In recent history, California has led the country in making changes to marijuana laws. From decriminalization and medical marijuana use to legalization of recreational use, California's marijuana laws have changed rapidly. This change has led to a series of complex laws and regulations in the state. Understanding these laws can help Californians and visitors alike.
History of California Marijuana Laws
The Golden State has a long history with cannabis laws. In 1913, California became the first state in the country to ban marijuana. In 1972, Californians attempted to legalize the substance, but the measure failed.
Just a few years later, in 1976, the state reclassified the possession of cannabis from a felony to a misdemeanor. Cities throughout the Golden State then passed various measures regarding marijuana. For example, Berkeley made it the lowest priority for law enforcement in 1979, and San Francisco legally recognized marijuana's medicinal properties in 1992.
When Cannabis Became Legal
In 1996, California voters passed a measure to legalize medical marijuana. In 2010, the governor signed SB 1449. This law made it an infraction, rather than a misdemeanor, to possess less than an ounce of marijuana without a prescription. The same year, a proposition to legalize marijuana for adults over 21 failed at the ballot box.
Perhaps the most sweeping change to marijuana laws in California came during the 2016 election. Voters passed Proposition 64, which legalized the substance for personal use for adults over the age of 21. These laws went into effect on January 1, 2018.
California Marijuana Laws on Possession
With the new laws in effect, it is now legal for people in California to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana under certain circumstances. One ounce of cannabis is roughly enough for a few dozen joints. People in California may also carry up to 8 grams of concentrated cannabis, such as those used in marijuana edibles.
People can legally possess marijuana only if they are over the age of 21. Adults between the ages of 18 and 21 who are found with 1 ounce of marijuana or 8 grams of concentrate face an infraction. Adults of any age who possess more than the legal limits of cannabis face penalties of up to six months in county jail and/or fines of up to $500.
It remains illegal for people in California to possess marijuana in certain places. For example, as long as children are present, people cannot have cannabis on the grounds of schools, daycares or youth centers.
Read More: Possession of Marijuana: California Laws & Penalties
Buying Marijuana in California
It's important to note that people in California cannot simply buy marijuana from dealers on the street. Instead, legal users must purchase their cannabis from state-licensed vendors. Buyers must present valid identification and can only purchase marijuana between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
People who have prescriptions for marijuana do not have to pay taxes on their cannabis, as with other medicines. However, distributors must charge recreational users with appropriate taxes, and most distributors only take cash.
Growing Cannabis in California
Not only did new laws legalize personal marijuana use for of-age adults, but it also allows such individuals to grow their own marijuana plants. People who are over the age of 21 can cultivate up to six marijuana plants for their personal use. Anyone who wants to grow more plants needs a license.
All plants must be cultivated in secured areas. Depending on local regulations, this secure area may be indoors or outdoors. Growing more than six plants is a misdemeanor for most people. However, defendants with certain criminal records may face more serious charges:
- Serious felony convictions.
- Violating California environmental laws when growing the marijuana.
- Two or more previous convictions of the same crime.
- Being on the list of registered sex offenders.
Such defendants may be charged with felonies. People between 18 and 21 who grow any marijuana plants are charged with infractions.
Where Can You Use Marijuana?
California marijuana users may only consume cannabis in certain situations. In most cases, the law requires people to consume marijuana in the privacy of their homes. However, there are some designated places in which people may smoke marijuana or consume edibles.
A few places around the state have opened up to welcome marijuana users. However, when users are not in their private homes, they should assume it is unlawful to smoke marijuana unless otherwise stated. For example, it remains illegal to smoke cannabis in public buildings, on college campuses and in restaurants.
Driving and Marijuana in California
Drivers are not permitted to consume marijuana while driving. This prohibition includes smoking marijuana and eating goods made with cannabis. Drivers are also barred from driving with open containers of cannabis.
California marijuana laws prohibit people from driving while under the influence of cannabis, regardless of whether the person has a prescription. People must wait until the effects of marijuana have worn off before they drive.
Possible penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana vary depending on many circumstances. For a first offense, a defendant may face up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, a suspended license and/or up to nine months of driving school.
Landlords, Employers and Marijuana
Although law enforcement allows people to consume marijuana under certain circumstances, landlords and employers can continue to ban the substance completely. While users may not get in trouble with the law for smoking marijuana in their homes, landlords may evict renters for this behavior.
Proposition 64 specifically states that employers can continue to make marijuana policies for their employees. Furthermore, a state supreme court case found that employers can fire people for marijuana consumption regardless of what the state law says.
Prior Convictions for Marijuana in California
Marijuana legalization in California not only affected future marijuana laws, but there are also implications for people with prior convictions. The law allows people who would have had lesser or no convictions under the law to petition the court.
For example, consider the case of someone who has a misdemeanor conviction for possessing less than 1 ounce of marijuana prior to 2018. This behavior would not have been illegal under the new law, so such a person could petition the court to have his conviction removed from the record.
People with felony records of marijuana possession can also file for resentencing. In some cases, people have been released from prison because their conviction was downgraded to a misdemeanor. This downgrade may also make it easier for a person to find employment.
Federal Marijuana Laws
Although California passed legalization at the state level, federal marijuana laws continue to prohibit the use of the substance. As such, federal prosecutors can charge people in California with possession of marijuana. This applies even when people are of age and follow all state marijuana laws.
Possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor under federal law and carries a penalty of a fine of up to $1,000. People involved in selling marijuana may face a penalty of up to five years in prison and/or up to $1 million in fines under federal law. Growing up to 50 marijuana plants is also considered a felony with a penalty of up to five years in prison and/or $250,000 in fines.
As such, people should avoid possessing cannabis on federal property within the state. This includes federally backed housing, national parks and buildings owned by the federal government.
- NBC Bay Area: Timeline: Marijuana Legalization in California
- California Government: Cannabis Regulations
- Find Law: California Marijuana Laws
- Find Law: California Drug Possession Laws
- PolitiFact: Pot 101: Facts You Should Know About California’s Legal Marijuana
- Shouse Law: Health & Safety Code Section 11358 HS - Cultivation of Marijuana in California
- Shouse Law: DUI of Marijuana - Laws, Penalties, Defenses
- Find Law: Federal Marijuana Laws
Mackenzie Maxwell has always been interested in law, working with legal issues since 2010. She served in Congress for some time, as part of the communications team for Silvestre Reyes and helped constituents understand the laws on the House floor. She stayed active in local politics to understand the laws that govern her area. As a writer, Mackenzie has worked with several lawyers to create thoughtful, helpful content.