California Marijuana Laws

Possession of Less Than an Ounce (28.5 grams or less) is a misdemeanor punishable only by a fine of up to $100 and additional amounts as court and penalty assessments. In cases where a person possesses a valid identification, a citation requiring appearance in court will be issued without arrest and booking.

Possession For Personal Use (California Health & Safety Code §11357)

Possession of Less Than an Ounce (28.5 grams or less) is a misdemeanor punishable only by a fine of up to $100 and additional amounts as court and penalty assessments. In cases where a person possesses a valid identification, a citation requiring appearance in court will be issued without arrest and booking.

Possession of More Than an Ounce (over 28.5 grams) is also a misdemeanor punishable by up to six (6) months in county jail and a fine of up to $500 plus penalty assessments.

Possession of Concentrated Cannabis is a so-called "wobbler" which can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony punishable by up to three (3) years in state prison. Fines can amount up to $10,000. If charged and sentenced as a felony, this offense for possession of what is commonly known as hashish can be subsequently reduced to a misdemeanor.

Possession For Sale (California Health & Safety Code §11359)

Possession with intent to sell for benefits such as cash, goods, services or other favors can result in imprisonment in state prison for up to three (3) years and a fine of $10,000.

Unfortunately, in contrast to some other jurisdictions, in California possession with intent to sell can be prosecuted and ultimately proven based on the quantity alone and/or a mere opinion of a police officer that the marijuana was possessed for sale rather than personal use. Technically, the testifying officer must qualify as a narcotics expert; however, in practice, the officer's mere statement that he/she is such an expert is sufficient to make testimony admissible in court.

The strength of the prosecution's case will depend on factors or "indicia" of sales including the presence of scales, packaging in terms of type and number of packages, money, pay/owe sheets, multiple cell phones, pagers, the degree of foot traffic at the premises and, of course, the quantity of the marijuana involved. Often, text messages retrieved from cell phones constitute the most damaging and incriminating evidence, together with admissions that marijuana was to be exchanged for anything of value. Our strong advice is not to attempt to help your case by assuring the officers that you do not use marijuana but you only give it away. Number, as opposed to size of packages involved, is also very important. In other words, presence of multiple, small and uniformly packaged and weighed baggies or containers can be more damaging than a single package containing a greater amount of marijuana.

Maintaining or Making Available a Place Where Marijuana is Stored or Distributed (California Health & Safety Code §§11366, 11366.5)

These offenses, known as "wobblers" - felonies which can be charged as or subsequently reduced to misdemeanors - punish opening, maintaining, renting, leasing or otherwise controlling or making available spaces where controlled substances, including marijuana, are held for the purpose of storage or distribution. Punishment can be imprisonment for up to three (3) years in state prison. For the statute to apply, the defendant must know that marijuana is being stored or distributed but it is not necessary that defendant be proven to have benefited or been compensated for his or her role. Because they are "wobblers" these offenses constitute lesser charges than more serious felonies, such as possession with intent to sell or cultivation for example, they can be useful as sentencing alternatives during plea bargain negotiations.

Cultivation (California Health & Safety Code §11358)

In California, it is a felony, punishable by imprisonment of up to three (3) years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000, to plant, cultivate, harvest, dry or process any marijuana. One plant is sufficient for criminal liability although, as described in the medical marijuana laws section of this website, California medical marijuana laws protect qualified patients and primary caregivers. Possession of even a small number of plants alone, can be charged and prosecuted as possession with intent to sell.

Transportation, Importation and Distribution (California Health & Safety Code §11360)

Anyone who transports, imports into California, sells or distributes marijuana, by giving it away or otherwise, can be punished by imprisonment in state prison for up to four (4) years. Attempts or offers to do any of these acts are treated the same under the law.

In cases when a person transports or gives away, or attempts or offers to do so, not more than 28.5 grams of marijuana other than concentrated cannabis (hashish), the offense is a misdemeanor punishable only by a fine of not more than $100. Citation will be issued, without booking and arrest, if a person can present a valid identification.

