Written by attorney Nicholas Milan Loncar

Marijuana Laws in California

California is often associated with marijuana. While states like Washington and Colorado have legalized even recreational use of the plant, California is considered to be one of the most lenient states regarding marijuana laws. When I worked for the Alternate Public Defender in San Diego, one of my clients was granted probation after being arrested with over 300 pounds of marijuana. Try that in Oklahoma. Possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use is not a serious offense in California. Health and Safety Code 11357(b) makes possessing up to an ounce of marijuana is an infraction, punishable only by a fine of $100. Additionally, loosely-defined medical marijuana laws privilege many Californians to legally possess, and even grow their own marijuana. Still, marijuana cases do make their way to court and marijuana users find themselves charged with a variety of different offenses. POSSESSION OFFENSES Possession of more than one ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor and punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $500 pursuant to HS 11357(c). Possessing any amount of concentrated cannabis (hash, wax, hash oil, etc.) is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $500 (HS 11357(a)). This crime can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony (this will be important below). Possession misdemeanors are often eligible for deferred entry of judgement (DEJ). PC 1000, more often used when other drugs are involved, can help you avoid a conviction for larger amounts of marijuana or any amount of concentrated cannabis. SALE and POSSESSION FOR SALE Possessing any amount of marijuana with the intent to sell it is a felony in California. HS 11359 imposes very harsh punishments for marijuana sales. Someone charged with marijuana sales could get up to 7 years in prison (if sold to a minor under 15), but most people charged with marijuana possession for sale do not end up doing any prison time. Despite the severity of these charges, there are plenty of options to defend you in marijuana sales cases. First, the Fourth Amendment often invalidates searches. Moreover, undercover controlled buys of marijuana often run afoul of entrapment laws. Additionally, proving an intent to sell can be quite difficult for the government to do. Large quantities, scales, money do not automatically mean that marijuana is possessed for sale. Marijuana, like most drugs (or most commodities for that matter), is cheaper when purchased in bulk. Someone buying anything in bulk has an interest in checking the actual weight and may even divide it up to control their own personal use. If getting your sales charge thrown out isn't an option, there is room for plea deals that involve using a lesser charge. For example, DAs will sometimes agree to a felony charge for concentrated cannabis (it is a "wobbler" and can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony) instead of a sales offense. There are several benefits to this. First, the felony can later be reduced to a misdemeanor, helping to keep your record clean (more info on that here: Additionally, not having a drug sales offense is categorically different. Explaining a possession of hash charge is much easier and carries much less stigma than explaining a conviction for marijuana sales. CULTIVATION Growing marijuana, even for personal use, is a felony pursuant to HS 11358. If cultivation is for personal use, it may be eligible for Deferred Entry of Judgment (a delayed dismissal of your case). Marijuana cultivation cases often involve Fourth Amendment search and seizure issues. For example, since 2001, law enforcement officers are not permitted to use thermal imaging devices to detect indoor grow operations, but they are still doing it! Cops have been caught (infra)red-handed falsifying affidavits to get search warrants after scanning a house with unlawful technology. MEDICAL MARIJUANA For over 15 years now, California has permitted medical marijuana patients to use, and even cultivate, marijuana for a wide range of medical issues. HS 11362.7-HS11362.83 provide that patients may possess up to 8 ounces of marijuana or 6 mature plants. Having an up to date doctor's recommendation should protect you from arrest/seizure of your marijuana, but law enforcement officers do not always recognize these letters. Medical marijuana patients can, however, obtain county-issued medical marijuana ID cards that police must respect. Quick Facts: -Medical marijuana patients can get marijuana returned to them if confiscated -Probationers may be able to use medical marijuana while on probation -Medical conditions requiring medical marijuana are confidential -Patients and caregivers may transport medical marijuana -Medical marijuana patients are protected in possessing concentrated cannabis If you have been arrested for a crime involving marijuana, you should speak with an attorney to discuss your rights. OTHER DRUGS For information on California law regarding drugs other than marijuana, please visit:

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