Arizona has very stringent laws against drug crimes. If you are charged with a drug offense, you will likely be accused of multiple other crimes. Thus, a drug conviction might expose you to a wide range of penalties, which might include a lengthy prison time, hefty fines, sentence enhancement, and a damaging criminal record. It helps to engage the services of a criminal lawyer from the beginning of the legal process to ensure that your rights are safe from violation.

At Phoenix Criminal Lawyer, we have handled several drug-related cases over the years of our operation. Therefore, we know the best approach to use based on the facts of your case. We are also familiar with the winning strategies for most drug crimes that could compel the court to either reduce or drop your charges. Contact us today if you face charges for any drug crime in Phoenix, AZ, for a desirable outcome.

Overview of Drug Crimes in Arizona

Drug crimes are a common problem faced by all states across the country today. Federal and state laws govern the use and distribution of certain drugs and substances in the United States. A violation of these laws brings forth severe charges rigorously punished through incarceration and payment of hefty fines. Offenders are also likely to have an adverse criminal history that could affect several aspects of their life, including their efforts to find suitable employment in their state of residence. If you face charges for any drug crime in Phoenix, AZ, it helps to understand the magnitude of your charges and the penalties you are likely to receive. Then you can plan a solid defense for your charges.

Arizona has some of the strictest drug laws in the country. Prosecutors in the state vigorously pursue drug charge convictions to discourage would-be offenders and ensure that the state deals with minimal drug-related cases every year. Drug laws in the state can be complex, necessitating the help of an experienced criminal lawyer for anyone facing charges for any drug crime. Your lawyer will explain your charges’ implications and your options and walk with you through the process until you obtain a favorable outcome of your situation.

Illicit drugs in Arizona are simply classified under three basic categories, based on how dangerous they are. These categories also determine the severity of penalties an offender is likely to receive after a conviction. The main types are:

Dangerous Drugs

According to A.R.S. §13-3401, dangerous drugs refer to all illegal substances. Substances under this category do not have any medicinal value and are highly addictive. Examples of dangerous drugs are methamphetamines, ecstasy, amphetamines, PCP, and LSD. The state has strict regulations against the manufacture, use, sale, and distribution of dangerous drugs because of their high potential for abuse and addiction. Many cases of overdose and severe health issues for repeated use of dangerous drugs have been reported.

Narcotic Drugs

Narcotics refer to substances that have medicinal purposes, like treating diarrhea or dulling pain, but are highly addictive and can easily be abused. Examples of narcotics include crack, cocaine, and heroin. The use of narcotics is highly controlled in Arizona. Penalties for crimes related to using and abuse of narcotics are under A.R.S. §13-3408.


Marijuana has been used for years across the world for both recreational and medicinal purposes. The use of marijuana for medical purposes is legal in most states, including Arizona. However, you need to be registered first to avoid encountering problems with the law enforcement officers. Other than for its medicinal use, any other use of marijuana, including cultivation, possession, trafficking, and distribution, could result in Classes 4, 5, and 6 felonies, according to Arizona Revised Statutes §13-3405. The gravity of these offenses depends on the amount of drug in question. A more severe marijuana-related crime can attract a jail time of up to ten years and a fine of up to $750, or three times the drug’s value, whichever is higher.

Using marijuana for its medicinal use was legalized in Arizona in 2010. However, there are still stringent regulations that must be adhered to, even for those who have registered. For example, registered marijuana users must obtain the substance from an approved dispensary. The dispensary must be non-profit making. The state has clear guidelines for those dispensaries, too, provided under A.R.S. §36-2804. Only those who live in places where no approved marijuana dispensary is located can cultivate their cannabis plants.

In addition to these three categories, Arizona has strict regulations for certain prescription drugs. Prescription drugs are those meant to improve a person’s health. However, some can be abused and have a high potential of becoming addictive because they contain small amounts of addictive substances. If a person becomes addicted to a prescription drug due to a doctor’s negligence or overuse, they could face drug crime charges like prescription fraud or doctor shopping. Examples of prescription drugs that people can easily abuse are Oxycodone, Vicodin, Lyrica, Valium, and Xanax.

In convicting an offender for a drug crime, the judge considers factors like:

  • The type of drug involved in the crime
  • Classification of that drug
  • Quantity of the drug
  • Prior convictions for a drug-related offense
  • Prior criminal record

Drug Possession Laws in Arizona

Arizona laws state that no one can knowingly use or possess illegal substances. If the police discover that you have used drugs or illicit substances on or close to you, you will likely face drug use or drug possession charges.

Drug laws in the state are detailed, with the type and amount of prohibited drugs and the corresponding penalties for those who violate these laws. The gravity of penalties offenders receive depends mainly on the kind of substance found in their possession, their criminal record, and their intent (whether for use or sale).

