In the state of California, cannabis is legal for adults aged 21 and older. There are, however, laws in place to ensure regulation of both medical and recreational use. These laws affect possession, use, cultivation and consumption of marijuana. In such cases where someone is found to have broken these laws, it is best to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

Marijuana Laws in California

For more than 25 years, California has passed progressive legislation regarding medical and recreational marijuana use. In passing Proposition 215 in 1996, it became the first state to allow medical marijuana use under a regulated system. Twenty years later, Proposition 64 extended the use of marijuana to personal consumption and cultivation. In 2018, it became legal to sell marijuana for recreational use with express licensing.

Proposition 64 enacted the Adult Use of Marijana Act (AUMA). In addition to outlining recreational use, the AUMA set legal limits for consumption and commercial distribution; these limits vary by intent. The legal ramifications of exceeding such limits can range from infractions and misdemeanors for possession to felony charges for sale and delivery crimes.

Senate Bill No. 65 amended sections 23220 and 23221 of the California Vehicle Code. The amendments extended the infractions for driving or being a passenger in a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol to now include the influence of marijuana.

All details for legal use of both recreational and medical cannabis in California are written in the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA). This article will explain the legal consequences of breaking California cannabis laws and possible legal defenses to prepare and defend your case with Grant Bettencourt.

NOTE: While marijuana is legal in the state of California, all local governments, employers, and landlords retain the right to prohibit use and enforce restrictions and punishments for violations.

Possession and Use of Cannabis

Adults aged 21 years and over can possess and use no more than 28.5 grams of marijuana or eight grams of concentrated marijuana (hashish). It is illegal for anyone under 21 to possess or use marijuana. Anyone under 21 who is found in possession of marijuana will be charged with an infraction. Infraction penalties for anyone aged 18 to 20 is a fine. Penalties for anyone under 18 include drug counseling and community service.

Marijuana consumption must occur in the user’s own residence or an establishment that allows for legal use. It is illegal to possess marijuana on any K-through-12 school grounds. The use of marijuana while operating a vehicle can result in license suspensions or the forfeiture of the user’s vehicle. Residents can possess, cultivate, and process up to six marijuana plants and retain the product as long as it does not exceed the 28.5-gram legal limit. 

In the case of medicinal marijuana, patients and their caregivers can cultivate up to six mature plants or 12 immature plants and possess up to eight ounces of dried marijuana.

Penalties and Infractions for Recreational Use

The most common penalties for possession and use infractions include:

  • Possession by a minor under 18 years of age: Infraction – up to four hours of drug education or counseling and up to 10 hours of community service
  • Possession by an adult aged 18 to 20: Infraction – $100 fine
  • Possession on school property by anyone over 18 years of age: Misdemeanor – $250 fine for first offense; $500 fine and 10 days incarceration for subsequent offense
  • Possession exceeding 28.5 grams: Misdemeanor – six months incarceration, $500 fine
  • Intent to distribute any amount: Misdemeanor – six months imprisonment in county jail, $500 fine
  • Cultivation of more than six plants: Misdemeanor – six months incarceration, $500 fine
  • Possession of more than eight grams of concentrated marijuana: Misdemeanor – six months incarceration in county jail, $500 fine
  • Sale or transportation of marijuana without required licenses: Misdemeanor – six months incarceration in county jail, $500 fine
  • Inducing use by a minor: Felony – three to seven years incarceration

Reference: California Marijuana Possession Laws (Health & Safety Code HS 11357 B, 11360 HS, 11358 HS)

Potential penalties of a Marijuana DUI include:

  • Up to six months in county jail
  • Max fine of $1000
  • Suspension of user’s driver’s license for up to six months
  • Mandated completion of a DUI program

There are increased penalties with subsequent DUI convictions within a 10-year period. Additionally, a marijuana DUI can involve a felony charge in cases where:

  • The DUI resulted in an accident where someone was injured or killed
  • The driver had three or more previous DUI offenses in the previous 10 years
  • The driver was convicted of a felony within the previous 10 years

Legal Defenses For Possession of Marijuana in California

A prosecutor and a judge may agree to an informal diversion for a possession offense of more than one ounce. This avoids any plea in exchange for another agreement. Agreements typically include drug treatment or narcotics anonymous, community service and/or fines. The case is then dropped without prosecution.

When an informal diversion is denied, another alternative to pleading guilty is a formal diversion. In this case, the consequences include California drug courts, Proposition 36 and Deferred Entry of Judgment which emphasize drug treatment over punishment. Such deals typically result in the dismissal of charges once treatment and any other terms are successfully agreed upon.

Other defenses for possession charges include:

  • The marijuana is for your personal recreational use
  • The marijuana is medicinal
  • The marijuana was not for sale
  • The marijuana was found during an illegal search or seizure

The aforementioned strategies depend on the facts of your case and local authorities and courts with jurisdiction over your charge. If you’re looking for a skilled Orange County criminal defense, schedule a consultation with Grant Bettencourt today.