What does it mean To Unlawfully Sell, Furnish, Administer, or Give Away a Controlled Substance in California?

Each of these acts is unlawful if the drug is a controlled substance, which may be a drug requiring a prescription from a licensed for a recognized medical purpose, or one that is illegal for any purpose. Generally, a sale is the transfer of possession to another for something of value which can include cash, favors, services goods, or other benefits.1  In order for an unlawful drug sale to occur there must be knowledge on the part of a person that the transfer involves a controlled substance.2  A person can commit the offense of sales directly with another, or use a third party, or an agent to accomplish the act.3

Usually claiming the amount sold is so little that is does not violate the law is not a valid defense in that it has been held a controlled substance of, “less than 1/17 of an aspirin tablet,” is sufficient. “The presence of a narcotic in a minute amount or in fragmentary form,” is enough, it is only where the small quantity “is in a completely different form, unrecognizable as a narcotic except by the scientific measurement,[or] detection and skill of a forensic chemist,” that the evidence is insufficient to show knowledge without other incriminating circumstances.4

In the same sense that a legal possession of a drug can become unlawful, so may a lawful possession be followed by an illegal sale. A doctor or pharmacist may acquire narcotics lawfully and prescribe or dispense them lawfully, but under certain circumstances may be guilty of an illegal sale. This is the case where a physician sold morphine to someone without a medical examination, and keep no records of the sale, or medical records concerning the person or patient;5  or a pharmacist sold a controlled substance without a prescription;6  or a physician sold a controlled substance without a legitimate medical purpose.7

However, a physician only providing a prescription for a control substance without a legitimate medical purpose, even though a fee is paid for that prescription, but without the transfer of drugs, does not constitute a sale although it would likely fall within other statutes involving unprofessional conduct by a physician.8

Furnishing, Administering, or Giving away a controlled substance does not require a sale or the tender of anything of value. A person who is legally in possession of a controlled substance but gives it to another violates this offense.9  Where a group of individuals purchases a controlled substance for the use of all the members of the group as equal partners, for their own personal use, dividing it among them is not furnishing or administering a controlled substance to another.10






1 People v. Daniels (1975) 14 C.3d 857, 859; People v. Lazenby (1992) 6 C.A.4th 1842, 1845; People v. Peck (1996) 52 C.A.4th 351, 357, 361.
2 Rideout v. Superior Court (1967) 67 C.2d 471, 474.
3 People v. Shephard (1959) 175 C.A.2d 297, 301; People v. Lampkin (1960) 183 C.A.2d 102, 105.
4 People v. Wilson (1965) 235 C.A.2d 267
5 People v. Kinsley (1931) 118 C.A. 593, 601
6 People v. Gelardi (1946) 77 C.A.2d 467
7 Perzik v. Superior Court (1991) 2 C.A.4th 898, 899
8 Baker v. Superior Court (1972) 24 C.A.3d 124
9 People v. Castro (1959) 167 C.A.2d 332, 335
10 People v. Edwards (1985) 39 C.3d 107, 113; People v. Mayfield (1964) 225 C.A.2d 263, 266.