What are the Marijuana Laws in California?

Each of the 50 United States has its own laws and regulations regarding the possession, cultivation, sale, and distribution of marijuana. In some states, legislators and voters have decided that marijuana possession is legal for persons with certain qualifying medical conditions that is accompanied by a valid prescription. In others, the decision has been made to make marijuana possession and other related activities illegal, no matter the situation. If you live in California, it is important that you review the marijuana laws, for they are always on the verge of being changed again.

A Brief History of California’s Marijuana Laws

California was the very first state in the country to legalize marijuana for medical usage when the Compassionate Use Act (Proposition 215) was passed back in 1996. The belief behind this legislation was that marijuana could provide significant benefits to people suffering from specific chronic illnesses without exposing them to chemicals, radiation, and other objectively-dangerous procedures. At the time, the list of approved medical conditions was very limited, basically including only cancer and AIDS, along with a few other incurable diseases.

To clear up any confusion that may have been caused by the Compassionate Use Act, Governor Davis signed California Senate Bill 420 in 2003. The purpose of SB 420 was to initiate a medical marijuana ID card system that could be used to easily distinguish patients from non-patients.

Throughout the following years, many argued that the wording of Proposition 215 was too vague regarding what conditions made a person eligible for medical marijuana usage. Some believed it made it too easy for people to abuse the system, and many more thought it was unreasonably difficult to use medical marijuana when it would actually be helpful. In 2010, the California Supreme Court approved an amendment to the bill that added more conditions under the qualifying list.

Today, patients may be prescribed medical marijuana for any of the following:

  • AIDS
  • Anorexia
  • Arthritis
  • Chronic pain
  • Glaucoma
  • Migraines
  • Spasticity

Additionally, it can be prescribed for “any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.” As long as a person has a valid prescription from a qualified doctor, they may grow, possess, and use as much marijuana as they need. Distributing it to others is still strictly illegal.

Understanding California’s Marijuana Law Statutes

Medical marijuana usage has certainly come a long way since the Compassionate Use Act was established some 20 years ago but there are still areas in the law that many consider too strict. Most notably, California still considers marijuana a Schedule I CDS, or controlled drug substance. A Schedule I CDS is defined as having no “accepted medical use” and has a “high potential” for causing addiction and eventual drug abuse. They are considered by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to be the “most dangerous” type of drugs.

Put this into comparison to other Schedule I drugs, such as heroin, LSD, and bath salts, and the image becomes unclear. There is little to no evidence that marijuana use poses any health threat to the individual, other than potential smoke inhalation issues that are deemed less dangerous than a cigarette. Why would it be listed in the highest schedule? Why is it considered more dangerous than cocaine, which has never and likely will never be accepted for medical usage?

Due to this inexplicably high scheduling, criminal penalties related to unlawful possession of marijuana, as in possessing it without proper medical marijuana identification, are harsh. Possessing only a few grams can penalize you with a $100 fine but having any more than a small amount (28.5 grams) is punishable with 6 months in jail. Legal penalties will escalate depending on how much you had in your possession, or where you were arrested.

Cultivating, distributing, or trafficking marijuana illegal within California is considered a felony in most cases. This means you will be sentenced to at least a year in prison but sometimes up to 7 years, depending on the circumstances. Fines and related fees can also range into the thousands. If marijuana’s drug schedule was lessened, which seems necessary at this point, the criminal penalties could also potentially be reduced.

Contact a Riverside County Drug Crime Lawyer

Have you been arrested for one of the crimes named above, or any other drug crime? Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich can provide a seasoned Riverside County criminal defense attorney to fight your charges. With our help, you could avoid the consequences of a conviction. Contact us today to schedule your free case evaluation!


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