Overview of California Marijuana Laws
Possession of Less Than an Ounce (28.5 grams or less) is a misdemeanor punishable only by a fine of up to $100 and additional amounts as court and penalty assessments. In cases where a person possesses a valid identification, a citation requiring appearance in court will be issued without arrest and booking.
Possession For Personal Use (California Health & Safety Code §11357)
Possession of Less Than an Ounce (28.5 grams or less) is a misdemeanor punishable only by a fine of up to $100 and additional amounts as court and penalty assessments
Possession of More Than an Ounce (over 28.5 grams) is also a misdemeanor punishable by up to six (6) months in county jail and a fine of up to $500 plus penalty assessments.
Possession For Sale (California Health & Safety Code §11359)
Possession with intent to sell for benefits such as cash, goods, services or other favors can result in imprisonment in state prison for up to three (3) years and a fine of $10,000.
In California possession with intent to sell can be prosecuted and ultimately proven based on the quantity alone and/or a mere opinion of a police officer that the marijuana was possessed for sale rather than personal use. The testifying officer must qualify as a narcotics expert; however, in practice, the officer’s mere statement that he/she is such an expert is sufficient to make testimony admissible in court.
Often, text messages retrieved from cell phones are the most damaging and incriminating evidence, together with admissions that marijuana was to be exchanged for anything of value. Presence of multiple, small packaged or containers can be more damaging than a single package containing a greater amount of marijuana.
Cultivation (California Health & Safety Code §11358)
In California, it is a felony, punishable by imprisonment of up to three (3) years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000, to plant, cultivate, harvest, dry or process any marijuana. One plant is sufficient for criminal liability although, as described in the medical marijuana laws section of this website, California medical marijuana laws protect qualified patients and primary caregivers. Possession of even a small number of plants alone can be charged and prosecuted as possession with intent to sell.
Transportation, Importation and Distribution (California Health & Safety Code §11360)
Anyone who transports, imports into California, sells or distributes marijuana, by giving it away can be punished by imprisonment in state prison for up to four (4) years.
In cases when a person transports or gives away, or attempts or offers to do so, not more than 28.5 grams of marijuana other than concentrated cannabis (hashish), the offense is a misdemeanor punishable only by a fine of not more than $100.
Sales to Minors or Employment of Minors (California Health & Safety Code §11361)
An adult who (1) hires, employs or uses a minor to unlawfully carry, transport, give away and sell or prepare for sale, (2) distributes or (3) induces a minor under fourteen (14) years of age to use any marijuana, can be sentenced to up to seven (7) years in state prison. If a minor is over fourteen (14) the maximum punishment is five (5) years.
License Suspension Upon Conviction of Drug Related Offenses (California Vehicle Code §13202)
The court may order driver’s license suspension for up to 3 years if a person was convicted of a drug related offense when the use of a motor vehicle was involved in or related to the commission of the offense.
Defendants convicted of first time offense for simple possession for personal use of no more than thirty (30) ounces can avoid adverse immigration consequences, such as deportation or denial of naturalization, by successfully completing a rehabilitation program or probation. Possession of over thirty (30) grams is a deportable offense.
For persons under age 21 a marijuana conviction, including a conviction for simple possession, can result in the loss of a driver’s license for up to 1 year, even if no vehicle or driving was involved when the offense was committed. However, some courts offer youthful offender alternative programs allowing defendants to avoid conviction and loss of license by participating in counseling or education programs and by pleading at some later time to an alternative charge such as “Disturbing the Peace.”
Search and Seizure
Regardless of where the arrest takes place, police can often obtain valid search warrants for the residence or other places if probable cause exists. Evidence found in trash cans left outside the property do not require a warrant and can be grounds for obtaining warrants. Warrant can be obtained if police notice plants from aircraft or from a neighboring property.
Theft of Electricity
Large electric bills incurred as a result of indoor marijuana cultivation, even if the cultivation is perfectly legal under state law, often lead to warrants, searches and busts. Electricity bills are not protected as private information can be obtained without a warrant and can constitute probable cause for a warrant and search.