Skip to Content Top
Cocaine Penalties There's No Alternative

Cocaine Crimes and Penalties in Orange County

Cocaine is one of the most widely used illicit drugs in California. This article explains the difference between powder and crack, discusses the crimes that are commonly associated with cocaine in California, and describes the penalties that judges can impose upon conviction of those crimes.

Powder and Crack. What’s the Difference?

Most cocaine comes from the Andes region of South America, where it is extracted from coca leaves. Before its addictive nature became apparent, cocaine was marketed in the United States as a cure for coughs, toothaches, depression and fatigue. After federal regulation of the substance began in 1914, the approved medical uses were severely restricted. It remains the most effective topical anesthetic for surgical procedures involving the mouth, nose, and throat.

As a recreational drug in the United States, cocaine is typically available in one of two forms: powder or crack. Cocaine hydrochloride is packaged as a white crystalline powder. The powder is usually ingested by inhaling (or “snorting”) it through the nose.

Crack (the most common version of “cocaine base”) is made by heating a mixture of cocaine hydrochloride and baking soda in water. The oily substance that floats to the top assumes a hard, rock-like form when it cools. While powder cocaine tends to burn away before it can be smoked, crack vaporizes at a lower temperature and can be easily ingested by smoking.

Because crack enters the bloodstream more quickly than powder, it may deliver a faster or more powerful “high.” Politicians and drug warriors often claim that crack is more dangerous than the powder version. Since the primary difference between the two forms of the substance is the delivery mechanism rather than the chemical structure of the substance itself, those claims are of dubious merit.

Crimes involving crack nevertheless tend to be punished more harshly than comparable crimes involving powder. The demonetization of crack might be explained by the perception that crack appeals to a less affluent segment of society, while more privileged users are seen as gravitating toward powder.

Crimes and Penalties

Drug offenses in California are defined by the California Uniform Controlled Substances Act. A “controlled substance” is a regulated drug that appears in one of five lists or “schedules” of controlled substances. The powdered version appears in Schedule II (drugs with accepted medical uses and a high potential for abuse) while crack appears in Schedule I (drugs with a high potential for abuse that have no medical benefit).

A number of crimes involving this substance can be prosecuted under California law. The following is a brief description of the most common offenses.

Simple Possession

The crime of simple possession is generally committed by individuals who possess the substance for their personal use. The crime requires the prosecution to prove that:

  • The accused unlawfully possessed the substance. Any possession by a person who does not have a prescription or the government’s permission to possess cocaine is unlawful.
  • The accused possessed a usable amount. A “usable amount” does not need to be enough to produce a “high” in the user, but it must be more than trace amounts that cannot realistically be gathered and used.
  • The accused was aware of the drug’s presence.
  • The accused knew that the drug was some kind of controlled substance. The accused did not need to know that the substance was cocaine as long as the accused understood that it was an illegal drug.

“Possession” means having control of, or the ability to control, the drug. An individual can therefore possess it even if it is not in his or her physical presence. Two or more people can possess the same illegal drug if they each have the right to take it or to use it. On the other hand, a person who agrees to buy it does not possess it until he or she gains control of it. Being near cocaine is not “possession”.

Cocaine that a user has consumed is no longer possessed. A related misdemeanor, however, prohibits being “under the influence”.


A conviction of possession in California (whether powder or crack) allows a judge to choose between one of three custodial sentences: 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years. Other sentencing options may be available for some defendants, as noted below.

Possession for Sale

Possession for sale is a more serious crime than simple possession. It is usually charged when no sale has been made but when the amount possessed is too large for personal use. It may also be charged when there is other evidence that the accused plans to sell the coke, including the presence of scales and baggies, or when witnesses are prepared to testify that the accused is a drug dealer.

In addition to proving each of the four elements of simple possession described above, a charge of possession for sale requires the prosecution to prove that when the accused possessed the coke, he or she intended to sell it. “Selling” means transferring possession to someone else in exchange for money, services, or anything of value.


A conviction of possessing powder coke for sale in California allows a judge to choose a sentence of 2, 3, or 4 years. A conviction of possessing crack for sale in California allows a judge to choose a sentence of 3, 4, or even 5 years.

Selling or Transporting

“Selling or transporting” is a shorthand description of a crime that can be committed in several different ways. The prosecution must prove that the accused committed one of the following acts:

  • Sold, furnished, or gave away coke (by transferring possession of coke to another person).
  • Administered coke (by injecting it into the body of another person or by causing another person to inhale it).
  • Transported coke for sale (by moving it from one location to another).
  • Imported coke into California.

In addition to proving one of those acts, the prosecution must prove that the act involved a usable amount of coke and that the accused knew of its presence and knew it was a controlled substance.


A conviction of selling or transporting coke in California allows a judge to choose a sentence of 2, 3, or 4 years. However, a conviction of transporting coke from one California county to any other California county that is not contiguous (neighboring) allows the judge to choose a sentence of 3, 6, or even 9 years.


Cocaine is usually extracted from coca leaves and refined before it is imported into the United States. While manufacturing powder coke in California would therefore be rare, the crime of manufacturing also applies to making crack from powder.

A manufacturing charge requires the prosecution to prove that the accused:

  • produced, derived, or prepared the substance by using “chemical extraction or independent chemical synthesis,” and
  • knew that the drug being manufactured was a controlled substance.


A conviction of manufacturing in California allows a judge to choose a sentence of 3 years, 5 years, or 7 years. A conviction of offering to manufacture coke allows a judge to choose a sentence of 3 years, 4 years, or 5 years.

