Las Vegas Defense Attorney for Drug Charges

Experienced Criminal Defense Law Firm in Clark County, Nevada

Even though Nevada law now permits both medical and recreational use of marijuana, the state continues to have strict laws on drug possession and sale. Law enforcement actively pursues violations of those laws in Las Vegas, as well as throughout Clark County and the rest of the state.

If you are arrested on a drug charge in Nevada, the penalties can be severe, including stiff fines and prison time. A conviction leaves a permanent scar on your record that can affect employment opportunities and other vital aspects of your life. You want a tough, aggressive criminal defense attorney to represent you. At The Gersten Law Firm, we know the law and also know local law enforcement and court practices and procedures.

Las Vegas criminal defense attorney Joseph Gersten holds a Master of Forensic Sciences degree. He worked for the Intelligence Division of the U.S. Secret Service, as well as the Office of Criminal Investigations at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Joe will put his extensive criminal defense experience and local knowledge to work in assessing the full circumstances, asserting a forceful defense, and exploring all options for resolving the charges. When you turn to our firm, you work directly with Joe, not an associate, paralegal, or case worker. Call 702.857.8777 or complete our online form to schedule a free initial consultation and case evaluation.

Marijuana Laws in Las Vegas

As of January 1, 2017, Nevada permits both recreational and medical use of marijuana, subject to limitations provided in the laws.

Recreational Marijuana Use in Las Vegas

For recreational use, an adult age twenty-one (21) or older who has a valid U.S. government-issued ID or international passport can purchase up to one (1) ounce of marijuana of up to one-eighth (1/8) of an ounce of concentrated marijuana from a legal dispensary. The marijuana must be consumed on private property.

You can still run afoul of the marijuana law if you purchase from a street vendor or anywhere other than a legal dispensary, if you use the marijuana in a public place, or if you are found in possession of more than an ounce. If you are thinking about purchasing marijuana in Las Vegas, be sure to read Attorney Gersten's article Recreational Marijuana in Las Vegas: Everything You Need to Know.

Arrests for marijuana possession prior to January 1, 2017, will be prosecuted under the law in effect at the time. Prior arrests do not automatically become void.

If you use recreational marijuana in Nevada, and you also own a gun or want to own one, using marijuana can create problems for you under federal and state laws on firearms purchase, possession, and use, including those applicable to CCW permits. You can read more about the legal issues you may encounter with marijuana use and guns in Attorney Gersten's article Firearms and Marijuana Don’t Mix Well in Las Vegas — in More Ways Than One.

Nevada Medical Marijuana Law

Medical marijuana has been legal in Nevada since 2001. To legally purchase medical marijuana, an individual must hold a valid medical marijuana card or be a caregiver for a cardholder. Nevada maintains its own registry, but the state also recognizes cards from other states. The medical marijuana program permits a patient (or caregiver) to purchase up to two-and-a-half (2.5) ounces of marijuana every two weeks from a legal dispensary. Under some circumstances, a patient can also grow up to twelve (12) plants if his or her address, along with a list of all occupants, is registered with the state. A special exemption is required if the patient lives within twenty-five (25) miles of a legal dispensary, unless the patient is growing a strain not provided by a local dispensary.

Common Las Vegas Drug Offenses

There are a number of different drug offenses under Nevada law. Some of the more commonly encountered are:

Illegal Possession of a Controlled Substance

Nevada has strict laws against possession of controlled substances when there is no legal basis for the possession, such as a doctor’s prescription, or where the drug is outright illegal. An individual can be charged with illegal possession if he or she has a controlled substance without “legal, medical, or scientific” justification.

There are three ways that a person can be found to be in possession of a controlled substance in Nevada:

  • Actual possession: drugs are found on the individual’s person at the time of arrest, such as in a pocket
  • Constructive possession: drugs are found in the vicinity of the individual’s personal property, such as in a home or apartment
  • Shared possession: drugs are co-owned with another person, either for shared use or shared distribution, such as in a shared home or apartment

Controlled—or regulated—substances are classified in schedules. Schedule I substances are the most dangerous; Schedule V are the least dangerous. Examples of common drugs and their schedule classification are:

  • Schedule I: Heroin, marijuana, LSD, ecstasy, peyote
  • Schedule II: Vicodin (hydrocodone), cocaine, methamphetamine, Demerol, OxyContin (oxycodone), methadone
  • Schedule III: codeine, ketamine, anabolic steroids, testosterone
  • Schedule IV: Xanax, Darvon, Valium, Darvocet, Soma
  • Schedule V: Robitussin AC, Lomotil

Drugs do not have to be on a schedule to be illegal. A drug that is similar to a schedule I or II substance and is not approved as medication in the U.S. is considered to be illegal.

If you are charged with illegal possession, having a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer defend you is imperative. The sooner your lawyer becomes involved, the more he or she can help you. Experienced Las Vegas drug defense attorney Joseph Gersten is just a call away — and there is no charge for your initial consultation and case evaluation.

