Las Vegas is often thought about in the same way it is depicted in the movies and on TV—lots of wild parties, flashy nightclubs, and a drug-filled lifestyle. This popular image of Las Vegas leads many to assume that we can legally and freely use drugs here. However, if you research what drugs are legal in Las Vegas, you will find that the list is much shorter than what Hollywood would have you think.
Every year, there are more drug charges in Las Vegas than other substance-related crimes. In fact, many DUI charges in the city are not associated with alcohol use at all! The misconception that drugs are legal in Las Vegas is causing an uptick of legal issues for visiting partygoers as well as residents. Make no mistake—drug use in Las Vegas falls under many of the same strict laws found elsewhere in the United States.
Can I Use Drugs in Las Vegas?
Las Vegas is not a U.S. oasis where there are no laws. Rampant drug use is not tolerated in other parts of the United States, so suffice it to say that freely using drugs is not tolerated in Las Vegas either. Though public drinking on the strip is allowed (as Las Vegas does not have an open container law), open drug use is still illegal. In Las Vegas, alcohol and controlled substances are subject to different city and state laws.
Las Vegas Drug Laws
The state of Nevada adheres to both state and federal regulations for certain classes of drugs. The U.S. federal government has drug laws that every state must follow, while Nevada has its own laws that may not apply in other states. Currently, the state of Nevada forbids the making and/or selling of any controlled substances apart from marijuana in certain circumstances.
What Are Controlled Substances?
Controlled substances are drugs that can be either legal or illegal to own without a prescription. Controlled substances are broken down into categories or “schedules,” which refer to their potential for abuse and whether they are useful in medical treatments or not.
Depending on the schedule a drug falls under (Schedule I, Schedule II, etc.), the legality and punishment for possession, selling, or manufacturing the drug may vary.
Drug Classifications and Schedules in the United States and Nevada
Drug classifications and schedules are defined by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). First, drugs are classified by their chemical makeup and their effects on the mind and body. The six main classifications of drugs are alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines, cannabinoids, barbiturates, and hallucinogens.
These classifications are then divided into schedules that break down how addictive a drug is and how likely it is to be abused. While some drugs are entirely illegal, such as heroin or ecstasy, others are permitted in certain circumstances and at a certain age—such as alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana—or when prescribed under a physician’s care to treat a medical condition.
Here is a breakdown of current drug schedules in the United States and how they apply in Nevada.
This category of drugs carries the harshest penalties because they have a high potential for abuse with no applicable medical use. They are highly unsafe, which makes them dangerous. Examples include:
- LSD (or “acid”)
- GHB (or “the date rape drug”)
As mentioned above, marijuana is an exception. While marijuana is federally classified as a Schedule I drug, it is recreationally and medically legal in the state of Nevada. Marijuana use is limited to adults 21 years of age and older, or those who are 18 and older with a valid medical marijuana card. The amount of marijuana that you can possess is limited, and it cannot be consumed on public property, including hotels, clubs, and casinos.
Schedule II drugs have accepted medical uses but still have a high level of addiction. Misuse or abuse of these drugs can lead to fatal consequences. Examples include:
These are moderately dangerous drugs that have a potential for abuse at a slightly lower rate than Schedule I & II drugs. These drugs can serve some medical use when taken as directed by a physician. Examples include:
This category of drugs has a lower potential for abuse and addiction than the drugs listed above. They are used in medical settings but can also cause physical or psychological dependence if abused. Examples include:
This final category contains drugs with a low potential for abuse that are widely used in medical treatments. Examples include:
- Most over-the-counter medications
- Antidiarrheal medicines
- Antitussive medicines (cough relief)
- Analgesic medicines (pain relief)
What Happens if I Am Caught with Drugs in Las Vegas?
Depending on what type of drugs you have, how much you have, and what you were in the process of doing with them, the legal consequences will vary. You may face a felony conviction, a hefty fine, or community service. Usually, people are charged with possession.
Federal Law Regarding Possession of Drugs
Federal law states that “it shall be unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally to possess a controlled substance unless such substance was obtained directly…from a practitioner while acting in the course of his professional practice.”
“Possession” is defined as owning or having control of an illegal drug with no plans to sell them—they do not necessarily have to be on your person at all times. Anyone in possession of an illegal drug can face penalties.
Types of Illegal Drug Possession in Nevada
The types of illegal drug possession in Nevada are:
- Actual – The drug is physically on your person, such as carrying it in your pocket, purse, shoe, or bag
- Constructive – The drug is stored or hidden in a place you own, such as your car or a drawer in your home
- Joint – A pair or group of people share control or ownership of the drug, such as two friends using a drug from the same bag or a spouse knowingly letting their partner keep an illegal drug at home
In many cases, possessing an illegal drug is a felony, and you can face prison time and steep fines if caught. The number of times you are caught possessing a drug can also affect these charges. In Las Vegas, first-time offenders usually face less punishment than second or third-time offenders. They may also be able to avoid conviction if they complete a Specialty Court program for drugs.
When Drug Possession Does Not Apply
Possession does not include taking drugs. For example, if you take ecstasy in a nightclub and are stopped by the police on the way home, you cannot be charged with possession. However, you will probably be charged with being under the influence.
The same is true of possessing drug paraphernalia. Drug possession and possession of drug paraphernalia are two different crimes. Paraphernalia can include things like pipes or syringes. If you are caught with both paraphernalia and drugs, you will face separate charges for each crime.
