Marijuana Laws in California – A Definitive Guide

Efforts have been on since the 1970s regarding California marijuana laws for legalizing the use of marijuana in the state. However, it was only in 1996 that the Compassionate Use Act (Proposition 215) legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

California cannabis laws are regulated by the following agencies:

  • Bureau of Cannabis Control
  • Department of Food and Agriculture
  • Department of Public Health
  • Cannabis Regulatory Authority

History of California Weed Laws

In the late 1700s, hemp was grown in several areas in Southern California and Mexico to produce industrial hemp. This was used to manufacture rope. Cultivation of this crop was discontinued by the mid-1800s.

The earliest cultivators of recreational cannabis were Arabs, Armenians, and Turks who grew this crop to produce hashish. The appearance of this substance resulted in undesirable behavior by people of certain sects, and which led to the ‘criminalization’ of cannabis in 1907. An amendment was passed in 1913 deeming it a crime to possess extracts, tinctures or any other derivatives of cannabis.

Cannabis marijuana laws continued to be in force through the 1900s. By 1932, the majority of narcotics arrests were linked to cannabis with a maximum prison sentence of up to 10 years for possession and 15 for sale of the substance. Despite stringent California weed laws, marijuana increased in popularity, particularly with college students. By the mid-1960s, newspapers stated that at least half the population of college had tried cannabis.

Although the government tried to halt the cultivation of this crop, efforts were not enough to end it. Cannabis cultivation continued to grow in Mexico and California. In fact, by 2010 estimates revealed that California produced up to 79% of the national quota of cannabis.

Along with the execution of California cannabis laws, there was a constant movement for the decriminalization of cannabis. Here is a brief list of the efforts to decriminalize cannabis from the mid-’70s and into the new millennium:

Moscone Act (1975)

The law that was passed stated that possession of cannabis in small quantities should be treated as a civil rather than a criminal offense. The penalty would be a $100 fine.

Proposition 36 (2000)/ Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act of 2000

First and second-time offenders should be put into rehabilitation and not face trial.

Senate Bill 1449 (2010)

This law states that possession of one ounce of marijuana or less will be treated as an infraction like a traffic violation. There is a fine of $100 and no court appearance or criminal record.

Legalization Movements for Medical Marijuana

From the early 1990’s various movements attempted to get medical California cannabis laws amended. This originated in San Francisco. In November 1991, Proposition P was approved for medical use of marijuana. Later a resolution passed by the city board of supervisors urged the police commission and district attorney to adopt a favorable stand towards those who cultivated cannabis for medicinal purposes.

These actions led to the proliferation of associations like the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club. The culmination was the Senate Joint Resolution 8 in 1993 calling for legislation to make it legal for physicians to prescribe marijuana. In 1995 Assembly Bill 1529 was passed making it legal for physicians to prescribe cannabis for treating Glaucoma, MS, cancer and AIDS.

However, these assembly bills were vetoed which led to public participation. In 1996, Proposition 215 was passed on the basis of a public ballot. The Compassionate Use Act of 1996 rendered possession of medical marijuana a reality. According to the act, it is legal to possess marijuana for the treatment of migraine, arthritis, anorexia, glaucoma, or chronic pain as may be experienced in cancer or AIDS. The law also allows caregivers to grow cannabis for patients.

However, due to the alleged ‘vague wording’ of Proposition 215 and the subsequent actions that was passed, there were a number of cases that appeared in the supreme court. Senate Bill 420 (aka the Medical Marijuana Program Act) took birth from all these actions. Then, in 2010, a landmark case, People v. Kelly, the California Supreme Court ruled that Senate Bill 420 does not restrict the quantity of cannabis that a patient can possess.

Legalization movements for Recreational Marijuana

The battle for legalization of recreational marijuana followed an equally-rough path as the medical marijuana battles did. Initiatives to amend California weed laws can be traced back to 1969 with the founding of the group Amorphia. It led to Proposition 19 – the California Marijuana Initiative.

Unfortunately, this proposition was defeated by a 33%-67% majority. However, despite this defeat, the supporters found the results encouraging. Amorphia continued its efforts towards reforming the California recreational weed laws until 1974. After running into financial difficulties, Amorphia became the California chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).

The battle raged on for the next few decades reforming the California weed laws. In 2010, Proposition 19 came up for a vote again and voters rejected it 53.5% to 46.5%. If this law became reality, adults aged 21 and above would be allowed to legally possess marijuana, and the substance would enjoy a status similar to that of alcohol.

In 2016, Proposition 64, named the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) passed with a majority of 57% to 43%, and cannabis became an officially legal substance. Today, the legal quantity of marijuana that an adult can possess is one ounce and they can grow up to six cannabis plants or more with a license.

California Marijuana Laws Today

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act marked a revolution in the treatment of this substance by the government. Here are the salient points of the California recreational weed laws that are in force today:

Possession of Cannabis

If you are aged 21 or older, you can carry a maximum of 28.5 grams of marijuana flower and 8 grams of marijuana concentrate. You can also grow up to six living plants at home.

Laws Regarding Purchasing

You can purchase the same quantities of the substance that are outlined under ‘possession’ of cannabis.

Cannabis Consumption

The California recreational weed laws governing the consumption of marijuana in public and private places are treated exactly like smoking. This also applies to ingest or use electronic devices like vaporizers or aerosols.

You CANNOT smoke marijuana in:

  • All public places
  • All ‘no smoking’ zones
  • Within 1,000 feet of a school

You CAN smoke marijuana in:

  • A private home
  • Enclosed structures in the grounds of a private home
  • Outdoors in specially-allocated areas.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

Operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana attracts similar penalties and prosecution as those that apply to alcohol DUI rules.

Marijuana Transportation

The rules for transportation are similar to possession rules, with the addition that the substance needs to be sealed in a child-proof container and not accessible to the driver. Smoking marijuana in a vehicle by either driver or passenger is prohibited.

Marijuana Export

It is illegal to export marijuana to other states – even to those states where recreational marijuana is legal as well.

Marijuana Cultivation

California residents may cultivate up to 6 plants at home with a limit of 6 plants per residence. The plants should be grown in a locked enclosure and not visible to the public. If the marijuana plant yields more than 28.5 grams of the product, it should be secured within the grower’s residence.

We hope that you find this article on California marijuana laws useful. Please leave your feedback, comments, and questions if any, and we will be glad to get back to you.