • 5 kg or more of cocaine
  • 100 g or more of pure PCP
  • 280 g or more of crack
  • 50 g or more of methamphetamine
  • 1,000 kg or more of marijuana

A second federal drug offense can result in a 20-year minimum sentence, with a third offense carrying the possibility of life in prison. Other factors can increase the sentence, including whether someone was injured in the commission of the drug crime. Attempted drug trafficking or conspiracy to traffic in drugs can be treated the same as if the defendant had committed the crime.

Defenses To Drug Crimes

Several defenses may be available if you are charged with a drug crime. Police and law enforcement officers are required to abide by search and seizure procedures; however, sometimes they bend the rules. When the police violate a person's constitutional right to protection from unreasonable search or seizure, the evidence gathered can be thrown out, leaving the prosecutor with no case. If your constitutional rights were violated by the police, your experienced criminal defense attorney can fight to have the charges against you dropped.

Your attorney can identify possible defenses in your case. An arrest does not have to lead to a conviction. You don't have to plead guilty just because the prosecutor says you have no case. An experienced criminal defense attorney will fight for you, to keep you out of jail.

Tucson Drug Charge Defense Attorneys

At West, Longenbaugh and Zickerman P.L.L.C., our criminal defense attorneys are here to help individuals and families throughout southern Arizona. Several legal defenses are available to fight your criminal conviction. Drug crimes carry serious penalties and can have lifelong consequences. Our experienced attorneys are committed to fighting for our clients to keep them out of jail so they can get back to living their lives.

Call us at 520-518-3781 or contact us online.