Selling and Purchasing Drugs in Las Vegas
If you are caught with drugs that you intend to sell, you will face charges for possession with the intent to sell. The punishment for this crime will likely be greater than simple possession for personal use. Your punishment will depend on the type of drug(s) you have and its schedule category (I, II, etc.) as well as the number of times you have been previously convicted of the crime.
Proof that you intend to sell drugs in your possession may include:
- How the drugs are packaged
- The number of drugs in your possession
- Carrying many small bills with you
- You are in an area where drug deals commonly occur
- You also have drug paraphernalia on you
- You also have a weapon
If you are caught buying illegal drugs in Nevada, you will be charged with drug possession and may face prison time. Marijuana that is not sold by a licensed dispensary in Las Vegas falls under the same penalties as other Schedule I drugs—this usually means prison time and a fine, regardless of whether marijuana is legal to use recreationally in Las Vegas.
Transporting and Trafficking Drugs in Las Vegas
In Nevada, drug activities linked to transporting and trafficking include any instance where you plan to physically transport or sell an illegal substance. Transporting drugs can be done on foot, in a car, on a boat, and so on. Trafficking drugs, however, is more specific to a person who intends to sell those drugs to others. They are two separate but often interlinked crimes.
Elements of drug trafficking include having control or ownership of the drugs, knowledge that illegal drugs are present, and an intent to sell them.
Punishment for Drug Crimes in Las Vegas
The more drugs you are in possession of, and the more times you have already been convicted of a crime, the more severe your punishment will likely be. If you do not have a previous conviction for drug-related crimes, you may qualify for drug court as an alternative to incarceration. If you have a prior conviction, however, you will likely face jail time.
The charges you can face for drug-related crimes in Las Vegas are either misdemeanors or felony categories ranging from A to E:
- Category A felonies – Life in prison with or without parole
- Category B felonies – A prison sentence from 1-20 years and various fines, depending on the crime
- Category C felonies – A prison sentence from 1-5 years and a fine up to $10,000
- Category D felonies – A prison sentence from 1-4 years and a fine up to $5,000
- Category E felonies – Probation and/or suspended sentence, jail time up to one year, a prison sentence from 1-4 years and/or a fine up to $5,000
Penalties for Possession
- First-time offense with Schedule I or II drugs – Category D felony (you may serve probation instead of jail or prison time in some cases)
- Second-time offense with Schedule I or II drugs – Category C felony
- Third-time offense with Schedule I or II drugs – Category B felony
- Schedule III, IV, or V drugs – Category D felony
- Drug paraphernalia with intent to sell – Category E felony
- Drug paraphernalia with no intent to sell – Category E felony with the chance to reduce charges to a misdemeanor
Penalties for Drug Trafficking and Selling
As a more serious crime, drug trafficking or selling can result in a Category B felony, with 1-6 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, and deportation if applicable. This charge includes any classification of drugs, including concentrated amounts of marijuana if you are not a licensed dispensary business.
DUI or Drugged Driving
DUIs are not limited to driving while drunk. It is illegal if you drive while intoxicated from any substance, including drugs. Nevada law imposes a zero-tolerance policy on drunk driving, and the penalties for doing so can include:
- Jail time
- DUI school
- Fines up to $1,000 for first-time offenses
- Fines from $2,000-$5,000 or more for repeat offenses
- Participation in a substance abuse program
- Being required to wear a SCRAM bracelet
- Installation of an ignition interlock system on your car
- Driver’s license suspension
- Court-ordered rehabilitation
Nevada Drug Court
In an effort to reduce the number of alcohol and drug-related crimes and have a positive impact on Nevada citizens, Nevada Drug Court offers an effective solution to first-time offenders. Approximately 70% of people who complete the treatment required by this program do not commit any more drug-related crimes.
Nevada Drug Court is for first-time, non-violent offenders facing charges relating to felony or misdemeanor drug possession or unlawful drug use. Participants attend counseling every week and must appear in court to monitor their progress and prove they have not been using drugs.
The program lasts about a year and costs around $1,500. Once completed, your drug case is dismissed, and you will not face any jail time.
Medical and Recreational Marijuana in Las Vegas
Marijuana is arguably the only legal drug you can use in Las Vegas. Depending on how much marijuana you have, how old you are, and where you are when you use it, it is perfectly legal to consume marijuana in Nevada.
Nevada voters legalized the recreational use of marijuana in 2016. The law now permits anyone age 21 or older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana or one-eighth of an ounce of concentrates like resin, dabs, or wax. You are also permitted to grow marijuana plants in your home—however, this use is limited to private residencies. Although you can legally consume marijuana in your home, you cannot use it in public places like casinos, hotels, bars, or walking down the street.
Medical marijuana use is permitted when a person age 18 or older has a valid medical marijuana card that states it will help with a condition or disease.
Contact a Lawyer If You Are Caught Using Drugs in Las Vegas
Certain defense strategies can be used to fight a drug possession charge, leading to a reduced sentence or even a complete dismissal of the case. For example, a Las Vegas criminal defense lawyer may be able to argue that:
- Your arrest was improper due to mistaken identity, an illegal search, or failure to recite your Miranda Rights
- There are unreliable witnesses or a lack of sufficient evidence
- The evidence is faulty or has been tampered with
- You were not aware of the drugs or had no intention of possessing them
- Entrapment or mitigation occurred
- You were criminally or discriminately profiled
The team at De Castroverde Criminal & Immigration Lawyers is ready to defend your legal rights. To learn how a drug crime attorney in Las Vegas can help you, call us today at 702-805-2694