Guide to California's Marijuana Laws

As of January 1, 2011, possession of one ounce (28.5 gms) or less of marijuana is an infraction, punishable by a maximum $100 fine (plus fees) with no criminal record under Ca Health & Safety Code 11357b. With added fees, the cost can be as high as $485.

(Prior to 2011, possession of one ounce or less of marijuana was a misdemeanor, but convictions under this section are expunged from the record after two years under Health and Safety Code Sections 11361.5 and 11361.7.)

Possession of larger amounts of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to $500 and six months is jail under Health & Safety Code 11357c. As of November 5, 2014, due to the passage of Prop. 47 in California, possession of hashish or concentrated cannabis is a misdemeanor under Health & Safety Code 11357a.

Under Prop. 36 first- and second- time possession-only offenders may demand a treatment program instead of jail. Upon successful completion of the program, their conviction is erased. Possession (and personal use cultivation) offenders can also avoid conviction by making a preguilty plea under Penal Code 1000, in which case their charges are dismissed upon successful completion of a diversion program.

Possession of one ounce or less in a vehicle while driving may also be charged under Vehicle Code 23222, which is treated identically to HSC 11357 b.

No arrest or imprisonment is allowed for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. However, police often get around this provision by charging minor offenders with felony intent to sell (see below).

Marijuana defined. "Marijuana means all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of the plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant, its seeds, or its resin. It does not include the mature stalks of the plant, fiber produced from the stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of the plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the mature stalks (except the resin extracted therefrom), fiber, oil, or cake, or the steilized seed of the plant which is incapable of germination" (H&SC 11018).

Possession with intent to sell any amount of marijuana is a felony under Health and Safety Code 11359. Police often charge intent to sell if they see such indicia as: scales, cash, multiple packages, "commercial" packaging materials, "excessive" quantity, pay-owe seets, address books, pagers, etc.

Cultivation of any amount of marijuana is a felony under Health and Safety Code 11358. People who grow for personal use are eligible for diversion under Penal Code 1000 so long as there is no evidence of intent to sell. There are no fixed plant number limits to personal use cultivation.

Medical marijuana: Medical patients and their designated primary caregivers may legally possess and cultivate (but not distribute or sell) marijuana under Health and Safety Code 11362.5 (Prop 215) if they have a physician's recommendation or approval. State law SB420, now codified as California Health & Safety code sections 11362.7-11362.83, set a state threshold of 6 mature OR 12 immature plants per patient, allowing locals to pass higher allowances (many cities and counties have local ordinances with zoning regulations). Read more on medical marijuana laws.

Sale, transportation or distribution of marijuana is a felony under Health and Safety Code Sections 11360. Transporting or giving away one ounce or less is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum $100 fine.

Sale or distribution to minors is a felony under Health and Safety Code 11361.

Marijuana paraphernalia are illegal to sell or manufacture, but not possess, under Health and Safety Code 11364. All marijuana paraphernalia are subject to seizure by the police.

Driving suspension for minors: Any minor (age under 21) convicted of any marijuana, alcohol, or other drug offense faces a 12-month drivers license suspension, regardless of whether the offense was driving-related. The court may allow restricted license privileges if the minor demonstrates a "critical need to drive." Vehicle Code 13202.5. (Note: This penalty can be avoided by entering a diversion program).

Driving under the influence: It is unlawful to drive while under the influence of marijuana (or alcohol or any other drug) by Vehicle Code 23152. "Under the influence" is not specifically defined in the statute, but is interpreted to imply some degree of impairment. Therefore the mere fact of having taken a toke of marijuana does not necessarily mean one is DUI. For evidence of impairment, officers may administer a field sobriety test. Arrestees may also be required to submit to their choice of a urine or blood test under Vehicle Code 23612. Since marijuana is detectable for much longer periods in urine than in blood (several days vs. several hours), a positive urine test constitutes much weaker proof of recent use and impairment than a positive blood test. If you haven't smoked marijuana recently and are not under the influence, you are better off to choose a blood test, since you will probably pass it. However, if you are a chronic smoker or have smoked recently, you are better off to choose a urine test; even though you can expect to test positive, the question will at least remain open as to whether you were actually "under the influence" at time of arrest.

Marijuana in a Vehicle: Drivers found in possession of less than one ounce of marijuana in their vehicle are liable for a maximum $100 misdemeanor fine under Vehicle Code 23222 (larger amounts are punishable under H&SC 11357(a) and 11359).

Forfeiture: Unlike federal law, California law requires a conviction for forfeiture of property involved in a drug crime. Also unlike federal law, state law does not permit forfeiture of personal real estate for marijuana cultivation. Vehicles may be forfeited only if 10 pounds or more of marijuana is involved. Health and Safety Code 11470.

California Law search full text of codes: www.leginfo.ca.gov/calaw.html

Federal Law: Marijuana is also illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Federal charges are typically brought only in large cases where commercial distribution is suspected (e.g., cultivation of several hundred plants).

Medical marijuana patients are not protected while on federal park land or forest land in California. CalNORML has received reports of campers and those driving through federal land who are searched, charged with federal possession statutes, and had their medicine confiscated. A California medical recommendation is not a defense in federal court to these charges.

Text of the Controlled Substances Act.