Ketamine is a specific drug generally used to begin and maintain anesthesia. It provides pain relief, sedation, and memory loss. In a medical setting, ketamine is valuable for sedation in intensive care, as well as the treatment of pain and depression. Additionally, it is used by veterinary practices to sedate animals. Outside of a medical setting, it is known as a club drug.

Club drugs are called such because of their popularity on the club scene. These drugs tend to be psychoactive in nature and are most commonly used by young adults at bars, nightclubs, concerts, and parties. Many club drugs are also referred to as designer drugs because many are man-made and manufactured, rather than found in or derived from nature. What this means is that they are chemically created by people, rather than grown like plant substances such as cannabis or opiates.

Most club drugs are illegal, and can cause serious illness, injury, or even death. These drugs can be unpredictable in their effects, and could include different ingredients than the user anticipates. Many of these drugs may look like prescription medicines and appear to be safe. However, some people may take them without knowing exactly what is in the drug, or that it is combined with other drugs that can be dangerous. 

Is Ketamine Legal in California? How Does California Define Possession of Ketamine?

On the federal level, ketamine is classified as a Schedule III non-narcotic. This means that it is illegal to use, possess, transport, dispute, or sell ketamine. However, in California, Proposition 47 relegates possession of ketamine for personal use as a misdemeanor crime. The charges for transporting, selling, or distributing the drug are not reduced. 

Thus, under current California law, drug crimes involving ketamine are those that involve selling, transporting, importing, giving away, or administering the drug outside of a licensed medical setting. The punishment for ketamine possession in California is up to one year in county jail for personal possession, although a person may be granted probation as well as a fine of up to $1,000.

The charge of possession of a controlled substance refers to when the defendant has a drug in their possession. This also includes drug paraphernalia in their possession. The possession can be actual, or it can be constructive. Actual possession refers to when the defendant has the drugs on their physical person. Constructive possession refers to when the person does not have the drug on their physical person, but the drug is in their control.

California defines possession of ketamine as unlawfully possessing the drug in a usable amount. Unlawful possession is defined as not having the right to have the drug. A usable amount means that the ketamine was in an amount that could be consumed for its effect, and not a trace or dusting of the drug. As previously mentioned, California ketamine laws have been updated to reflect personal possession as a misdemeanor crime.

A ketamine arrest refers to when the police use the drug to sedate a person while attempting to arrest them. Such arrests are widely considered to be unethical and have led to many injuries, as well as deaths. As of 2020 there is a movement to ban the use of ketamine during arrests.

What’s the Penalty Associated with Ketamine Possession in California?

In California, possession of ketamine is a misdemeanor. As such, the crime is punishable by up to one year in county jail, as well as a fine of up to $1,000. However, the defendant may qualify for a drug diversion program. If the defendant successfully finishes a drug diversion program, then the charge of possession of ketamine may be dismissed.

It is important to note that in California, if a person has a prior conviction for a serious felony under PC 667, Proposition 47 reduction of criminal charges for ketamine possession may not be applicable. The same is true for those who are registered as sex offenders under PC 290 (c). However, a person who has been sentenced to prison for simple possession of ketamine may be able to petition for resentencing.

Proposition 47 does not reduce the charges for transporting, selling, or distributing ketamine. Being convicted of any of the aforementioned actions are punishable by up to five years spent in prison, with no less than three years being sentenced.

If it is determined that the defendant possessed ketamine with an intent to distribute, or distributed ketamine to a minor, then the charges brought against that defendant may be enhanced from a misdemeanor charge to a felony charge. 

It is important to consult your local jurisdictions laws regarding the distribution of ketamine to minors, as punishments for ketamine drug crimes involving minors are harsh when compared to other drug crimes involving ketamine. If a person is convicted of providing, administering, furnishing, or giving ketamine to a minor, they could face three, six, or nine years spent in a state prison, along with significant fines. Other penalties include loss of job, loss of professional license, loss of driver’s license, or even loss of child custody.

Are There Any Defenses to Possessing Ketamine In California?

California drug laws and penalties do allow for some defenses to possessing ketamine. To be convicted of possession of ketamine, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant:

  • Unlawfully possessed the ketamine;
  • Was aware of the presence of the ketamine;
  • Was aware that ketamine is considered to be a controlled substance; and
  • Possessed a usable amount of ketamine, meaning more than a trace amount of the substance.

Defenses to possessing ketamine in California could include:

  • Having a valid prescription to possess ketamine;
  • Being unaware of being in possession of ketamine;
  • Being unaware of the fact that ketamine is a controlled substance; and/or
  • The defendant’s rights were violated by law enforcement in some way.

Some defenses that may be available for possession of a controlled substance in general include:

  • Duress: Duress refers to circumstances in which a person is forced under threat of harm to possess the drugs. An example of this would be if they are held at gunpoint and told to hold drugs for someone else;
  • Intoxication: Under specific circumstances, intoxication can be a defense. This is especially true if it affects a person’s ability to form the proper intention needed for a criminal charge; and
  • Possession of Proper Prescription: For some substances, it may be argued that the person had a valid prescription or license to possess the controlled substance.

It is important to keep in mind that voluntary intoxication is different from involuntary intoxication. An example of this would be getting drunk voluntarily, as opposed to having your drink poisoned with a roofie. Depending on the jurisdiction, one can be used as a defense and the other would not be usable. It is important to check with your local laws and consult an attorney in your area. 

Should I Talk to a Lawyer about My Case?

If you are being accused of California ketamine possession, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable California drug attorney immediately. An experienced and local California criminal law attorney can determine what your best legal options are, and will be knowledgeable in terms of local laws and how they may affect the outcome of your case. 

Additionally, an experienced attorney will be able to determine whether any legal defenses are available to you based on the specifics of your case. Finally, the attorney will also be able to represent you in court as needed, while protecting your rights and potentially lobbying for a reduced or alternative sentence.