Penalties for Possession of a Dangerous Drug

Possession of a dangerous drug is a Class 4 felony in Arizona. If you don’t have a prior felony conviction in your records, or the drug wasn’t a type of amphetamine, the prosecutor could reduce your charges to Class 1 misdemeanor. Penalties for this might include a minimum fine of $2,000 or three times the drug’s value, whichever is more. Additionally, you might receive a minimum jail term of one year or a maximum of 3.75 years if you have a prior felony conviction.

Penalties for Possession of Narcotic Drugs

Possession of narcotic drugs is a Class 4 felony in Arizona. If you do not have any prior felony convictions, the prosecutor can reduce your charges to Class 1 misdemeanor. Penalties for this could be a minimum fine of $2,000 or three times the drug’s value, whichever is more. Additionally, you could receive a maximum of one year in jail or a maximum of fifteen years if you have two prior convictions.

Penalties for Illegal Possession of Marijuana

Illegal possession of marijuana is a Class six felony if the drugs are for own use. The prosecutor can minimize your charge to a misdemeanor. If there’s evidence showing that you produced the drugs, you could face Class 5 felony charges and Class 4 felony charges for possession for sale.

Penalties for this offense might include a minimum fine of $2,000 or three times the drug’s value, whichever is more.

Additionally, you might receive a maximum of one year in jail or a maximum of 3.75 years if you have prior convictions.

Threshold Levels for Controlled Dangerous Drugs in Arizona

Arizona laws have threshold amounts for illegal drugs that, if met, could create an assumption that the defendant had intent for sale. If you are found in possession of more drugs than threshold levels, you might be subject to more severe penalties. Penalties may include mandatory incarceration, even without evidence of intent for sale or previous criminal history. The legal definition of threshold amount is based on the weight, market worth, or any measurement of an illegal substance. Legal threshold levels are as provided:

  • Heroin — 1 gram
  • Cocaine — 9 grams
  • PCP — 4 grams/50 ml
  • Methamphetamine — 9 grams, even in liquid suspensions
  • Marijuana — 2 pounds

Penalties for Possession for Sale of Dangerous Drugs

Most charges for possession for sale of a dangerous substance occur when you have more than enough of the drug in your possession, over the statutory threshold for that drug.

The offense is a Class 2 felony under Arizona drug laws. Penalties could include a maximum prison sentence of 12.5 years if you do not have a prior felony conviction.

Certain drugs like methamphetamines have even stricter sentencing guidelines. For instance, you’ll not be eligible for probation, parole, or suspension of your sentence after conviction.

Elements of Arizona Drug Possession

Every criminal offense carries a burden of proof, which the prosecutor must prove for the court to reach a guilty verdict. Therefore, if you face charges for drug possession in Arizona, the prosecutor will be expected to demonstrate the following elements beyond reasonable doubts:

  • That you knowingly possessed a dangerous substance
  • That the substance was a dangerous drug, narcotic, or marijuana

Note that being present where the police discover the drug isn’t enough to convict you for possession. The prosecutor requires more evidence to connect you to the substances to reasonably infer that you knew of the existence of the dangerous drugs. The court will also need the prosecutor to demonstrate that you had control over those drugs.

Manufacture and Cultivation of Drugs

Manufacture of dangerous drugs or possession of equipment that can be used in the manufacture of drugs is a severe offense in Arizona, more than possession of a dangerous substance. The crime is under ARS § 13-3405.

The law applies to all controlled drugs, including dangerous drugs, narcotics, and prescription drugs. If you own a meth lab or any other equipment that could be associated with the manufacture of dangerous drugs, you might face charges for drug manufacture.

The offense can be a misdemeanor or felony, based on the type of drug in question and the amount of drug found in your possession. For example, the manufacture or cultivation of marijuana and other plant-based drugs like peyote attracts less severe penalties than the manufacture of drugs like methamphetamine.

Manufacture of a prescription-only drug is likely to be prosecuted as a Class 1 misdemeanor. The punishment for this will be a maximum of six months in jail and a fine. In some cases, the court will place the defendant on probation for one year or less.

Manufacture of fewer than two pounds of marijuana is a Class 5 felony, punishable by six months to 2.5 years of incarceration and a minimum fine of $1,000. If the court grants you probation, you must spend at least 240 hours of your mandatory sentence in community service.

Manufacture of up to four pounds of marijuana is a Class 4 felony, and more than four pounds is a Class 3 felony. The latter is punishable by up to 8.75 years in prison.

However, cases involving more dangerous drugs could attract felony charges. For example, if you are under suspicion of manufacturing methamphetamine, you will likely be charged with a Class 3 felony. Penalties for this could be a minimum of eight years in prison, hefty fines, and probation.

The exact punishment you might receive depends on other factors like the number of prior convictions in your criminal record. Offenders with one or more previous drug-related convictions could receive up to sixteen years in prison. The number of years of incarceration increases with each additional existing conviction.

