California Marijuana Law Basics

Attitudes about marijuana are changing. However, a recent LA Times poll suggests that, from a poll of 1000 people, Californians seem to be lagging behind the rest of the country in attitudes about legalization. Of the LA Times sample (which is small), about half of those interviewed opposed legalization of marijuana. The biggest divides were by age, with Californians under 50 far more in favor of legalization than their parents and grandparents. Big divides exist also by political affiliation, with Democrats leading Republicans in support and Independents outshining both. As public perception of marijuana changes, it is still important to know the current state of the law in California regarding marijuana and the numerous offenses related to its possession, transportation, use, and sale. Among the marijuana-related crimes are possession for personal use, possession for sale, sale, cultivation, and DUI of marijuana.

Possession of marijuana for personal use in California is ruled by Health And Safety Code (HSC) Section 11357. Possession of 28.5 grams (one ounce) or less is considered an infraction and is punishable by a fine of up to $100. However, possessing any amount within a school is a misdemeanor with higher fines and possible jail time.

Possession of more than one ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor and punishable by a fine of up to $500, six months in jail, or both. A misdemeanor conviction for marijuana possession appears on a person’s criminal record. However, an experienced criminal attorney may be able to arrange an “informal diversion” program where a defendant agrees to undergo treatment, attend N.A. meetings, or perform community service in exchange for a dismissal of the charges.

Possession of marijuana for sale is a felony under California HSC Section 11359, regardless of the amount. A person convicted of possession with the intent to sell may be sentenced to up to three years in jail. A person will often be charged with intent to sell if there is evidence of scales, packaging supplies, multiple packages, large amounts of marijuana, large amounts of cash, etc.

Selling, transporting, or distributing marijuana is a felony in California and punishable by up to four years in a California state prison. In individual who transports of gives away 28.5 grams or less may be found guilty of a misdemeanor and given a fine of up to $100. Police often set up undercover or surveillance operation to catch dealers in the act of selling the marijuana. Recently police have also been cracking down on Internet sales by posing as buyers on Craigslist and other sites.

Cultivation of marijuana, regardless of the amount, is a felony under California HSC Section 11358. Under Penal Code Section 1000, however, individuals who cultivate marijuana may be eligible for diversion as long as there was no intent to sell. Senate Bill 420 and the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 allow individuals limited permission to grow marijuana for medical and personal use.

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including marijuana is unlawful under California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a). A law enforcement officer may perform a field sobriety test, and the driver will be given a choice of either a blood or urine test. Both tests are problematic, since unlike alcohol, which stays in the body for a few hours, marijuana remains in the body sometimes for up to a month.

HSC Section 11362.5, also known as Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, allows restricted permission to patients under medical care as well as their caregivers to possess and cultivate marijuana. A patient and caregiver must have written permission from a doctor and sometimes individuals also obtain a county issued marijuana health card. Marijuana obtained for medical purposes may not be sold or given away.


California laws relating to marijuana are complex. Our experienced lawyers at Johnson Criminal Law Group will discuss your case, options, and strategies. Please call us today.