California Opiate Laws: The Basics

What does the law say about opiates like heroin or pain pills in California? To sum it up: It depends on how you get them, and what you’re planning to do with them.

What is the law around prescription opioids in California?

Due to the opioid crisis, government officials are calling for a crackdown on prescription opioids. This affects chronic pain patients and those who legitimately require opioids for medical reasons. California has an Effect on Intractable Pain Act which states, “A patient who suffers from severe chronic intractable pain has the option to choose opiate medication for the treatment of the severe chronic intractable pain as long as the prescribing is in conformance with Section 2241.5 of the Business and Professions Code.”

A dozen states have versions of these laws, called Intractable Pain Laws, created with the belief that pain patients have a right to receive treatment for their severe, chronic pain.

Looking for treatment for opioid addiction in California? Check out Workit Health.

What is the law around illegal opiates for personal use in California?

According to the Controlled Substances Act, heroin is Schedule I. Synthetic opioids like codeine and Oxycodone are Schedule II. Schedule I drugs have no accepted medical use and high potential for abuse, while Schedule II drugs have a high potential for abuse.

California Proposition 47, enacted in 2014, makes the possession of drugs for personal use a misdemeanor rather than a felony. Possession of Schedule I or Schedule II drugs for personal use in California are now punished as misdemeanors only, with penalties including up to one year in the county jail, not state prison, along with fines if the court sees fit.

What if you were selling opiates in California?

Findlaw.com breaks down penalties for selling drugs in California this way:

  • Transport, import, transfer, or sale of controlled substances may result in felony sentencing of 3 to 5 years. Transport from one California county to a non-contiguous county can result in an increased sentence of 3 to 9 years of imprisonment.

  • Crimes involving the hiring or employment of minors to sell or distribute controlled substances, or the sale of controlled substances to minors, can result in sentences of 3, 6, or 9 years in state prison.

  • California law allows adults 21 and older to transport less than 28.5 grams (or less than 8 g marijuana concentrate).

Want to read more yourself? The Laws can all be found in California Health and Safety Code Sections 11351-11379.

What should you do from here?

If you’re worried you’ve had a run in with the law, and aren’t sure what to expect next, seeking legal advice is always a good idea. You can visit LawHelpCa.org for resources.

Another option is getting treatment. No matter what has happened in the past, today is the first day of the rest of your life. You can begin evidence-based treatment today, from home, with Workit Clinic in California.


Workit Health offers medication & therapy in the Bay Area.

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As Workit Health's Community Lead, Kali Lux leans in to the culture gap between addiction, recovery, and medicine. She's interested in finding solutions that work for substance users better than drinking or drugging does, and believes Workit is one of them. She's written extensively on her own experience through addiction into long-term recovery. Connect with her on Twitter @kalireadsbooks.