California Marijuana Laws: Possession and Age Restrictions

The person smoking marijuana joint outdoors. Cannabis joint in the hand
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Today, it seems as if marijuana is everywhere in California. Business owners are growing it up north, while down south, pot dispensaries and delivery services are popping up left and right. While simple possession of marijuana once meant a possible jail sentence of several years, marijuana usage has now become nearly as prevalent as alcohol use in the Golden State.

Even though the laws for possession of marijuana have relaxed, restrictions still exist as to the amount of marijuan_a you can possess and how _old you must be to legally possess it.

Before you purchase medical marijuana for a physical or mental illness, you may first want to learn a bit about the laws as to the use of the drug as well as how those laws came to be.

The History of Marijuana Usage

Marijuana wasn’t always so common in California, in part, because the laws for possessing it were once much harsher. Although today California is a leader in marijuana legalization across the United States, in the early 1900s, it was one of the first states to ban the sale of the drug, along with the sale of morphine, cocaine and opium.

By 1930, if an individual had a second offense of possession of marijuana on their record, they could spend a maximum of 10 years in jail. And then by 1954, if an individual sold marijuana, they could go to prison for up to 15 years and had to wait at least three years before even becoming eligible for parole.

Moving Toward Legalization

In 1964, things began to change. When a young man was arrested for possessing marijuana, his lawyer established an organization called LeMar, which stood for “Legalize Marijuana.” Through it, he organized legalization demonstrations in San Francisco's Union Square. It was the first marijuana legalization program in the United States. In 1972, California attempted to legalize marijuana with the passage of Proposition 19, but the law didn’t have enough public support to pass.

A few years later, in 1975, Senate Bill 95 passed, which changed the law so that possession of an ounce or less of marijuana was only a misdemeanor, and the person who possessed it could not go to jail. The punishment was a $100 fine.

In the early 1990s, the citizens of San Francisco began to try to legalize medical marijuana. Nearly 80 percent of voters approved Proposition P, which allowed the sale of medical marijuana. In 1992, the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club was established, and it sold marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Legalization for Medical Purposes

Only four years later, in November of 1996, 55.6 percent of the residents in California voted to legalize weed for medical purposes through Proposition 215. California became the first state to allow people to use it for medical conditions. Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger passed Senate Bill 1449 in 2010, which ruled that possession of marijuana that weighed under an ounce was a civil infraction and a misdemeanor. That same year, voters did not vote Proposition 19 into law, which would have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

Legalization for Recreational Use

In 2012 and 2013, Washington and Colorado voted to legalize weed for recreational use. And then, shortly thereafter, in November of 2016, 57 percent of California residents voted yes on Prop 64, which legalized the selling and distribution of the drug in a concentrated and dry form. On January 1, 2018, recreational use of marijuana officially became legal, and the state became the largest legal weed market in the U.S.

Key Marijuana Terms

Before an individual decides to purchase marijuana in California, they should learn some key legal terms. For example, the law talks about grams and ounces of marijuana, which refers to dry marijuana. At dispensaries, this type of marijuana is also called flower, leaf or bud.

Another form of marijuana is a concentrate, which is created through an extraction process. Some concentrates contain more THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient in the plant, while others have more CBD, which is used for therapeutic purposes rather than getting high. For instance, many people use CBD oil to fall asleep at night or feel calm in an anxiety-inducing situation.

Possession of Marijuana Laws in California

Marijuana for recreational use may be legal in California, but if an individual wants to buy it, they need to know the rules. These laws apply to anyone who is smoking, consuming or vaping marijuana.

Current law states that the person purchasing marijuana must be 21 or older. They can legally purchase and possess up to 28.5 grams (about an ounce) of marijuana. They also can possess a maximum of 8 grams of cannabis concentrate and up to six live plants. If it’s growing, it must be kept out of public sight and in a locked area.

If an individual is at least 18 years of age, he can purchase and possess a maximum of 8 ounces of medical marijuana, up to six mature plants, and up to 12 immature plants if he has a physician’s recommendation through California’s medical marijuana program.

Read More: Possession of Marijuana: California Laws & Penalties

Other Marijuana Laws

Even if someone is over 21 years of age and buys marijuana, they cannot give it to anyone underage. They cannot drive while using marijuana or use any type of marijuana in public. For instance, they cannot go to a park and smoke it or eat it while walking around town.

