Drug Possession Laws in Nevada

This article reviews Nevada’s legal process, penalties, and what you can do when you’re caught with a controlled substance in your possession.

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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Caught with drug possession in the state of Nevada? Worried about the legal proceedings to follow and the penalties you might be up against? You are not alone. We review the state legal process and how drug rehab can help.

Table of Contents:

Basic Definitions

Nevada is known for having a zero tolerance when it comes to drug possession laws. Though marijuana was recently legalized in the state, being in control of any other federally illicit substances can result in serious penalties.

The rules are outlined under the Nevada Revised Statutes, N.R.S. 453.336, or the Uniform Controlled Substances Act and General Provision [1]. This series of laws outlines how the state views substances and penalties for use, possession, or sales. The act states that any possession of a controlled substance in the state results in a felony charge. Even possession of a personal amount results in a felony. Further, a first-time offender can face a prison sentence of 4 years and a fine of up to $5,000.

Under Nevada law, there are 3 different types of possession charges:

1. Actual Possession, defined as having a controlled substance on your person or in your hands or pockets.

2. Constructive Possession, defined as having a controlled substance in a place where you had control over the substance, such as your house, apartment, car, or hotel room.

3. Joint Possession, defined as having a controlled substance with more than one person. For example, if you’re driving around town with some friends and one of them has a controlled substance on them, you can all be held accountable.

When you’re receiving a drug possession charge, law enforcement will also consider what you were trying to do with the controlled substance. If it’s assumed you were trying to distribute or traffic a drug, you’ll be put to much more serious prosecution.

What determines trafficking charges? Usually, the amount of drug you have on you. Or, there are little clues the court will use against you. For example, if you have a scale or little baggies on you at the time of your arrest, those can be considered evidence you had the intent to sell.

Specific Laws

Nevada Revised Statutes N.R.S. Section 453: The Uniform Controlled Substances Act

The Legal Process in Nevada

Within the state of Nevada, you can expect the following to happen upon your arrest for a drug possession crime:

1. Law enforcement read you your Miranda Rights.

Immediately after you’re arrested, a police officer must inform you of your Miranda Rights. These include your right to remain silent, your right to contact an attorney, and your right to have an attorney present during questioning. Under these rights, law enforcement must also inform you’ll be given the right to a lawyer if you’re unable to afford one.

2. You contact a Public Defender.

In order to receive a public defender, you must have a certain set of qualifications such as holding an income level that’s below the threshold. If you have pending charges, it’s important you either attempt to reach out to a public defender or call an attorney.

3. The D.A. files a charge.

Once a district attorney in Nevada looks over the police report and evidence provided, he/she will decide whether or not it’s a sufficient enough case to be charged. If it is, you can expect the district attorney to file a criminal complaint form, also known as an indictment, which claims to the court that you have committed a crime.

Some people are arrested only for a file to never be charged. However, due to Nevada’s zero drug tolerance policy, this very rarely happens to offenders with a controlled substance charge.

4. You attend an Arraignment Hearing.

During an Arraignment Hearing, you’re making your first appearance in a court of law. A judge will inform you of your charges and ask how you’d like to plea. This is when you tell the judge whether you’re “guilty” or “not guilty”. It should be noted that what you tell the judge is only a suggestion. If the judge feels there’s enough evidence to decide you are guilty, s/he can overrule your “not guilty” plea.

5. You may be released on bail.

Usually, your bond will be set either on the day of or a bit before your arraignment hearing. With your bond will be a set of conditions which assure you’ll come back to court if you’re released from custody.

6. You attend the Trial.

When you receive a felony charge, you’re automatically given a jury trial. This means 12 jurors will decide whether or not you are guilty of your drug possession crime. You will have the opportunity to defend yourself in front of a court of law. And a prosecutor will have the opportunity to use evidence against you. By the end of the trial, the jury must come to a decision of whether or not you are guilty. If you are found guilty, you will then receive your sentencing.

Burden of Proof

Under Nevada law, it’s illegal for a prosecutor to convict you of a drug possession charge without properly demonstrating the following elements:

1. LEGALITY. The evidence that you were in possession of a controlled substance when you were arrested.

2. KNOWLEDGE. The evidence that you knew of the illegal nature of the controlled substance and you knew it was present at the time of your arrest.

3. CONTROL. The evidence that you had control over both the presence and location of the controlled substance.

Sentencing and Statute of Limitations

When it comes to how you’ll be sentenced, it can be difficult to get an exact sense or predict the outcome. The state of Nevada penalizes people in accordance to the nature of their crime. Therefore, someone caught trafficking a Schedule I substance will face stronger penalties in comparison to someone caught with a personal amount of that same substance.Still, it remains a fact that almost all drug possession crimes in Nevada are treated as a felony. With that, every charge of drug possession comes with harsh consequences.

There is no statute of limitations for most drug possession crimes in Nevada. This is due to the fact that most result in a felony charge. If you have a misdemeanor charge, then you have a statute of limitations for 1 year and 1 day.