Possible Legal Defense Strategies against Arizona Drug Crime Charges

If you face charges for any drug crime in Arizona, you will likely face life-changing consequences. These consequences might include loss of substantial time due to incarceration and a damaging criminal record. The only way to avoid severe consequences is by deploying a solid defense against your chances.

Working alongside an experienced criminal defense attorney could help. Your attorney will be with you through the process and ensure to do everything possible for a favorable outcome of your case. Fortunately, legal defense strategies are available that your attorney can use to have your charges dropped or reduced. Some of these strategies are:

The Drugs Weren’t Yours.

This argument is probably the most common defense strategy to use in a drug-related charge. You cannot face charges for possession of drugs that are not yours in the first place.

Suppose you share an apartment with two other individuals. The police search your apartment and arrest you alongside your mates for illegal possession of dangerous substances. You had no idea that there were drugs in the apartment. The drugs could belong to one or both of your friends. But you need to defend yourself since you will face separate charges from your friends in a criminal court.

Legal practitioners know too well how possible this is. People have been convicted for drug possession or sale, while the said drugs did not belong to them in the real sense. Fortunately, the court will not require you to pinpoint the actual owner of the drugs. Your attorney’s task will be to prove in court that the drugs could not have been yours in the first place.

Lack of Knowledge

The main element of all Arizona drug crimes is that the defendant knowingly committed the offense. For example, if you were in possession of a dangerous substance, you must have knowingly kept the substance for use or any other reason. You could not be guilty of the offense unless you had prior knowledge of the existence and nature of the substance in your possession. Note that the prosecutor will not be required to prove that you knew of the exact name or category of the drug.

Lack of knowledge is a common defense strategy for most drug crimes in Arizona. The law understands that you might have drugs in your person or property without knowing their nature or even their existence.

For example, someone else might have planted those drugs in your house, car, or backpack. Or you might have been helping someone with their bag without knowing that there were illegal drugs in that bag.

The court will rely on the strong argument of your attorney to determine whether or not you are guilty of the offense. An attorney who has handled similar cases in the past will, in no doubt, have the right words and strategies to have your charges dropped or reduced.

Illegal Search

Most drug-related arrests are made after a long period of investigation by law enforcement officers. Only in rare cases will the police find a defendant in possession or having consumed a dangerous substance. If the police have to conduct investigations first, they must obtain a search warrant to search the suspect’s person or property.

However, this does not always happen. Sometimes the police proceed to search even before obtaining a warrant, especially if they have a firm conviction that the suspect could be having illegal drugs in his/her person or property. If this happens, your attorney can always use illegal search as a defense to have the court drop your charges.

The defense team can also use this strategy if the police searched more areas than indicated in the warrant. When obtaining a search warrant, the police must specify the places they would like to search for evidence. For instance, if the police were only allowed to search your house, but they proceeded to search your business or workplace, you can still cite illegal search to have any evidence gathered against you inadmissible in court.

Note that this defense will only be applicable when the police do not have probable cause to search your person or property. The law allows law enforcement officers to search without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe that the suspect is involved in illegal activity.

Valid Prescription

As previously mentioned, you might face drug-related charges for being in possession or using specific prescription drugs. If the police were searching your person or property and found some regulated drugs, they might charge you for possession or use of illegal substances. You only need to prove that you had a valid prescription for those drugs. If this defense works, the court will drop your charges.


Entrapment is also a valid defense for most criminal charges, including drug-related charges. The defense will base its argument on the interaction you had with the police before or during the commission of the underlying offense.

Sometimes the police are compelled to use coercion and overbearing tactics to catch criminals in the act. If this happened to you, and you believe that you could not have committed the offense were it not for the police, you can cite entrapment to compel the court to drop your charges.

Some legal experts argue that law enforcement officers use entrapment to offer innocent people an opportunity to commit crimes. However, a judge would expect a reasonable person to resist any ordinary temptation to commit an offense, especially a severe violation like a drug crime. But when the police use harassment, threats, flattery, and fraud to induce defendants to commit serious crimes, the court might be compelled to drop the charges and all evidence gathered using those tactics.

However, the court will consider more than your mere account of what transpired to decide whether or not you are guilty as charged. For instance, your past criminal record can tell the kind of person you are. Secondly, your location at the time the offense was committed might influence the court’s decision. If you already were in an area famous for drug-related crimes, the court might be made to believe that you were already predisposed to commit an offense.

Find a Phoenix Criminal Lawyer Near Me

If you face charges for a drug-related crime in Phoenix, AZ, it helps to work alongside an experienced criminal lawyer. Your lawyer will help you understand your charges’ magnitude and your options and walk with you throughout the legal process. At Phoenix Criminal Lawyer, we will also help you put up a strong defense in court to compel the judge to either drop or reduce your charges. Call us at 626-626-7075 and let us study the details of your case.