CA Cannabis Laws: Can I Still Be Charged with a Marijuana Crime?

California has led the way in adopting a liberal stance on cannabis. This includes being the first state to pass a medical marijuana ballot initiative with the approval of Proposition 215 (the Compassionate Use Act) in 1996, measures designed to decriminalize minor pot offenses, and recent passage of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (Proposition 64) in 2016. With the medicinal and recreational use of cannabis by adults now legal in the state – and the recreational sale of pot beginning at the start of this year – California residents have taken large strides in responding to what many have referred to as a failed War on Drugs. However, these major steps are not a free-for-all. Strict laws still apply to the use, possession, and sale of marijuana, which is why local residents need to understand the laws in place in order to use cannabis lawfully.

At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers have spent years representing clients throughout Southern California in a range of cases involving drug crimes, including those involving marijuana. Because the laws have changes throughout the years, we believe it is important for all residents to have the facts they need in order to comply, and to avoid risks of being prosecuted with a marijuana-related offense – even in a state where medicinal and recreational cannabis use is legal.

Below are just a few ways you can still be charged with a crime involving marijuana:

  • Possession – Under Prop 64, it is now legal for adults over the age of 21 to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana. However, there are restrictions in place that could lead to criminal charges for possession. For example, possessing over 28.5 grams of cannabis is a misdemeanor, punishable by fines and up to 6 months imprisonment. If it also a misdemeanor for a minor under 18 to possess any amount of marijuana (punishable by up to 10 days in a juvenile detention center), and for individuals over 18 to possess any amount of marijuana while on school grounds (up to 10 days in jail).
  • Sale or Delivery – Proposition 64 allows adults of legal age to lawfully gift (without remuneration) 28.5 grams or less of marijuana to another adult of legal age without penalty. However, possessing any amount of cannabis with intent to distribute or for the purpose of sale or delivery is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail. Individuals over 18 who sell or deliver cannabis to minors can also face serious criminal penalties. Sale or delivery to a minor between 14 to 17 years of age is a felony punishable by 3 to 5 years in prison, and sale or delivery by an adult over 18 to a minor under 14 is a felony punishable by 3 to 7 years in prison.
  • Concentrates – Cannabis concentrates (which include hash, wax, oil, and other products containing THC concentrates) are regulated by California law. While possessing up to 8 grams of concentrates is not a crime, possessing any more can result in misdemeanor charges and up to 6 months in jail. Unauthorized manufacturing of concentrates can also subject you to serious terms of imprisonment.
  • Cultivation – Adults over 21 years of age are legally allowed to grow up to six plants without penalty. However, growing more than 6 plants is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail. For individuals with a medicinal license as a patient, the state allows cultivation within 100 square feet of plant canopy. Other laws may apply to individuals with medicinal licenses as caregivers, and those with commercial licenses to grow cannabis.
  • Marijuana DUI – Law enforcement agencies have been keen on cracking down on motorists who drive under the influence (DUI) – including driving under the influence of marijuana. While it is against the law to drive under the influence of cannabis, issues with testing and determining when a driver is objectively considered too high to drive have created widespread debate. As such, individuals charged with marijuana DUI need to understand that while they face serious penalties – including terms of imprisonment and suspension of their driver’s license – they may have the opportunity to effectively argue the facts of their case with the help of an experienced lawyer.
  • Federal Crimes – Marijuana is still federally illegal, which means that anyone can be at risk for facing federal cannabis-related charges under federal law (due to the supremacy clause, federal law trumps state law). Although the federal government may not choose to use resources to prosecute individuals in states where cannabis is legal, the Department of Justice has made statements that it will enforce federal law when it comes to marijuana in states that have legalized its recreational use. This means individuals should be aware of possessing or using cannabis on federal property, and should retain counsel to address federal implications associated with legal cultivation and sales.

Current trends suggest that marijuana legalization is gaining ample support, but new initiatives are not without restrictions. Just as alcohol is carefully regulated and just as individuals can face criminal charges involving alcohol, the same is true of cannabis. As such, adults of legal age should take the time to educate themselves about the laws, including local ordinances, and use cannabis responsibly and within the law. For those who do find themselves facing criminal charges for a marijuana-related offense, seeking the help of experienced criminal defense attorneys as soon as possible is critical to defending against serious penalties.

Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP is available to discuss your case and rights in any state or federal criminal case during a FREE and confidential consultation. Call (800) 462-7160 to speak with a member of our team.