Since the drug is still illegal on a federal level, a person cannot possess marijuana on federal lands throughout California. For example, it's illegal to have it in your possession on Alcatraz Island or the Marin Headlands in San Francisco. While it’s legal to consume marijuana on private property, landlords and business owners have the right to ban it.

Marijuana Laws When Crossing State Lines

Someone crossing state lines cannot be in possession of marijuana, even if it’s legal in another state. However, an individual can travel with it in their car throughout California, as long as it’s in the trunk or in a completely sealed container.

If a person is going to California but she is not a resident of the state, she can still purchase marijuana as long as she has a valid driver’s license or federal or state ID that proves she is of the legal age to buy and possess it.

Medical Marijuana Laws

A person who wants to be able to buy and possess medical marijuana must be at least 18 years old. Patients who are younger than age 18 must have parental consent to use medical marijuana. Only patients who are at least 18 years old and who have a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana may enter a licensed dispensary. If you do not have a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana, you must be at least 21 years old to enter a dispensary.

Medical Marijuana Card

If you are eligible, you are not required by California law to have a medical marijuana identification card (MMIC). Participation by patients and primary caregivers in the Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program (MMICP) is voluntary.

Advantages exist, however, in having an MMIC. Cardholders are exempt from paying certain taxes. A card also confirms the holder’s legal right to use medical marijuana.

To apply for a medical marijuana card, you need a recommendation from a physician, as well as a driver’s license or another type of photo ID. You’ll also need proof of residency, such as a utility bill or a rental agreement.

Qualifying Conditions for the MMIC

Qualifying conditions to obtain the Medical Marijuana Identification Card are cancer, migraines, anorexia, arthritis, seizures, severe nausea, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, glaucoma and persistent muscle spasms, such as are associated with multiple sclerosis. If an individual’s condition is not listed, they can go to their doctor and ask if they still qualify for a card.

Legally Selling Marijuana

If you want to sell marijuana, you must first open a business and obtain a license to sell it. You then can sell it at a dispensary or deliver it to your customers. If you sell it without a license, it may result in a misdemeanor charge as well as up to six months in jail and/or fines up to $500.

State law says that businesses may let their customers consume weed on the property, as long as alcohol and tobacco aren’t being used and it occurs in a public area that is age-restricted. However, as of December 2019, not many jurisdictions in California allow entrepreneurs to open up weed cafes, such as those in Amsterdam. Only San Francisco, South Lake Tahoe and Oakland have what are called “consumption lounges.”

Following Local Laws

Even though California state law says one thing, people who want to buy, possess and sell marijuana need to look at their local laws as well. For instance, in Orange, California, people growing it at home can grow it indoors or outdoors, while Buena Park lets people grow it indoors. Plus, if a business owner wants to sell it, they need both a state and local license to do so.

Punishments for Violating Marijuana Laws

You may not go to jail for 20 years now if you're in possession of marijuana, but there are still penalties to face if you’re caught. If an individual is under 21 years of age and doesn't have a medical marijuana card, they may be charged with an infraction for possessing the drug. The penalty is typically community service and drug counseling if defendants are under 18, and a fine of up to $100 if they are 18 or older.

If an individual is 18 or older and is in possession of more than 28.5 grams of marijuana – or more than 8 grams of concentrated marijuana – then they will be charged with a misdemeanor and could serve up to six months in county jail. They will also have to pay up to a $500 fine.

If someone is under 18 years of age and they are caught with more than 28.5 grams of marijuana or more than 8 grams of concentrated marijuana, then they will be charged with an infraction and likely will be required to go through community service and drug counseling.

Marijuana Possession Infractions While at a School

If an individual is 18 and over and has marijuana or concentrated marijuana while at a K-12 school, they will be charged with a misdemeanor and pay up to a $250 fine for a first offense. If they are under 18, they will be charged with an infraction and need to partake in drug counseling and community service.

Following the Laws

Marijuana laws in California may be less strict than other states, but they still should be taken seriously. When purchasing, only go to licensed sellers, possess less than the maximum amount and never give it to someone who is underage.

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