Guide to Marijuana Drug Possession Laws in California
What is interesting to note about marijuana laws in California is that they saw a dramatic change when its possession (under 28 grams) was decriminalized and marijuana for medical use was actually legalized under Proposition 215 of Compassionate Use Act. This Act was enacted by voters and came into full effect on 6th November, 1996. In addition to this, the SB420, also related to marijuana laws, went into effect 1st of January 2004. According to the SB420, which supplements the 215 Proposition, patients who need to use medical marijuana can form ‘cooperatives’ or ‘collectives’ to cultivate medical marijuana. While limits were established on the amount that can be possessed or cultivated, patients were guaranteed protection if they were following all guidelines.
Now, possession of marijuana is similar to getting a traffic ticket without any possibility of serving time in jail. However, if a person is caught possessing more than 28 grams of marijuana, with the intent to sell or cultivate non-medical marijuana; these are all still considered serious offenses and if convicted, come with possible jail time.
For medical marijuana to be allowed protection under California’s medical marijuana laws, one either has to be a patient or a valid primary caregiver. For the former category, you need to have a doctor’s written recommendation or approval for marijuana use. The written recommendation may even include a suggestion or approval for cultivating marijuana for medical use. Normally, a doctor may formally recommend medical marijuana for a person for serious medical illnesses such as anorexia, arthritis, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, cancer, seizure, migraines or any other condition that causes chronic pain or nausea.
Basic Marijuana Laws in California
Possessing marijuana of up to 28.5 grams is considered an infraction with a fine of up to $100 and this record is expunged after a couple of years with no jail time. If however, you are caught with marijuana of over 28.5 grams then that can spell real trouble for you. Possessing marijuana on school grounds (K-12) is also an offense as is possession of marijuana in its concentrated form. In this case, the offender can face jail time of up to 6 months with a fine of $500 or even both. Possessing marijuana in concentrated form may lead to prison time of up to one year or a fine of $500 or both. Concentrated marijuana is basically separated resin from the marijuana plant, also called ‘hash’. For non-medical users, there is greater punishment and penalties associated with concentrated marijuana which is especially true for possessing concentrated marijuana with the intention of selling. Except for simple possession, all offenses involving concentrated marijuana are considered felonies. Cultivating concentrated marijuana can be considered an offense of chemical extraction of a controlled substance that comes with a fine of $50,000 and 3, 5 or 7 years in state prison.
If the offender happens to be over 18 years of age and carried marijuana under 28.5 grams, then this is a misdemeanor and not a serious crime with a possible fine of $500. If the offender is under 18 and was found in possession of marijuana under 28.5 grams on school property, it is still a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $250. But this is valid for the first offense; if the person is caught in the same situation again, they will have to pay a fine up to $500 or up to 10 days under the juvenile home program. This reflects the extent to which marijuana laws have been relaxed in the state of California.
Nevertheless, possession with the intent to sell come with more serious penalties. For instance, imprisonment for selling or transporting marijuana in the state prison can be anywhere between 2 to 4 years. If the amount of marijuana in this case is under 28.5 grams, it may still be considered a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $100. But this crime becomes far more serious if an adult tries to involve a minor. For example, adults who give or sell marijuana to minors under 14 or who try to use them in preparing, transporting, selling or peddling any amount of marijuana, will have to face prison time of 3, 5 or 7 years. And if the minor was older than 14 years, then the offending adult may be facing prison time of 3, 4 or 5 years.
Driving with Marijuana
Driving with possession of marijuana of up to 28.5 grams is also still a crime according to California’s Vehicle Code 23222 (b) VC. This crime is considered an infraction with a fine of up to $100. But it is important to mention that this offense is separate from and in addition to the offense of possession of marijuana under the California Health and Safety Code 11357 HS.
First and second time offenders of California’s marijuana possession laws who either simply possessed the drug or cultivated it for personal use may be eligible for a drug treatment program instead of jail time. These programs can either be Deferred entry of judgement (DEJ) or Proposition 36.
Even though, in the past years, marijuana laws in California have been softened, it may still be easy for one to find themselves in a serious offense relating to marijuana possession. It is important not only to understand the implications of all California laws pertaining to drug possession but also to reach out to an experienced attorney in case you have been charged with a drug related offense. Legal expertise can help minimize your fines and possible jail time and in fact, many experienced attorneys might be able to have your jail sentence substituted with a drug treatment program. In any case, drug laws may not be constant across time or across a variety of situations so conducting independent thorough research with legal help can be of paramount importance.