Alternative and Additional Penalties

Sentences are increased for crimes other than simple possession that involve large amounts of cocaine. Any amount over 1 kilogram requires the imposition of a longer sentence, and progressively longer sentences are triggered by larger amounts. Additional penalties may be imposed if the crime occurred near a drug treatment facility or homeless shelter or if drugs were furnished to certain persons, including minors, pregnant women, and addicts. Convicted defendants who have a criminal record may also face longer sentences. Drug convictions may have immigration consequences that are beyond the scope of this article.

Probation (with up to a year in jail) is an option for less serious coke crimes. Fines may be imposed as a condition of probation. Community service is generally available for individuals who cannot afford to pay a fine. In some cases, fines may be assessed in lieu of or in addition to incarceration. For the crime of simple possession, drug diversion programs (usually including drug treatment) may be a sentencing alternative available to eligible offenders.

Need a case evaluation? Our attorneys provide free confidential case evaluations with no obligation to retain their services. Utilize their decades of experience assisting those facing cocaine offenses and find out what options you have available. Call (844) 285-9559 to get help now 24/7.


  • Over 45 years of Collective Experience
  • Thousands of Cases Successfully Handled
  • Former Deputy District Attorney
  • Impressive Track Record of Results
  • Highly Respected by Peers and Clients
  • Free Initial Consultation


Over the years our firm has earned numerous awards and accolades for delivering outstanding legal representation. Some of our awards include: Admission to The National Top Trial Lawyers Association since 2014, AVVO Rating 10.0 Superb Rating, American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys Award "10 Best Attorney Client Satisfaction" in 2018, Nationally Ranked Top 100 Under 40 in California Attorney Award in 2017, Member of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce since 2018, Martindale-Hubbell Accredited Law Firm, Distinguished in Orange County Metro "Top Attorneys" section, and Featured in Orange Coast Magazine in April 2010 as one of "Orange County's Best Criminal Defense Attorneys".

  • Best Criminal Defense in Irvine - 2022
  • Best DUI Lawyer In Irvine- 2022
  • Best DUI Lawyer in Santa Ana - 2022
  • Best Criminal Defense Lawyer New Port Beach- 2022
  • 10 Best Attorney
  • Top 100 Trial Lawyers
  • Under 40
  • avvo 10.0


Schedule a Free Consultation Today

A member of our team will be in touch shortly to confirm your contact details or address questions you may have.

  • Please enter your first name.
  • Please enter your last name.
  • Please enter your phone number.
    This isn't a valid phone number.
  • Please enter your email address.
    This isn't a valid email address.
  • Please make a selection.
  • Please enter a message.
  • By submitting, you agree to be contacted about your request & other information using automated technology. Message frequency varies. Msg & data rates may apply. Text STOP to cancel. Acceptable Use Policy

CLient Reviews

At Law Offices of Randy Collins, your satisfaction is our priority! See for yourself what our clients have to say about working with us.

    Best Criminal Defense Attorney"
    I could not be more grateful or complimentary of how Randy handled my case, as well as the easy communication and genuine care for my well-being. I could not recommend Randy more.
    "We are forever thankful to have found Randy."
    I cannot express how grateful I am to Randy and his team for the amazing job representing my dad. He was detailed, dedicated, and truly caring for my family throughout the entire process. We are forever thankful to have found Randy. It is rare to find a legal team that feels like extended family. We truly felt so cared for by him and Chris. His knowledge and expertise helped guide us through a very difficult situation and we are so happy to have found this team. I would refer Randy to anyone looking for legal representation. Randy is the best lawyer to call!!
    "Glad I had Randy to guide me through it."
    I had the unfortunate experience of being too drunk one night in DTF which led to a Drunk in Public charge. I was able to hire Randy after looking online for a good lawyer. I ended up paying about $3,500 for his services and he got the case dismissed. It was an easy process. It was my first time getting in trouble with the law, and I am glad I had Randy and Chris there to guide me through.
    "Handled my case in record time with the best possible outcome."
    Randy is awesome! I called so many attorneys and in all honesty he is such an incredible person. All of his office staff is friendly, professional and knowledgeable. He really cares about the welfare of his clients and takes time to discuss your needs in person. I highly recommend him. He handled my case in record time with the best possible outcome.
    "The one attorney you want on your side!"
    He is amazing!! I'm am happy to say that my daughter's charges were dismissed! Randy did an excellent job!!! I couldn't have made a better decision the day I called his office.
    "Randy is one of the best attorney's you could ever have."
    Randy is one of the best attorneys you could ever have. I’m eternally grateful to Randy and his team for his dedication and professionalism. Randy is very brilliant when it comes to felonies, probation violations, or other criminal cases... Randy is the best lawyer you can have. when other lawyers told me they couldn’t help me out... Randy always told me he can help me and there was never an impossible case to bring in his favor. He was always in touch and keeping me updated on my case, and he gave me the peace and comfort I needed during difficult times. This is the second time he has had to help me stay away from jail. I will never look into other lawyers. I’ll be a loyal client to Randy from now on. You are #1, Randy. Thank you
    "Randy is the obvious choice!"
    Randy worked tirelessly for over two years to have my case dismissed and I can’t thank him enough for everything that he did for me.
    "Giving Randy a shot was the best choice."
    Oh man, I thank my lucky stars for attorney Randy and his team. I was able to get a great deal and the best advice!