Marijuana is often considered to be “legal” in California, but this is only partly true. The reality is that marijuana has been decriminalized in stages, and only some recreational and medicinal uses are legal. For adults over 21, it is safe to say that using, possessing or growing small amounts of marijuana should not result in any arrest. However, every year we see countless well-intentioned people break the law without realizing it—and often pay the price. That’s why we’ve created this guide to California’s marijuana laws.
Please be aware that the laws have been changing rapidly, and are often very complex. This guide is not meant to be a substitute for professional legal advice. If you or someone you love has been arrested, let us give you a FREE consultation to discuss your case—and show you how we can help. Fill out the form to the right or call us at 310-997-4688 and get your free consultation today.
Recreational Marijuana Laws in California
Thanks to a voter referendum called Proposition 64, marijuana was decriminalized for personal recreational use in November 2016. This led to an immediate overhaul of many of California’s state laws regarding controlled substances, with amendments to protect marijuana use. The result is that it’s legal to use it if you follow very strict rules.
The most important of these rules are:
You must be at least 21 years of age
You cannot possess more than 1 ounce of the herb/leaf or 8 grams of concentrated cannabis (“wax,” hash oil or vaping materials) at a time
It is still illegal to buy marijuana unless you buy it at a dispensary licensed by the state
Throughout 2017, the state was slow to issue licenses to marijuana shops, and was not required to do so until 2018. Even after that time, getting licensed could be a long slow process for many shops, making it difficult to acquire marijuana legally in many areas.
If you are 21 and over, you do have the option of growing your own marijuana, but this comes with additional rules including:
No household can grow more than 6 plants.
You must secure and enclose your grow. The easiest way to do this is by keeping it inside.
If you do not follow any of these rules, you could still be convicted of a drug crime—even though marijuana is “legal.”
Medical Marijuana in California
Medical marijuana has been legal longer than recreational marijuana. This is good, because it means medicinal users have more resources and dispensaries they can rely on. However, you need a valid medical reason to qualify for this kind of marijuana use, and must have a recommendation from a doctor.
Medical marijuana was first legalized under the state’s Compassionate Use Act of 1996. This law sets several conditions you must meet to be a valid user:
You have a recommendation to use marijuana (verbal or in writing)
from a licensed California physician
to treat a serious medical condition
The easiest way to prove that you meet this requirement is to have a valid medical marijuana ID card. You are not required to have a card to use medical marijuana. However, the card helps you prove immediately to police that your use is valid. It is highly recommended to apply for a card if you have a valid doctor’s recommendation (and to get the recommendation in writing).
Generally, you should follow the same rules for possessing, growing and buying marijuana as recreational users do. However, medical users have slightly more leeway. For example:
Although 1 ounce of leaf or 8 grams of concentrate are the normal limits, you can possess more if it is medically necessary for your own medical use
You can grow 6 matures plants or 12 immature plants, but you could potentially grow more if it’s necessary to supply your reasonable medical needs—usually if the growing conditions means that 12 young plants wouldn’t have a high survival rate
You can buy your marijuana from a licensed medical marijuana dispensary, or a growing collective that cultivates less than 100 plants.
The Compassionate Use Act also gives some rights to your primary caregiver, who may grow or possess the marijuana for you as long as it is strictly for your medical needs.
Because recreational use is now legal, these medical marijuana rules may seem less important—but they’re not. There are many cases where the amount of marijuana you have, or the way you bought it, would be illegal for recreational use but are legal if you are a valid medical user.
Local & Federal Marijuana Laws in California
Even with the statewide decriminalization, every county and town has the right to pass its own local laws about marijuana. You have to know what these rules are and follow them or you can face legal charges. For example, it may be illegal to use marijuana within a certain distance of a school, to grow it in certain neighborhoods, or other obscure rules.
Federal law also presents a problem. Marijuana is still a controlled substance under federal law, and no state law can change that. Among other things, this means that:
It is not legal to take marijuana across state lines, even to (or from) another state where it’s legal
You cannot bring marijuana on airplanes
There is still a risk of facing arrests, raids or criminal charges from federal law enforcement
Most individuals who use small amounts of marijuana have nothing to fear as long as you do not sell it.
When is marijuana NOT legal in California?
Marijuana is illegal in many circumstances:
Underage marijuana use (less than 21 years old)
Marijuana possession if you have more than the legal amount
Marijuana possession for sale (whether you sold it or simply “intended” to sell it)
Marijuana cultivation if it is more than the allowed amount
Concentrated cannabis in large amounts or
Chemical production of a controlled substance if you use butane or another chemical extraction process to make concentrated cannabis
DUI if you are caught driving under the influence of marijuana
Other charges depending on the circumstances
Some of these offenses can charged as felonies and carry long prison sentences. All of them have the potential for at least jail time—but you can fight them. If you or someone you love has been arrested on a marijuana charge, you need to talk to a lawyer.
Talk to a California Marijuana Lawyer for Free
Marijuana is supposed to be legal and you shouldn’t face jail time because of it. Don’t let one arrest ruin years of your life. Let the Simmrin Law Group give you a FREE consultation—and help you defend yourself. Fill out the form to the right or call us at 310-997-4688 and get your free consultation today.