If you are caught illegally possessing cocaine, you will face legal consequences including arrest, jail time, a life-long criminal record and financial penalties.

Possession of cocaine for recreational use is illegal throughout the United States, regardless of form. Penalties for possession include legal and financial repercussions, such as arrest, driver’s license suspension, court fines, mandatory rehabilitation programs, and incarceration.

Cocaine is classified by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a schedule II narcotic. Cocaine is a stimulant narcotic with euphoric and extremely addictive qualities. Criminal penalties associated with the possession and distribution of schedule II controlled substances vary by state and are primarily dependent upon the amount of the substance within an individual’s possession at the time of the arrest.

Article at a Glance:

The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies cocaine as a schedule II substance. The classification means that the substance has some medical value, but is dangerous when misused.

Possession, distribution, using or selling recreational cocaine is illegal in every state

Penalties are determined by the amount of cocaine found in an individual’s possession and their intent

Possessing large amounts of cocaine indicates the intent to distribute, which warrants harsher penalties

Cocaine use can be detected for up to 90 days after it was last used by using hair follicle tests

Crimes Associated with Cocaine

The use, possession, distribution, sale, and trafficking of recreational cocaine are serious crimes.

Depending on the quantity in an individual’s possession, how the substance was acquired, and the established intent of possession, state-level criminal penalties for cocaine vary. The range of penalties includes misdemeanor charges for small amounts and serious felony charges for large amounts, intent to distribute and trafficking. Misdemeanor offenses often result in probation, court fines, and short periods of incarceration. Felony offenses can potentially lead to up to 20 years imprisonment depending upon the severity of the offense.

Specific cocaine offenses, such as trafficking, are considered as violations of the Federal Controlled Substances Act, and are prosecuted as federal felony offenses. These offenses can burden an individual with a fine of between $1 million to $50 million, and prison time from 20 years to life. Individuals with at least one prior trafficking conviction are subject to additional penalties of between $2 and $75 million and concurrent life sentences.

The Legality of Possessing Cocaine

As a Schedule II controlled substance, Cocaine has a few medical uses. However, none of cocaine’s limited medical applications include its use as a prescription drug.  As a result, cocaine possession outside of certain medical uses is illegal. Additionally, the distribution, manufacturing, trafficking or any other interaction with cocaine is a criminal offense in every state of the United States.

If you are caught with cocaine in your possession, you can face state misdemeanor, felony or federal felony charges, which result in serious legal and financial burdens.

Amount of Cocaine Possessed

The amount of cocaine in an individual’s possession determines the classification and severity of the charges he or she faces when caught.

While state-level offenses related to cocaine possession are based on the amount in possession, federal offenses are primarily determined by the nature of the criminal act and the individual’s criminal history.

Each state has different laws regarding the use, possession and punitive action for controlled substances. Consult an attorney regarding specific state laws.

Previous Criminal History

An individual’s criminal history, combined with the amount of cocaine and intent of possession, is a strong determining factor regarding the severity of the legal and financial penalties they face.

Penalties for each charge of possession are greater for those who have a record of drug-related offenses than they would be for first-time offenders. Additionally, individuals who have a history of non-drug related crimes are also subject to increased penalties in possession cases.

An individual’s criminal history also has a compounding effect at the federal level in cocaine possession cases. A first conviction for any amount of cocaine possession carries a minimum $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail, while a second conviction is punishable by a minimum $2,500 fine and two years in jail.

Court-Appointed Rehab

Statutory penalties for cocaine-related offenses are severe. As part of pretrial intervention programs, individuals can have charges and sentences reduced or dismissed if they volunteer to enroll in and complete court-appointed rehabilitation programs.

In the state of Florida, individuals who enter into deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs), receive court-appointed rehabilitation, counseling, education, and supervision along with medical and psychological treatment. In exchange for their enrollment, charges against the individual are dismissed by the state if and when all stipulations and conditions of the agreement are fulfilled.

The National Association of Drug Court Professionals considers drug treatment courts to be the, “…single most successful intervention in our nation’s history for leading people living with substance use and mental health disorders out of the justice system and into lives of recovery and stability.”

Getting Caught High on Cocaine

In addition to statutory limitations related to the possession, trafficking, and distribution of cocaine, there also exist a series of offenses related to the illegal use of cocaine. Additionally, if random drug test programs detect cocaine use in individuals who are on probation, in pretrial diversion or other drug conditions, they are likely to face much more severe penalties than that of the original offense.

Despite its short half-life of approximately one hour, cocaine is detectable in individuals through urine, blood, and hair follicle tests. After use, cocaine registers in urine tests for between two and four days, blood tests for up to 10 days and in hair follicle tests for up to 90 days.

If you or a loved one struggle with a substance use disorder, contact The Recovery Village to speak to a representative who can get you on track for the treatment you need. You deserve a healthier future and The Recovery Village is ready to help you get there. Call today to learn how individualized treatment programs can address your addiction and any co-occurring mental health disorders.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Cocaine.” Accessed April 13, 2019.

Yeh, Brian T. “Drug Offenses: Maximum Fines and Term[…]and Related Laws.” Congressional Research Service, January 20, 2015. Accessed April 13, 2019.

England, Deborah C. “Cocaine Possession.” NOLO. Accessed April 13, 2019.

Cornell Law School. “21 U.S. Code § 844. Penalties for […]imple possession.” Accessed April 13, 2019.

Department of Justice. “Pretrial Diversion Program.” Accessed April 13, 2019.

The Florida Legislature. “Pretrial intervention program.” Accessed April 13, 2019.

National Association of Drug Court Professionals. “Treatment Courts Work.” Accessed April 13, 2019.

US Drug Test Centers. .“Probation Drug Testing.” Accessed April 13, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.