Possession with Intent to Sell or Distribute

The offense of possession of a controlled substance with the intent to sell or distribute is a more serious charge than possession for personal use. If there is evidence of intent to sell, a person can be charged for the more serious crime even if the sale did not take place.

The possession component of this charge is fairly straightforward. The intent component is more difficult to prove but can be inferred from circumstances, such as:

  • A substantial amount of drugs was found.
  • The individual with the drugs also has a lot of cash, especially small bills.
  • The drugs are stored in baggies or separate containers.
  • The person with the drugs also has a firearm or other weapon.
  • The arrest occurred in an area known for drug dealing.

If a drug sale actually was completed, there is a separate offense for selling controlled substances in Nevada. The penalties can be harsher than those for a charge of possession with intent to sell.

Possession of Drug Paraphernalia

In Las Vegas, possession of drug paraphernalia like syringes or crack pipes is a separate crime from possession. Paraphernalia includes any equipment of material intended for manufacture, ingestion, or storage of illegal drugs. The charge is a misdemeanor that carries a fine up to $1,000 and prison time up to six (6) months.

There also is a separate federal offense for selling or transporting drug paraphernalia; the federal law does not prohibit possession of paraphernalia or buying it, but it does include sale, importing or exporting, or using mails or other interstate commerce to transport paraphernalia.

Drug Trafficking

Drug trafficking differs from possession with the intent to sell and is a separate offense. Trafficking occurs when a person is suspected of selling, manufacturing, or shipping large quantities of controlled substances.

Driving Under the Influence of Drugs / DUID

Just as driving under the influence of alcohol can result in a criminal charge, driving under the influence of drugs is an offense. The drugs do not even need to be illegal. Someone can be charged with DUID if they drive under the influence of legally prescribed drugs that impair the ability to drive.

Other State and Federal Drug Charges in Nevada

There are other drug offenses in Nevada. In addition, some offenses may involve federal, rather than state charges. The Gersten Law Firm provides defense for all drug charges in Nevada, both in state and federal court.

Penalties for Drug Offenses in Nevada

For drug charges in Las Vegas, the nature of the offense as misdemeanor or felony, as well as the degree of the charge, depends on several different factors — but even lesser offenses can carry heavy fines and possible prison time. The class of offense and penalties for possessing controlled substances illegally vary in severity depending on:

  • Schedule classification of the drug
  • Amount of the drug found
  • Intent: whether the drug was intended for sale or distribution
  • Number of prior drug convictions

For example: Most first offenses can carry a fine of up to $5,000 and one (1) to four (4) years in state prison. Often, an experienced attorney can negotiate for probation through a drug education or rehab program in Nevada Drug Court. Subsequent offenses can carry fines of up to $20,000 and one (1) to four (4) years in prison. For schedule I drugs containing GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) or flunitrazepam, prison time can be up to six (6) years.

Defenses to a Drug Charge in Las Vegas

An experienced defense attorney will thoroughly investigate the circumstances of the arrest to determine what defenses may be available. Attorney Joseph Gersten’s criminal investigation background provides him with a strong foundation for probing the circumstances and facts and identifying opportunities and strategies to challenge the arrest.

Defenses that may be available in a drug charge include:

  • Whether possession can actually be established: This defense is particularly applicable in cases of shared possession.
  • Lack of intent to sell: Intent is usually established through circumstantial evidence, so undermining the evidence of intent can be an effective defense.
  • Illegal police search or seizure: Law enforcement must follow strict constitutional guidelines when conducting searches and seizing evidence. If those procedures aren’t followed, the evidence can be suppressed, which usually results in the case being dismissed.

In addition, Nevada has a "Good Samaritan Drug Overdose" law. If a person seeks help for his or her own or another person's overdose, and drugs are discovered as a result, the law provides that you cannot be charged with use or possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia.

An Effective Defense Attorney Can Make All the Difference

Even when a case is not dismissed, a tough, effective defense lawyer can often negotiate with the prosecutor for a plea on a lesser charge or for alternative conditional terms, such as community service, rehabilitation, probation, and even a suspended sentence.

For eligible individuals, Nevada has a Drug Court program that puts the person on probation while the program is being completed and does not involve a conviction on his or her record. An experienced lawyer can negotiate with the prosecutor and judge for a Drug Court resolution when a person has no prior drug convictions and has not been charged with a sale or trafficking offense.

Schedule a Free Consultation with an Experienced Las Vegas Drug Charge Defense Attorney

If you are facing a state or federal drug charge in Las Vegas, Henderson, or elsewhere in Clark County, Las Vegas attorney Joseph Gersten will discuss and evaluate your case based on his extensive investigative and criminal defense experience. Your initial consultation is free-of-charge. Call 702.857.8777 or complete our online form to schedule an appointment.