Misdemeanor Possession

When you’re charged with a misdemeanor crime, the penalty is often less severe than that of a felony. However, in the state of Nevada, it’s very unlikely you’ll receive a misdemeanor for being in the possession of drugs.Even if you’re caught just over the recreational legal amount of 1 ounce of marijuana, you’ll be charged with a felony. You’ll be charged a misdemeanor if you’re using marijuana in public.

Felony Possession

In Nevada, felony charges are divided into three classifications [3]. The class of charge assigned todrug possession varies from case to case. People with a personal amount of cocaine on them might end up with a Class E felony. However, people trafficking a large amount of drugs may find themselves with a Class B or Class A felony.

The following are typical class felonies and penalties thataccompany them in Nevada:

  • Class E Felony

○ 1 to 4 years in prison.
○ A fine of up to $1,000.

  • Class D Felony

○ 19 months to 4 years in prison.
○ A fine of up to $5,000.

  • Class C Felony

○ 2 to 5 years in prison.
○ A fine of up to $10,000.

  • Class B Felony

○ 8 to 20 years in prison.
○ Fines of up to $50,000.

  • Class A Felony

○ Fines which can easily reach over $100,000.
○ Life in prison with or without the possibility of parole.
○ Potential death penalty.

Other Penalties

Besides fines and prison time, a drug possession charge can result in a number of other penalties. This will depend on your situation. In order to get a better sense, you’ll want to talk to your lawyer.

Other penalties for possession of a controlled substance include:

  • Inability to obtain certain employment.
  • Inability to obtain certain types of government employment.
  • Inability to qualify for certain types of college scholarship or financial aid.
  • Inability to qualify for public housing.
  • Inability to receive a state license or certification.
  • Potential community service.
  • Potential enrollment in drug treatment programs.
  • Probation.
  • Suspension of your driver’s license.

Alternative Sentencing

In Nevada, alternative sentencing may vary from county to county [4]. Considering the fact that Nevada has some of the strictest laws in the country, it may also be difficult to qualify for some of these. In order to get a clear sense of whether you can receive an alternative sentence or not, you’ll want to speak to a lawyer. It remains in your best interest to look into these options as it can reduce jail time and other punishments.

Alternative sentencing in the state of Nevada includes:

  1. Drug Court
  2. House Arrest
  3. Pre-trial Diversion

Drug Court

This is a specialized court used for the purpose of rehabilitating drug offenders. [5] Through a drug court, you can expect to be sent receive drug addiction treatment via an inpatient or outpatient facility. When you are eligible for drug court, there are still rules to follow and you will be treated as though you’re on probation. You’ll need to make consistent appearances to either a court or a supervising officer. If you successfully complete your drug treatment, then your charges will be dropped.

House Arrest

Under certain circumstances, people can avoid incarceration through house arrest. You must be screened and approved in order to qualify. If you are approved, you must wear an electronic monitor which checks to make sure you’re always in agreement with your curfew requirements. A house arrest will allow you to go to work, go to church, and receive both medical attention and drug treatment. If you break your house arrest rules, you’ll be charged with further penalties.

Pre-trial Diversion

First-time offenders of a non-violent crime can apply to a pre-trial diversion. This is a type of probation where you must attend court on a regular basis and not commit further crimes. Furthermore, you may have some specialty regulations surrounding your particular case. It’s important to note that if you were caught trafficking or attempting to distribute a controlled substance, then you automatically don’t qualify for a pre-trial diversion.

When to Contact a Lawyer

It’s important you reach out to a lawyer as soon as you’ve been charged with drug possession in Nevada. After your arrest, you’re going to be required to attend legal hearings and proceedings. With an attorney by your side during these times, you can handle the situations to better.

Since the court decides on penalties on a case to case basis, your penalties aren’t decided the moment you’re arrested. Rather, you’ll have the opportunity to defend yourself. With that, it’s best to have someone by your side who can not only offer legal advice but also defend you in the best possible manner.

What if you can’t afford a lawyer?As long as you qualify, you’ll be offered a public defender. Make sure you take this public defender as s/he will be able to give you the advice you need when defending yourself against the prosecution.

To find a lawyer in Nevada, it’s easy to do a quick Google search in order to get a sense of lawyers within your area. However, to find the best and most qualified lawyers, you’re going to need to do some lengthy research. This can start with friends, family, or acquaintances. Often, you can find the best drug lawyers by word of mouth. Otherwise, you’ll need to search the Nevada Bar Association for qualified attorneys in your area. [6]

Your Questions

Have more questions surrounding drug possession laws in Nevada?

Feel free to ask them in the comments below. If you have more information you’d like to share pertaining to these laws or advice about Nevada’s legal system, we’d also love to hear from you. We try to reply to each comment in a prompt and personal manner.

Reference Sources: [1] Chapter 453 – Controlled Substances:
[2] Nevada Judiciary:
[3] Government Registry: Nevada Felonies:
[4] Chapter 211A – Departments of Alternative Sentencing:
[5] Administrative Office of the Courts: Specialty Court Program Overview:
[6] Nevada’s Bar Associations
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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