With different rules for those using pot for medicinal or recreational purposes, California cannabis laws can be very confusing. Meanwhile, possession, cultivation, sale, or transportation of marijuana for any reason is still illegal under federal law. To help clarify things, San Diego criminal defense attorney Peter Liss has put together this guide on marijuana possession, cultivation, use, sales, transportation, and driving under the influence laws in California for both recreational and medical purposes.
Is Marijuana Possession Legal in California?
Yes, but there are restrictions on who can possess cannabis and how much they can have. California recreational marijuana laws make it legal for those over 21 to buy and possess marijuana. Those under 21 and over 18 may possess the drug if they have a valid medical marijuana license, and it can even be used medicinally by minors under 18 if they have parental consent. Anyone under 21 who possesses small quantities of cannabis without a medicinal marijuana prescription can face minor in possession charges under 11357(a) (HSC). While this offense is similar to a minor in possession of alcohol charge, the penalties are a bit different. Those accused of 11357(a) (HSC) will face different penalties based on their age and whether or not they have a prior conviction, specifically:
- Those between 18 and 21 will face a fine of $100
- Anyone under 18 who has no prior offenses will face up to 4 hours of drug counseling or education and 10 hours of community service
- Those under 18 with a prior conviction will be required to go through 6 hours of drug counseling or education and 20 hours of community service
Even adults face possession limits if they do not have a medical cannabis prescription. Though medical marijuana users can possess any amount their doctor deems reasonable for their condition, California law limits recreational users to no more than:
- 28.5 grams of cannabis
- 8 grams of concentrates
- 6 plants
Minors under 18 who do not have a medical marijuana license and are caught with more than this quantity can face up to 8 hours of drug counseling or education and 40 hours of community service for a first offense. Those with a prior offense will face a penalty of up to 10 hours of counseling or education and 60 hours of community service.
Adults over 18 who possess large quantities of cannabis can face misdemeanor charges punishable by up to six months of jail and a fine of $500. A skilled lawyer in San Diego may be able to ensure those can often help those facing these cannabis possession charges avoid jail time and enter a diversion program to keep the crime off of their criminal record.
Where Can You Use Marijuana in California?
Just because marijuana is legal in California doesn’t mean you can use it anywhere. First, cannabis use is only permitted on private property, so you cannot smoke on the sidewalk, beach, at a park, or any other public space. This also prohibits you from smoking in a parked vehicle if it is located on a public street or parking lot.
Second, certain private places are prohibited from allowing patrons to smoke on the premises. These include anywhere selling tobacco or alcohol, so tobacco shops and bars cannot permit marijuana use.
Can You Bring Marijuana Anywhere?
No. Any private location has the right to prohibit marijuana use on its premises. Theme parks, hotels, concert venues, and other businesses may eject you for using cannabis on their property.
Possessing marijuana is even illegal in some locations, including federal property and schools that are in session. You also cannot transport pot across state lines, send it through the mail, or take it on a plane, as these modes of transportation are all under federal regulation.
Those over 18 caught carrying marijuana on school grounds will face misdemeanor charges, punishable by up to $250 for a first offense and $500 and 10 days in jail for subsequent offenses. Anyone under 18 caught carrying cannabis at school will face an infraction that carries a penalty of up to 6 hours of drug counseling or education and 20 hours of community service.
Illegally Selling or Transporting Marijuana
Under 11360 (HSC), only legally licensed marijuana dispensaries can sell cannabis in California, and they can only provide it to those over 21 or those with a medical prescription. Those caught selling marijuana to an adult or transporting marijuana for sale can be charged with a misdemeanor. In many cases, police distinguish the difference between having cannabis for personal use and possession with the intent to sell can through small details like whether you have any packaging materials, scales, cash, etc., that would suggest you intend to sell the substance.
Providing Marijuana to a Minor
Selling marijuana to a minor is a much more serious crime than illegally selling it to an adult or transporting the drug. Even freely giving cannabis to a juvenile will put you at risk of charges under 11360 (HSC). This crime is a felony, punishable by up to 5 years in most cases, but up to 7 years if the juvenile was under 14. If you are accused of attempting to sell marijuana to an adult or a minor illegally, speak with a San Diego cannabis defense attorney as soon as possible.
Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana
Just as it is illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol, California’s marijuana rules make it illegal to drive while high. Driving under the influence is a very serious charge in San Diego, whether it involves marijuana or alcohol, and you should always fight this charge with the help of a top lawyer. There is no legal limit for the amount of marijuana a person can use before being considered high, so even saying to a police officer that you only smoked a puff or two can be used as evidence against you.
Open Marijuana Containers in the Car
It is illegal to have an open marijuana container in your car while driving, just as it is illegal to drive with an open alcohol container. Under California Vehicle Code 23222 (VC), it is unlawful to drive while in possession of loose marijuana flowers or any receptacle with cannabis in it that has been opened or had the seal broken. Violators may be fined up to $100 for this infraction. However, medical marijuana patients can have a previously open container of cannabis in the car as long as it is resealed or closed.
Driving While Smoking Pot
Even if you are not driving while technically high, it is still illegal to smoke pot while you drive. Under California Vehicle Code 23220 (VC), anyone who uses marijuana while driving can be penalized with a $100 infraction. Because using weed in the car usually involves loose cannabis flowers, most people who violate this law will also face open container charges.
More problematic though, is that using marijuana in your car can serve as strong evidence in a DUI case. While there is still no standard for marijuana intoxication, driving while smoking pot may also be used to show recent usage, which could have impaired the driver and, thus, could result in a DUI charge. Like those facing charges for driving under the influence, anyone facing these allegations should immediately contact a San Diego marijuana lawyer. Remember that what you say can be used against you, and things you say to defend yourself may hurt you later.
If you have been charged with breaking any of California’s many pot laws, including possession, sales, driving under the influence, or giving the drug to a minor, please call San Diego attorney Peter M. Liss at (760) 643-4050.