Xanax, also known as alprazolam, is a prescription drug. It is a short-acting benzodiazepine that is used to treat chemical imbalances in the brain often associated with anxiety and depression. It may also be used to treat individuals with panic disorders. It can also be used to wean individuals from alcohol dependence by helping with the withdrawal symptoms, which sometimes leads to seizures.

Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, have a strong potential for addiction and have resulted in thousands of overdoses in the United States yearly. Withdrawals from these medications can include seizures and death. Taking Xanax in combination with alcohol can worsen the side effects.

Xanax is a commonly prescribed medication for many individuals with anxiety issues. It can, however, be used and abused in an off-label manner. Xanax works quickly within the body and can give the user:

  • A sense of euphoria;
  • Lightheadedness;
  • A sense of unreality;
  • A feeling of detachment; and/or 
  • Emotional numbness.

It is only legal to possess Xanax if an individual has a valid prescription. In California, Xanax possession is a crime defined as possession Xanax without a valid prescription. Without a valid  prescription, Xanax is considered a Schedule IV controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). 

There are also other drug crimes involving Xanax. These may include possessing too much of the drug at one time and/or possessing it for sale. 

What is the Controlled Substances Act?

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) was enacted by the federal government to assist in the regulation of the manufacture, possession, dispensing, distribution and/or use of certain drugs and dangerous substances, known as controlled substances. Criminal and civil penalties can be imposed on any individual who unlawfully violates the CSA. 

The CSA includes a long list of substances divided into five categories called schedules. Substances are assigned to a schedule based on their characteristics including:

  • Medicinal value;
  • Possibility of abuse;
  • Safety to the public; and
  • Likelihood for dependency.

By assigning substances to categories, it is easier to regulate and deregulate them as needed.

The main categories of substances included in the CSA are:

  • Narcotics including heroin, methadone, morphine, opium and fentanyl;
  • Stimulants including cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamines;
  • Depressants including GHB, rohypnol, and benzodiazepines;
  • Hallucinogens including LSD, peyote, and ecstasy; and
  • Other substances such as marijuana, steroids, and inhalants which include household products such as spray paint or any other substances that give off chemical vapors which are inhaled for psychoactive effects.

The schedules are ranked I through V, from most dangerous to least dangerous as follows:

    • Schedule I substances have no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse and/or dependency. They include heroin, ecstasy, and marijuana;
    • Schedule II substances have some accepted medical use and a lesser potential for abuse than Schedule I. They include Vicodin, cocaine, and oxycontin;
    • Schedule III substances have some acceptable medical use and are more dangerous than those in Schedules IV and V and carry a moderate to low risk of dependence. These include codeine, anabolic steroids, and testosterone;
    • Schedule IV substances have a lower potential for abuse than Schedules I – III and have an accepted medical use. These include Ambien, Valium, and Xanax.; and
    • Schedule V substances have the lowest comparative potential for abuse. They have an accepted medical usage and a low risk of dependence. These include cough medicine.

How Does California Define Xanax Possession for Personal Use Charge?

California defines the crime of Xanax possession for personal use as possessing Xanax without a valid prescription or in an amount exceeding the prescribed use. A valid prescription may be provided by a:

  • Doctor;
  • Dentist;
  • Podiatrist; and/or
  • Veterinarian.

What If the Prescription Isn’t Currently Valid?

In California, it is illegal to possess Xanax for personal use if an individual’s prescription is expired. Trace amounts of a substance are not enough to convict an individual of possession. Should an individual have an old prescription bottle with residue in it, that likely will not be a crime.

Prescriptions are sometimes obtained through prescription fraud. In these cases, an individual illegally obtains prescription drugs for personal use or profit. This can occur when an individual forges a prescription and/or visits multiple physicians to obtain multiple prescriptions for the same ailment.

What If I Didn’t Have the Xanax on My Person at the Time of My Arrest?

A defendant can be charged with possession of Xanax even if they do not have it on their person at the time of their arrest. An individual can be arrested for constructive possession. As noted above, constructive possession may occur when the substance is in a place where an individual exercises control, such as in a home or handbag.

How Can The Prosecution Prove I Possessed Xanax Illegally?

In order to convict an individual of this crime, the prosecution must prove:

  • The individual did not have a valid prescription;
  • The individual exercised control over the substance or had the right to do so;
  • The individual knew of the presence of the substance;
  • The individual knew it was a controlled substance; and
  • There was a sufficient amount of the substance to be used as a controlled substance.

Possession of a substance can be actual, constructive, or joint. An individual is in actual possession of a substance if it is found on their person, such as in their pocket or handbag. 

Constructive possession occurs when an individual does not have the substance on their person but has access to it and/or the right to exercise control over it. This may occur if the substance is found in an individual’s bedroom, a place they have access and control over.

Joint possession is an extension of actual and constructive possession. It occurs when two or more individuals share actual or constructive possession of the substance. In many cases, it occurs when a substance is found in a shared space where both individuals have constructive possession.

How is the Usable Amount of Xanax Defined in California?

A usable amount of a substance is defined in California as an amount enough to be used. It is more than a dusting or a trace. It must be enough to consume but does not have to be enough in amount or strength to intoxicate the individual.

Is Possession of Xanax a Felony?

In California, the possession of Xanax is a misdemeanor. Should an individual be convicted of this crime, their sentence will be determined by factors including:

  • The quantity of Xanax in their possession;
  • Prior history of substance abuse;
  • Prior arrests;
  • Criminal history; and
  • Whether or not the individual is a minor.

If convicted, the penalty for illegal possession of Xanax in California is up to 364 days in a county jail. They may be eligible for alternative sentencing programs such as drug diversion programs.

Should I Consult a Lawyer for Help Regarding My Xanax Possession Charge?

Yes, you should consult a California drug lawyer if you are facing a Xanax possession charge. An experienced attorney can review the facts of your case, determine if any defenses are available to you and ensure you do not inadvertently waive any of your rights. An attorney will fight for the best possible outcome in your case and represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary.