- Law Breakdown
California has some of the nation’s most contradictory marijuana laws, and easily the most chaotic. The drug is decriminalized for personal use and legal for medical use, while non-medical sale, delivery, and cultivation are all crimes. Hash and concentrates are also banned, as is paraphernalia.
California Marijuana Attorneys
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Yet the state’s medical cannabis laws are so vague the drug is easy to get and practically legal. California is a strong bet for legalization in coming years.
California was the first state to enact medical cannabis, in 1996, but the law’s limits remain unclear. Patients with a wide array of health problems are allowed to buy marijuana after obtaining a doctor’s recommendation. There are few other rules under state law, and local ordinances vary widely, so the drug is easier to get in some areas than in others.
Possession of cannabis for personal, recreational use is an infraction if the amount is less than 28.5 grams (roughly 1 ounce). The top penalty is a civil fine of $100.
An adult over the age of 18 who possesses 28.5 grams or less on school grounds commits a misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of 10 days in jail and $500 in fines. Possession of 28.5 grams or less by a minor under age 18 is also a misdemeanor and carries a maximum sentence of 10 days in a juvenile detention facility and $250.
Possession of more than 28.5 grams of marijuana is likewise a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and $500 in fines. Possession of any amount with intent to distribute it is a felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of 16 months in prison and a maximum of three years.
Sale and Delivery
It is technically a misdemeanor to give up to 28.5 grams to another person without payment, but the only penalty is a $100 fine. Any other sale or delivery of marijuana is a felony and carries a penalty of two to four years in prison.
Giving any amount of cannabis to a minor between the ages of 14 and 17 is a felony when the giver is 18 or older and is punishable by between three and five years in prison. If the child is younger than 14, the penalty is three to seven years in prison. The same punishment applies when an adult 18 or older sells or tries to sell marijuana to any minor under 18.
Medical marijuana patients are allowed to grow the drug, but non-medical cultivation of any amount is a felony. The mandatory minimum penalty is 16 months in prison while the maximum is three years.
Hash and Concentrates
Non-medical possession of hashish, hash oil, or other cannabis concentrates is an unclassified offense punishable by up to one year in jail and $500 in fines. Unauthorized manufacture carries a penalty of between 16 months and three years in prison, plus a $500 fine. Use of chemicals to manufacture concentrates can be punished by between three and seven years in prison and $50,000 in fines.
Marijuana paraphernalia possession is legal in California, but it is a crime to sell paraphernalia, deliver it, possess it with intent to sell it, or manufacture it with intent. Any such offense is a misdemeanor and is punishable by at least 15 days in jail and as many as six months, plus a $500 fine.
Any paraphernalia offense involving a minor at least three year younger than the offender is also a misdemeanor, but the maximum penalty increases to one year in jail and $1,000.
It is a felony, punishable by between three and seven years in prison, to use a minor in the illegal sale or transport of marijuana. Inducing a minor to use the drug is also a felony punishable by three to seven years in prison.
An additional fine of up to $150 is levied against offenders who violate the California Uniform Controlled Substances Act. This is the law that classifies and bans certain categories of legally controlled drugs.
Just as it is illegal to smoke cannabis in public, it is a misdemeanor to loiter in a public place with intent to commit certain violations of the California Uniform Controlled Substances Act. Violations of that law can be punished by suspension of driving privileges, among other penalties.
California became the first state in the US to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana when the law was approved by ballot initiative on Nov. 6, 1996 by 56% of voters. The new law removes the criminal penalties for the use, possession and cultivation of cannabis for patients who possess a “written or oral recommendation” from a physician.
Qualifying conditions– Anorexia, Arthritis, Cachexia, Cancer, Chronic Pain, HIV/AIDS, Glaucoma, Migraine, Persistent Muscle Spasms, Severe Nausea, Seizures, and any other debilitating illness where the medicinal use of marijuana was been “deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician”
Patient possession limits –No possession limits specified
Home cultivation – Yes, but no cultivation limits are specified
State-licensed dispensaries – No, but some cities locally regulate dispensaries
Caregivers – Yes – a primary caregiver is an individual who has consistently assumed responsibility for the health, housing or safety of a qualified patient. Unless the caregiver is the parent of a qualified patient, caregivers must be 18 years of age or older.
Reciprocity – No
Contact information – For more information on California’s medical marijuana law, contact:
2261 Market Street #278A
San Francisco, CA 94144
For detailed information on county or municipal medical marijuana guidelines, please visit:
For a list of California doctors who recommend medical cannabis, please visit:
For a list of California medical cannabis providers, please visit:
|28.5 grams or less||infraction||N/A||$100|
|28.5 grams or less, over 18 years, and occurred on school grounds||misdemeanor||10 days||$500|
|28.5 grams or less, under 18 years||misdemeanor||10 days*||$250|
|More than 28.5 grams||misdemeanor||6 mos||$500|
|With Intent to Distribute|
|Any amount||felony||16 mos - 3 years||$0|
|Sale or Delivery|
|Any amount||felony||2 - 4 years||$0|
|Gift of 28.5 grams or less||misdemeanor||N/A||$100|
|Over 18 years to an individual 14-17 years||felony||3 - 7 years||$0|
|Any amount||felony||16 mos - 3 years||$0|
|Hash & Concentrates|
|Unauthorized manufacture||N/A||16 mos - 3 years||$500|
|Chemical manufacture||N/A||3 - 7 years||$50,000|
|Sale, delivery, possession with intent, and manufacture with intent||misdemeanor||15 days - 6 mos||$500|
|Involving a minor at least 3 years junior||misdemeanor||1 year||$1,000|
|Vehicles and other property may be seized for controlled substance violations.|
|Using a minor in the unlawful sale or transport of marijuana is a felony punishable by 3-7 years imprisonment. Inducing a minor to use marijuana is also a felony punishable by 3-7 years imprisonment.|
|Any violation of the California Uniform Controlled Substances Act results in a fine up to $150.|
|A person who participates in the illegal marketing of marijuana is liable for civil damages.|
|It is a misdemeanor to loiter in a public place with the intent to commit certain controlled substances offenses.|
|A controlled substance conviction can result in suspension of driving privileges.|
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