Everyone knows that it's illegal to possess controlled substances or to operate vehicles under the influence of those substances, but is it illegal to simply have drugs in your system in public? Short answer: Yes.
This weekend, Las Vegas is hosting Electric Daisy Carnival, the world's largest electronic music festival. While many people enjoy electronic music while sober, others seek to enhance their EDC experience through the use of illegal drugs, most notably MDMA ("ecstasy"). MDMA is an empathogenic drug that can cause feelings of euphoria and create a sense of intimacy with others, and many users of this drug consider it essential to their full enjoyment of trance, techno, house, and other forms of electronic music, especially in the festival setting.
Las Vegas Metro maintains a strong presence at EDC, and obviously, anyone found to be in possession of illegal drugs is subject to arrest and prosecution. But what about ravers who simply take a pill or two before heading out to enjoy the music at EDC? As it turns out, these individuals are subject to arrest as well.
Under Nevada law, NRS 453.411(1), it is illegal for a person to "use or be under the influence of a controlled substance except in accordance with a lawfully issued prescription." In other words, this law makes it illegal not just to possess illegal drugs, but simply to have those drugs in your system at all. A violation of NRS 453.411 is a category E felony, punishable by 1 to 4 years in Nevada prison. The good news is that category E felonies are mandatory probation offenses, meaning that the court cannot impose a prison sentence for a first offense. Additionally, a criminal defense attorney can often negotiate felony possession charges to misdemeanors or have them dismissed after paying a fine or completing an online drug counseling class.
Prosecution under NRS 453.411 is rare, however. People who are under the influence of drugs in public are far more likely to be arrested and prosecuted under misdemeanor statutes that prohibit "disorderly conduct" and the like.
Specifically, Clark County Code Title 12, Chapter 12.33, prohibits, among other things, committing "a breach of the peace" or "Interfer[ing] with, annoy[ing], accost[ing] or harass[ing] any other person which conduct by its nature would tend to incite a disturbance." And NRS 203.010 states that "[e]very person who shall by word, sign or gesture willfully provoke, or attempt to provoke, another person to commit a breach of the peace shall be guilty of a misdemeanor." Misdemeanors are punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. These laws are broadly defined and enforced to allow police to arrest many people who are acting at all "out of the ordinary" in public.
The bottom line is that there are several laws in place that allow law enforcement to arrest and prosecute individuals who are using or under the influence of drugs in public.