Nevada Drug Crimes Lawyer Explains Controlled Substance Laws in Las Vegas

You have most likely heard of Las Vegas being a place where the consequences of having too much fun will not follow you home. But don’t let Las Vegas’ reputation as a place to party fool you. Possessing drugs or drug paraphernalia, whether or not you intend to sell the drugs or drug paraphernalia, are serious crimes punishable by long sentences in a Nevada prison. In fact, Nevada charges people for possessing drugs and drug paraphernalia to encourage people from engaging in these activities in the state in the first place.

If you are arrested for a crime in Las Vegas which involves drugs, you should hire as soon as possible to fight for your rights. Drug crimes can come in many forms, and multiple charges might be brought against you for the same activity. However, in many cases, especially first time offenses, a reduced sentence can be negotiated.

Your experienced drug crimes defense lawyer in Nevada can help you understand the difference between the charges against you and what this means for negotiating lower sentences or getting the charges dismissed altogether.

What is a Nevada drug crime?

Any of these activities can result in a drug crime charge against you. Notice that simply having drugs or drug paraphernalia for person use is a crime:

Possession of

It is important to understand that you do not have to own the drugs or drug paraphernalia to be charged with possession. You may have heard of people charged for possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia that belongs to someone else, and it can happen. If you have been arrested for drug crimes because the police found someone else’s drugs on you or in your house or car, contact an experienced Las Vegas criminal defense lawyer today. This fact can be important to your defense.

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Nick Wooldridge has a long track record of representing clients accused of serious federal and state crimes in Nevada.


What is the Nevada legal definition of possession in a drug case?

There are three ways you can “possess” a controlled substance in Nevada, and any one of the three ways is enough to support charges for drug crimes:

  • Actual possession, such as when the police find drugs on your body or in your clothes;
  • Constructive possession, when drugs are found in your medicine cabinet or other place that only you are likely to access regularly; and
  • Joint possession, such as when you share a bedroom with a boyfriend who has drugs in your shared dresser and it cannot easily be determined who the drugs belong to.

When is it illegal to possess drugs?

Of course, possessing drugs like heroin or cocaine is always illegal, but there is a technical definition of when it is illegal to possess other drugs, like prescriptions for drugs that are not illegal. If a drug was not obtained from a valid prescription in your name, it is illegal to possess it.

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On the other hand, there are times when possessing drugs legally can still result in a crime. For example, prescription drug are legal to possess if you have a valid prescription from your doctor for those drugs. But using prescription drugs that cause you to be impaired while driving can be the basis for a DUI.

What kinds of controlled substances are illegal in Nevada?

Drugs are classified by “schedule” and there are five most common schedules. The schedules are based on categories created by the federal government. Examples of drugs for each schedule include:

  • Heroine (Schedule I);
  • Meth and cocaine (Schedule II);
  • Steroids (Schedule III);
  • Rohypnol- the “date rape drug” (Schedule IV); and
  • Codeine (Schedule V).

The schedules are important because drug crime penalties in Nevada depend on the schedule of the drug involved in the crime. Schedule I drugs carry harsher sentences than Schedule V drugs do, in general. Your lawyer can advise you of exceptions to this rule.

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Penalties for Nevada drug crimes

Drugs which are classified as Schedule I through Schedule IV are Category E felonies for first and second offenses. These carry time in a Nevada prison up to 4 years and fines up to $5,000. The third offense increases to a Category D felony with increased fines up to $20,000.

You only get one chance for drug offenses involving a Schedule I drug, on the other hand. After the first offense, the charge increases to a Category D felony. This is because Schedule I drugs are considered worse and more damaging than drugs lower on the schedules.

Probation and Drug Court

Although Nevada takes drug crimes very seriously, the courts are lenient for first time, non-violent offenders who are willing to take steps to stay out of trouble in the future. Nevada courts have programs specifically for first time offenders who show an interest in turning their lives around or for people who used bad judgment and got caught trying drugs. For example, by completing Drug Court, the charges against you may be dropped entirely. Drug court can be a time-consuming process but it can result in clean criminal record for people who follow through on it.

What is Nevada drug court?

Nevada Drug Court includes taking a course about drug abuse and if necessary, completing a drug rehabilitation program. It can take several months to complete and can be time-consuming, but you will be required to attend most of the classes. This can be difficult for people who work or got to school, for those who do not drive, and/or who have family obligations but drug court is worth making a priority. Upon completion, the charges against you may be dismissed entirely. If dismissed, you will be able to start the record sealing process immediately, assuming you have no other charges that are pending or other cases not yet closed.

Learn more about record sealing.

Special Laws apply to Nevada Drug Crimes Involving Marijuana

Marijuana is a drug that is perceived by the public as much less serious and dangerous than other drugs or even alcohol. But it is important to remember that for right now, marijuana is still an illegal drug for most people in Nevada (other than those with a valid prescription for medical marijuana, which still cannot be used while driving).

Arrests for possession of marijuana occur more than almost all other Nevada crimes, even non-drug crimes. This shows that law enforcement still takes the drug seriously, despite public perception and growing acceptance of the drug across the country.

The punishment for possessing marijuana in Nevada, whether or not you intend to sell it, depends on the amount you have. The cut off between lesser and more serious offenses is the amount of 1 ounce of marijuana.

  • Less than 1 oz. is a misdemeanor offense for the first and second offense, and a gross misdemeanor for the third offense;
  • A fourth offense for possessing less than 1 oz. of marijuana is a Category E felony punishable by 1 to 4 years in a Nevada prison and fines up to $5,000.

Nevada misdemeanors are punished with less than six months’ in jail and fines up to $1,000. Nevada gross misdemeanors are punished by up to one year in the county jail and fines up to $2,000.

What if I have a medical marijuana card?

Marijuana is illegal under federal law, even though several states have made it legal in certain circumstances, like for medicinal purposes. Nevada is one state that has made marijuana legal for people with a valid prescription from a doctor.

It is still illegal under federal law even with a prescription, but for the most part, federal law enforcement has not been working hard to punish people using medical marijuana. In fact, the President of the United States has indicated that marijuana crimes- even for people without a valid prescription for medicinal use- should not be a priority of federal law enforcement agencies. Still, it is important to remember that all uses of marijuana are illegal under federal law and federal law enforcement still has the power to arrest and punish people for possessing marijuana.

A person who uses medical marijuana in Nevada may not be prosecuted for possession so long as they have no more than:

  • One ounce of usable marijuana; or
  • Three mature plants; or
  • Four immature plants

in their possession. This does not mean that a person with a valid medical marijuana card is allowed to drive or carry a weapon while under the influence of marijuana or to share it with others who do not have a valid medical marijuana card.


Eighth Judicial District Adult Drug Court
Choices Group
2725 E. Desert Inn Blvd, #180,
Las Vegas NV 89121
Office (702) 252-8342

Specialty Court Program
Administrative Office of the Courts
Supreme Court of Nevada
201 S. Carson Street, Suite 250
Carson City, Nevada 89701
Phone: (775) 684-1780

More Information about Nevada drug crimes

With a strong defense team, you may be able to avoid the worst punishments under Nevada’s drug laws. In some cases, a qualified Las Vegas drug defense lawyer may even be able to get the charges dismissed.

If you have been arrested in Las Vegas for a crime involving controlled substances, contact as soon as possible to begin defending you against the charges.