Sales to Minors or Employment of Minors (California Health & Safety Code §11361)

An adult who (1) hires, employs or uses a minor to unlawfully carry, transport, give away and sell or prepare for sale, (2) distributes or (3) induces a minor under fourteen (14) years of age to use any marijuana, can be sentenced to up to seven (7) years in state prison. If a minor is over fourteen (14) the maximum punishment is five (5) years.

License Suspension Upon Conviction of Drug Related Offenses (California Vehicle Code §13202)

The court may order driver's license suspension for up to 3 years if a person was convicted of a drug related offense when the use of a motor vehicle was involved in or related to the commission of the offense. This broad and ill-conceived statute, which in some counties is not enforced at all, can be applied to even minor marijuana or drug crimes such as possession for personal use. However, practical use of this statute is limited to cases involving sales, possession for sale, transportation, or sale to a minor.

Immigration Consequences

Defendants convicted of first time offense for simple possession for personal use of no more than thirty (30) ounces can avoid adverse immigration consequences, such as deportation or denial of naturalization, by successfully completing a rehabilitation program or probation. Possession of over thirty (30) grams is a deportable offense. Potential negative immigration consequences increase with more serious offenses such as possession for sale, transportation or cultivation. Our law firm has experience in guiding non-citizens and finding solutions to immigration related problems caused by marijuana as well as other charges. The most important thing to remember is that marijuana and drug charges will most likely spell doom to anyone concerned with protecting his or her immigration status.

Juvenile Defendants

For persons under age 21 a marijuana conviction, including a conviction for simple possession, can result in the loss of a driver's license for up to 1 year, even if no vehicle or driving was involved when the offense was committed. However, some courts offer youthful offender alternative programs allowing defendants to avoid conviction and loss of license by participating in counseling or education programs and by pleading at some later time to an alternative charge such as "Disturbing the Peace."

A person under 21 whose license has been suspended may request a restricted license from the DMV or the Court if such person can demonstrate a "critical need to drive." Typically, to get a restricted license, a person will need to show a great need to drive to either school or work as well as a lack of public transportation as an adequate alternative to driving.

Minors (up to age 18) may have all marijuana convictions, including possession for sale, dismissed by participating in community service or a drug rehabilitation or education program. Courts have wide discretion in imposing punishment which can include home on probation, camp placement or a youth authority commitment up to the maximum term of imprisonment for the offense.

Search and Seizure

Regardless of where the arrest takes place, police can often obtain valid search warrants for the residence or other places if probable cause exists. Evidence found in trash cans left outside the property do not require a warrant and can be grounds for obtaining warrants. Warrant can be obtained if police notice plants from aircraft or from a neighboring property, for example. A 6-foot fence around residential yards can provide a degree of legal protection as it is illegal for police to conduct observations over it or through cracks.

Theft of Electricity

Unfortunately, large electric bills incurred as a result of indoor marijuana cultivation, even if the cultivation is perfectly legal under state law, often lead to warrants, searches and busts. Electricity bills are not protected as private information, can be obtained without a warrant and can constitute probable cause for a warrant and search. However, we strongly discourage attempts to tap into electric lines or bypass conventional metering in order to avoid detection. Theft of electricity constitutes a serious and separate crime of felony grand theft and often makes it significantly more difficult to defend the related marijuana offenses. For example, presence of electrical bypass will likely transform what otherwise would have been a simple possession/cultivation case, into a possession for sale case even if no other factors or "indicia" of sales are present and the number of plants possessed is consistent with the defendant's doctor's recommendation and reasonable personal medical use.

Probation

Probation, which almost all first time offenders receive, is usually imposed for three (3) years. Felony probation means supervised probation which requires reporting to a probation officer. Misdemeanor probation, also known as informal or summary probation, does not require supervision by the probation department but may require reporting to the court as well as fines, house arrest or community service. Note that probation does not necessarily mean that no jail time is involved. Probation means that no state prison is imposed. However, both in felony and misdemeanor cases, probation may require serving time in a county jail.

Firearms

Don't even think about carrying a gun when in possession of marijuana or any controlled substance. Presence of firearms will not only affect your success in defending your case but also will likely result in significant sentence enhancements, depending upon the type of offense charged. In a federal prosecution, presence of a gun may mean additional five (5) years in prison.

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