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Is Ecstasy Legal in California?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Jan 12, 2024

MDMA, also known popularly as "ecstasy" or "molly," is a psychoactive drug primarily used for recreational purposes. It has become trendy at parties, commonly passed around during concerts and raves. 

With California recently legalizing marijuana for recreational use, there may be some confusion as to whether other commonly used recreational drugs like MDMA have been legalized as well.

Is Ecstasy Legal in California?
In the state of California, it's still illegal to possess, sell, give away, or transport ecstasy.

The short answer is no, it has not. It is illegal to possess, transport, or sell ecstasy in the state of California. A conviction for simple possession of ecstasy can result in up to a year in jail. Selling or possessing it with intent to sell (trafficking) can result in felony charges punishable by years in prison. 

California Health and Safety Code 11377-11379 HS prohibits the possession, sale, or transporting of controlled substances such as ecstasy. Simple ecstasy possession is usually a misdemeanor that could be dismissed without jail time if a drug diversion program is completed, such as Proposition 36, Penal Code 1000 PC deferred entry of judgment, or a California drug court.

The most common charge related to ecstasy is Health and Safety Code 11377 HS, simple possession of ecstasy as a misdemeanor offense under Proposition 47

The more serious drug charge is Health and Safety Code 11378 HS, which is the possession of ecstasy with intent to sell, a felony crime. This means having enough ecstasy that shows an intention to sell the narcotic, not just to consume it personally.

California Vehicle Code 23152(f) VC defines driving under the influence of drugs as a misdemeanor. This DUI drug charge means that ecstasy has so far affected your nervous system to impair the ability to operate a vehicle in the manner of an ordinarily cautious person in full possession of his faculties.

What Is Ecstasy?

MDMA, an acronym for methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is a synthetic psychoactive drug known for its unique combination of stimulant and hallucinogenic effects

It stimulates the release of several neurotransmitters in the brain, resulting in intense euphoria, increased energy, empathy, and heightened or distorted sensory perception. However, these effects come with significant risks, including potential neurotoxicity and harmful physical side effects such as the following:

  • high anxiety,
  • aggression,
  • nausea,
  • chills,
  • sweating,
  • involuntary teeth clenching,
  • muscle cramping,
  • blurred vision,
  • hyperthermia and seizures.

When ecstasy is combined with other known substances, it can be especially harmful and even deadly. Due to these effects and its potential for abuse, MDMA is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance under the United States Controlled Substances Act. 

This means that the drug has a high potential for abuse, has an accepted medical use but with severe restrictions, and the abuse of the drug may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. Schedule II drugs, including ecstasy, are considered highly addictive and generally unsafe.

What Are the Common Crimes Associated with Ecstasy?

As with other controlled substances, California prosecutors may file a variety of criminal charges related to the possession or sale of ecstasy. The specific charges will be based on factors such as the amount of the drug discovered, the context in which it was discovered, and the activities surrounding it (e.g., simple use or sale).

California Ecstasy Laws 

The three most common criminal charges related to MDMA are simple possession (HS 11377), possession for sale (HS 11378), and transportation/sale (HS 11379). Let's review these charges below.

Drug Possession - Health & Safety Code 11377 HS

Simple possession of MDMA (HS 11377) is the least serious charge and applies when a person possesses ecstasy for personal use only, typically in small amounts. 

It is typically charged as a misdemeanor offense. A conviction can result in up to one year in jail and fines up to $1000. If convicted of ecstasy possession while having certain prior convictions, it could increase the case to a felony that carries more severe penalties, such as up to three years in state prison. 

Drug Possession for Sale - Health & Safety Code 11378 HS

Possession of MDMA with intent to sell (HS 11378) is a more serious charge. If you're caught with any of the following:

  • a large quantity of the drug,
  • packaging materials (baggies),
  • scales, or
  • other evidence.

These items could suggest you intended to distribute the drug; you could be charged with possession for sale. 

This felony offense is punishable by fines up to $10,000 and 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison. However, it is also possible to be charged with possession for sale even if you do not have a large quantity of the drug.

Drug Transportation or Sale - Health & Safety Code 11379 HS

The most serious MDMA-related charge in California is transportation or sale of ecstasy (HS 11379), otherwise known as "trafficking." This applies when a person does any of the following:

  • transports the drug from one location to another,
  • sells,
  • furnishes,
  • administers,
  • gives away,
  • imports it into California. 

Transportation or sale of MDMA is a felony offense punishable by 2-4 years in state prison. However, if you transported MDMA across more than two county lines with the intent to sell it, you could face enhanced penalties of up to 9 years in prison.

Can You Qualify for a Drug Diversion Program?

The State of California offers specific drug diversion programs that serve as alternatives to incarceration for individuals who have been charged with simple, non-violent drug offenses, including simple possession of MDMA. 

California Drug Diversion Program

The pretrial diversion program under PC 1000 allows offenders to participate in a supervised treatment and education program instead of traditional criminal prosecution. 

Drug diversion programs may also be available under Proposition 36 (mandated drug treatment as an alternative to jail) or through one of California's drug courts. 

If you qualify for one of these programs and complete the requirements, you will face no jail time, and the charges can be dismissed. Drug diversion is most utilized for first-time offenders and only for misdemeanor possession. More serious crimes like trafficking or possession for sale generally don't qualify for drug diversion.

A California criminal defense lawyer can use a wide range of legal strategies to fight any ecstasy-related offense. Sometimes, where guilt is not in doubt, a successful defense would be to avoid a felony charge and enhancements. 

Perhaps negotiation with the prosecutor could result in a felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor. Contact our law firm to review the case details. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, CA. 

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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