The short answer is yes. Possession of nitrous oxide in California–for recreational, non-medical purposes–is a crime under Penal Code 381b PC.
Many people are surprised to hear this. Nitrous oxide–often referred to as “laughing gas”–is often seen as more of a harmless diversion than “hard” drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine. It is probably less addictive than those substances. It is also widely used in medical and dental offices. And it is not included in the definition of “controlled substances” in California’s Health and Safety Code.
Use of laughing gas as a recreational drug is growing, particularly among teenagers and young people who attend “raves.”
But in fact you can face criminal penalties under PC 381b for doing either of the following:
- Possessing nitrous oxide (in tanks, canisters, balloons, etc.) with the intent to use it for psychotropic purposes; or
- Being under the influence of nitrous oxide, knowingly and intentionally (and not in connection with a legitimate medical, dental or surgical procedure).
Nitrous oxide possession, or being under the influence of nitrous oxide, is a California misdemeanor. This means it can carry a sentence of up to six (6) months in county jail.