Is Marijuana Legal in California?

Marijuana. The controversial drug that has divided opinions for years. Although cannabis is still listed as a Schedule I controlled substance (the most severe drug category), it has been decriminalized in some states such as Oregon and Colorado and made legal for medical purposes in many other states. What is California's policy on marijuana? The answer might surprise you.

Pot became visible to the public eye primarily in the 1930s to 1950s. Because of its association with the counter-culture, strict marijuana laws were enacted such as "mandatory sentencing" laws like the Boggs Act of 1952 and the Narcotics Control Act of 1956. Laws like this imposed two to ten years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines for first-time cannabis possession offenses.

In the 1970s, after the newly formed Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was in full swing, the state of California began reorganizing and amending marijuana laws so that they were less severe, primarily because of the economic impact these so-called "pot fines." Possession of marijuana for personal use in California was a felony pre-1977, but was reduced to a misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $100.

In the 1980s during the Reagan administration, cannabis laws began to get more strict again, especially with the Sentencing Reform Act which created mandatory minimum sentences for marijuana offenders and threatened 25 years to life imprisonment for repeat drug ("high level") offenders.

The Legalization of Medical Marijuana in California

Proposition 215 was passed by California voters in 1996, legalizing marijuana for medical use. The medical marijuana program (MMP) in California is regulated by the Department of Public Health. Anyone with a qualifying medical condition who obtains a valid doctor's prescription and a state-authorized medical marijuana identification card can receive regulated amounts of marijuana from dispensaries for personal use.

California Senate Bill 1449

In September 2010, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 1449 into law. This was a controversial move that essentially decriminalized certain amounts of marijuana for personal use, specifically, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is no longer a misdemeanor, but an infraction (similar to a traffic ticket) with a maximum $100 fine. To learn more, visit the California Health & Safety Code 11357b.

Marijuana Sentencing in California

Many marijuana offenses, even repeat or "high volume" offenses, may qualify for drug diversion. According to the California Penal Code § 1000, certain drug offenses are eligible for deferred entry of judgment (DEJ). In exchange for a plea of guilty, the defendant agrees to attend drug counseling, rehabilitation and sometimes community service. If the defendant successfully completes the diversion program, then their sentence (which was postponed) will be removed so that you can say with confidence you were not convicted of that particular crime.

So, is marijuana legal in California?

  • Yes: For approved medical uses
  • No: For unlicensed possession for personal use (less than 1oz = infraction) and other activities such as sale, distribution and cultivation.

If you have been arrested for a marijuana-related offense, please do not hesitate to contact an Orange County drug lawyer at The Law Office of Barney B. Gibbs. Attorney Gibbs has been defending the criminally accused in the Orange County courts for more than 30 years. Trust his experience and his knowledge of California marijuana laws to work in your favor. For a free evaluation of your case, call today!

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