Marijuana possession, sale, and distribution is regulated by both state and federal law. In California, marijuana is regulated as a “Schedule I” controlled substance. This includes marijuana, and the active chemical substance in cannabis plants (Tetrahydrocannabinols, or THC) or synthetic equivalents. (Ca.Health & Safety Code § 11054.) There may be some exceptions to the following laws for medical marijuana possession and use. And, while not covered below, it is also a crime to drive under the influence of marijuana in California.
To learn more about driving while under the influence of marijuana, see Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana in California.
For information on California's medical marijuana laws, see Medical Marijuana Laws in California.
Penalties for Marijuana Possession and Use
Possession of marijuana is a criminal offense. Penalties depend on the amount. Possessing marijuana for sale is treated as a separate offense, discussed below.
Possessing concentrated cannabis. Concentrated cannabis is the separated resin (crude or purified) from marijuana. Possession of any amount in California carries a fine of up to $500, up to one year in jail, or both. (Ca. Health & Safety Code § 11357(a).)
Possessing less than 28.5 grams. Possession, of less than 28.5 grams of marijuana is an infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $100. (Ca. Health & Safety Code § 11357(b).)
Possessing more than 28.5 grams. Possession of more than 28.5 grams is punishable with a fine of up to $500, up to six months in jail, or both. (Ca. Health & Safety Code § 11357(c).)
Possessing less than 28.5 grams on school grounds. An person older than 18 who possesses less than 28.5 grams of marijuana on school grounds, while the school is open for operation (for classes or other school-related programs), may be convicted of a misdemeanor; punishable by a fine of up to $500, up to ten days in jail, or both. (Ca. Health & Safety Code § 11357(d).) A minor younger than 18 possessing less than 28.5 grams of marijuana on school grounds is also guilty of a misdemeanor; but will be punished with a fine of up to $250, for first offenses; or a fine of up to $500 and up to ten days in juvenile hall (or another comparable juvenile detention facility), for second and subsequent offenses. (Ca. Health & Safety Code § 11357(e).)
Businesses Selling Drug Paraphernalia
Drug paraphernalia means all equipment, products and materials that are designed or intended to be used in growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, storing, or ingesting (using) drugs. (Ca. Health & Safety Code § 11364.5(a).) In California, a business may sell drug paraphernalia, as long as such sales are handled according to the following regulations.
Separate display and sales area. A business must display and sell drug paraphernalia in a completely separate room where people younger than 18 are excluded (unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian). Each entrance to such a room must be clearly marked with a sign stating that paraphernalia is kept inside, and that minors are not allowed to enter without a parent or guardian. (Ca. Health & Safety Code § 11364.5(a).)
Illegal entrance by minors. It is illegal for a business owner to permit someone younger than 18 to enter or remain in an area where paraphernalia is sold without a parent or guardian. (Ca. Health & Safety Code § 11364.5(b)&(c).)
Pharmacists and licensed wholesalers. These regulations do not apply to pharmacists who sell or furnish paraphernalia that is prescribed to a patient by a physician, dentist, podiatrist, or veterinarian. (Ca. Ann. Codes § 11364.5(f)(1)&(2).) They also do not apply to a manufacturer, wholesaler, or retailer licensed by the California State Board of Pharmacy. (Ca. Health & Safety Code § 11364.5(f)(3).)
Penalties. Business owners in California are not subject to criminal penalties for violating these rules. Rather, operating a business in violation of these regulations is grounds for revocation or nonrenewal of any license or permit (or denial of any future license or permit) that would otherwise allow the business to sell drug paraphernalia. (Ca. Health & Safety Code § 11364.5(g).)
To learn more about the laws surrounding medical marijuana dispensaries, see Can my California city outlaw medical marijuana dispensaries?
Marijuana Cultivation, Sale, and Distribution
The cultivation, sale, delivery, or distribution of marijuana is a crime in California (except for medicinal purposes). California imposes a range of penalties according to the violation.
Unauthorized cultivation; possession for sale. A person who cultivates, harvests or processes marijuana without proper authorization; or possesses any amount of marijuana for sale is guilty of a felony. If convicted, an offender will face a state prison sentence; however, the length of the sentence will vary according to the county in which the offender is sentenced, and is up to the sentencing judge. (Ca. Health & Safety Code § 11358 & 11359.) The judge may also order a fine of up to $20,000 per offense, but such a fine will not take the place of a prison sentence. (Ca. Health & Safety Code § 11372.) The court may also impose civil fines against a person who illegally cultivates marijuana to cover the state’s expenses in seizing, destroying, or otherwise appropriately handling illegal marijuana. (Ca. Health & Safety Code § 11470.1.)
Transport, import into state, sales, or distribution. A person who transports any amount of marijuana within California, imports marijuana into California, sells, or otherwise distributes marijuana (or attempts to do any of these things), will face a state prison sentence of between two and four years. (Ca. Health & Safety Code § 11360(a).) The judge may also order a fine of up to $20,000 per offense, but the fine will not take the place of the prison sentence. (Ca. Health & Safety Code § 11372.)
However, anyone transporting or giving away less than 28.5 grams of marijuana within California, is guilty only of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $100. This does not include transporting or giving away concentrated cannabis, nor does it apply to people selling any amount of marijuana; for these crimes, the above prison sentences apply. (Ca. Health & Safety Code § 11360(a).)
An Important Note on Local Legal Representation
If you have been charged with a marijuana-related offense, consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. While the penalties and consequences of a marijuana charge are governed by statutory law, only a local defense attorney knows how the prosecutors and judges in your area approach and handle such cases.