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California Marijuana Laws: Restrictions & Prohibited Activities

California was a front-runner in legalizing marijuana for medicinal use and one of the early handful of states to legalize it for recreational purposes for people 21 and older. However, that does not mean its use isn’t carefully regulated. In fact, California lawmakers have worked tirelessly to revise and structure marijuana laws to more clearly define what is and is not allowed when it comes to lawful cannabis use in a post-legalization world.

As we have discussed in some of our previous blog posts, there are still ways you can violate California’s marijuana laws and end up facing criminal charges involving weed. While some of these might be generally consistent with laws throughout the country and pre-existing state laws, including laws on marijuana DUI, others are specific to the state of California.

Below, our Southern California criminal defense attorneys at Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP detail a few important things you should know when it comes to California marijuana laws and restrictions:

Marijuana Use in Public Places

Just as alcohol is carefully regulated and not allowed in many public places, marijuana is also subject to restrictions when it comes to public spaces. Per California’s Health & Safety Code, you are prohibited from smoking, vaporizing, or ingesting cannabis and related products in any public place. This includes parks, sidewalks, and business and residential areas.

It is also illegal to open a package containing cannabis or any cannabis products in public areas. There are some exceptions, such as when local jurisdictions permit cannabis consumption on the property of licensed premises.

Although marijuana is legal in California, it is illegal to consume or possess cannabis on federal lands and national parks, even if the park is located in the state of California. Violations of the public consumption law are an infraction punishable by a $100 fine.

Smoking Marijuana in a Non-Smoking Area

California has carefully regulated public smoking of tobacco products and has applied that same law to marijuana. As such, it is unlawful to smoke (both combustible and vaporized) marijuana in any designated non-smoking area. This includes bars, restaurants, buildings open to the public, places of employment, and areas within 15 feet of doors and ventilation openings.

It is also unlawful to vaporize or smoke pot within 1,000 feet of youth centers, schools, and daycare facilities when children are present (except private use at a residence). Violations are punishable by a $250 infraction. Although you can consume cannabis on private property, property owners and landlords have the right to ban the use and possession of cannabis on their properties.

Open Cannabis Container Laws

If you are familiar with open container laws as they apply to alcohol, marijuana open container laws function in similar ways. In California, this means possessing an “open container” of marijuana while driving or riding as a passenger in a vehicle, boat, or plane is against the law (except specially licensed commercial vehicles without the presence of children).

As defined by California’s Vehicle Code, an open container of marijuana is any containment device that has been opened or has a broken seal, as well as loose marijuana that is not stored in a vehicle’s trunk. However, licensed patients under CA Prop 215 are permitted to possess marijuana containers that are closed or resealed.

If you are caught with an open marijuana container, you face a fine-only infraction, similar to a traffic ticket. Violating open container laws is punishable by a fine of up to $100 and no jail time. However, having an open container in your vehicle can be considered an aggravating factor in a DUI case.

Restrictions on Possession of Marijuana

Possession of marijuana for personal use is no longer a crime in California, but possession is still restricted in some ways. Most obviously, this includes possession of unlawful amounts of marijuana (over an ounce of cannabis, over 8 grams of concentrate, and over six live marijuana plants). If you exceed the legal amounts of recreational cannabis, you can be charged with a misdemeanor and punished by up to 6 months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $500.

The possession of marijuana, even if it is not being actively consumed, is also prohibited at schools, daycare facilities, and other youth-focused centers when children are present. Possession of marijuana is also prohibited by minors under the age of 21. Minors ages 18 to 21 can face a $100 infraction for this violation, and minors under 18 face no fines, but can be required to perform community service and/or attend drug counseling.

Cultivation Restrictions

Although people who are 21 and over are allowed to cultivate up to six marijuana plants, the plants must be in a secure location and not accessible to minors. Individuals under 21 who grow any amount of marijuana are guilty of an infraction. Individuals under 18 years of age who are charged with illegal marijuana cultivation can be ordered to attend drug counseling and perform community service. Individuals 18 and over (but under 21) who unlawfully grow marijuana can be fined up to $100.

Adults 21 and over who plant, cultivate, harvest, dry, or process more than six marijuana plants can face a misdemeanor and up to six months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $500. However, cultivating more than 6 marijuana plants can be charged as a felony if the defendant has serious violent felonies on their record, is a registered sex offender, has two or more prior convictions for cultivating marijuana, or violated California environmental laws through their marijuana cultivation activities.

Possession of Marijuana with the Intent to Sell

Under Proposition 64, only businesses that obtain and operate with both a state and local license can legally sell marijuana to the public. Under Health and Safety Code 11359 HS, possession of marijuana with the intent to sell it without a valid license is still a crime. Possession of marijuana for sale without a license is a misdemeanor and punishable by up to six months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $500.

Possession of marijuana with intent to sell without a license is a felony if the defendant had a prior conviction for a serious violent felony, two more prior misdemeanor convictions for marijuana possession for sale, or possessed marijuana in connection to a knowing sale or attempted sale to a minor. Felony possession of marijuana is punishable by two or three years in county jail.

Sale, Transportation, or Distribution of Marijuana

Giving away or transporting for sale up to 28.5 grams of marijuana without a license is an infraction. The unlicensed sale or transportation of marijuana to sell is a misdemeanor crime that is punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

The sale, transportation, or distribution of marijuana can be a felony if the defendant has a prior conviction for a serious violent felony like murder, sex crimes, or vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. If the defendant has two or more prior convictions for sale/transportation of marijuana, knowingly sold, attempted to sell, or offered to sell to a minor, or imported/ out-ported marijuana through California, then they can also face felony charges.

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Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP is comprised of award-winning criminal defense attorneys who have experience handling a wide range of drug crimes, DUI, and marijuana-related charges in jurisdictions across Southern California, including the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, and Ventura County. If you or someone you love has been accused of a marijuana-related infraction, misdemeanor, felony, or federal crime, our legal team is available to help you learn more about the charges you face and how we may be able to help.

To discuss your case personally with a member of our team during a FREE, confidential case evaluation, please call (800) 462-7160 or contact us online today.