Is Cocaine Hydrochloride the Same As Cocaine Base (Criminal Law) ?

In People v. Howell (1990) 226 Cal.App.3d 254, the defendant was charged with possessing cocaine base for sale. at trial, the evidence established that the substance was cocaine hydrochloride. The prosecutor argued that the defendant should be convicted of possessing cocaine for the purposes of sale. No reference to cocaine base was made in the instructions. Defendant was convicted of possessing cocaine base for sale. On appeal, the defendant argued that his conviction should be reversed because there was no evidence that cocaine base was found when his residence was searched. He also argued that his conviction could not be reduced to a lesser and necessarily included offense because possessing cocaine for sale is not a lesser and necessarily included offense of possession of cocaine base for sale. In considering this contention, the appellate court first reasoned that cocaine hydrochloride is not the same as cocaine base. In so doing, it noted that "Despite the difference between cocaine base, crack, or rock on one hand and cocaine hydrochloride on the other hand, both substances are still cocaine. Both base and hydrochloride are different 'isomers' of cocaine. Many chemicals including cocaine have different isomers, which means that they possess 'two or more distinct compounds of the same molecular formula, each molecule possessing an identical number of atoms of each element but in different arrangement.' (Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dict. (25th ed. 1974) p. 802.) Stated differently, isomers are 'related compounds that have the same molecular formula but different three dimensional structures.' (The Sloane-Dorland Annot. Medical-Legal Dict., op. cit. supra, p. 391.) Cocaine has as many as eight different isomers or molecular structures ( United States v. Fince (4th Cir. 1982) 670 F.2d 1356, 1358) and cocaine base is merely an isomer of cocaine. ( U. S. v. Pierce (5th Cir. 1990) 893 F.2d 669, 676.) Suffice to note, cocaine base is not cocaine hydrochloride although both substances are cocaine. In the present case, the sheriff's department chemist testified that the contraband was cocaine hydrochloride. There was no testimony that defendant possessed cocaine base. Because there was no substantial evidence defendant possessed cocaine base, he may not be convicted and sentenced pursuant to Health and Safety Code section 11351.5." ( People v. Howell, supra, 226 Cal.App.3d at p. 261.)