California Marijuana Laws 2024

  1. California Cannabis
  2. California Marijuana Laws

Key Points

  • Recreational and medical use of marijuana is legal in California
  • Persons 18 and above can buy medical marijuana based on a physician's recommendation. Individuals 21 and older may purchase and smoke recreational marijuana
  • Adults aged 21 and above can legally possess 28.5 grams of marijuana
  • Individuals 21 years and above may grow up to six plants at home. Adults with a medical marijuana license may grow up to 12 live plants
  • There are penalties for exceeding the legal possession limit, smoking marijuana in public places, and smoking within 1,000 feet of a school, daycare, or youth center

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Is Marijuana Legal in California?

Yes, in California, the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA) allows you to purchase and consume cannabis on both medicinal and recreational grounds. Adults over the age of 21 are permitted to possess, purchase, and grow the following for recreational purposes:

  • Twenty-eight and a half (28.5) grams of usable marijuana
  • Eight (8) grams of cannabis concentrates

California medical marijuana patients and their caregivers can legally possess more cannabis. The applicable quantities include:

  • 226.8 grams, of dried cannabis or concentrates and up to six mature plants, Or;
  • Twelve immature plants.

While medical marijuana patients are exempt from various taxes, recreational users are subjected to high cannabis tax rates in the state. As such, obtaining recreational cannabis from dispensaries and local retail shops may be costly. This, in part, explains why the California underground marijuana market is still thriving, accounting for about 75% of all cannabis sales in the state.

Similar to other psychotropic drugs, marijuana is still illegal under the federal eyes. Consequently, consumers are prohibited from using it on federally-controlled public spaces. Also, weed businesses in California cannot raise capital through investors and deduct expenses on federal income tax returns. Infact, such businesses are blocked from transacting with traditional banks; thereby limiting their transactions to local sources.

California Marijuana Laws in 2024

Both medical and recreational marijuana are currently legal in California. The state's citizens voted for medical marijuana legalization in 1996, making California the first state to allow cannabis for treatment purposes. The 2016 Proposition 64 made recreational marijuana legal and passed with 56% votes. Legal sales statewide began on January 1, 2018 at 6 a.m. PT.

The California marijuana laws are dynamic and involve a complex venture of growers, sellers, transporters, buyers, as well as everyone else involved in the cannabis market. If you are in the process of opening a dispensary or wondering where to buy recreational marijuana in California, you need to be aware of the cannabis law changes in the state. They include:

  • Changes to Proposition 65: This went into effect on January 3, 2021 and is especially important to Cannabis business operators. Since cannabis is now listed as a carcinogen and a reproductive toxin by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), it is now compulsory for all smokable cannabis products to have Prop. 65 warnings for both cancer and developmental toxicity. The warning can either be on the physical product or posted on the retailer's site with proper signage.
  • Medicinal Cannabis Patients’ Right of Access Act (SB 1186): Signed into law by the Governor on September 18, 2022, this Act will stop local agencies from banning medicinal cannabis delivery. The purpose of the new law came into effect on January 1, 2024 to allow medical delivery-only retailers to operate in cities and counties that currently stop medical delivery.
  • Discrimination in employment (AB-2188): The law, signed on September 18, 2022, will make it illegal for employers to fire or suspend workers for using cannabis while off-duty. However, employees can still be suspended or fired for using marijuana or being under the influence at work. The law went into effect on January 1, 2024.

Also, both smokable and some non-smokable THC cannabis products such as vape cartridges, edibles, as well as CBD-dominant products with little amounts of THC require Prop. 65 warnings for developmental toxicity from tetrahydrocannabinol.

Typically, there is no safe harbor exposure for THC in CBD products in California. As such, CBD operators are equally required to be aware of this change.

  • The Tax Freeze Change (AB 1872): Signed by Governor Newsom, this bill suspends the power of the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) to increase the 15% excise tax or modify wholesale mark-up rate for a one year. This means that the CDTFA is:
    • Prohibited from changing the markup fee beginning from the time on or after the operative date of the hill, and before July 1, 2021
    • Prohibited from imposing the cultivation tax rates in 2021 from being modified for increase unless the modification is for an increase rate that is less than zero. Beginning January 1, 2023, the inflation rates imposed by the previous calendar year was adjusted by the state's tax department annually

In addition to these, the Tax Freeze Bill prohibits the California Board of State And Community Corrections from awarding grants to local governments where indoor and outdoor marijuana cultivation, as well as retail sales, are still banned.

  • The Appellation of Origin Bill (SB 67): Per this bill, cannabis operators are only allowed to list a product's city or county of Origin in advertising/marketing if the weed was 100% produced in that city. As such, it is unlawful to tag "Humboldt Grown" on a product that was cultivated in Los Angeles. The cannabis packaging compliance law will impact manufacturers and cultivators.
  • Testing Variance Bill (AB 1458): AB 1458 ensured an increase in the label variance threshold from plus or minus 10% to plus or minus 12% until January 1, 2022. After January 1, 2022, the threshold will not deviate by more than 10%. This curtails the state's rigorous testing standards for manufacturers of edibles.
  • The Financial Information Bill (AB 1525): This Bill permits the local and state governments access to certain financial details, provided the cannabis licensee expressly consents. The essence of this bill is to help banks and other traditional financial institutions to comply with federal financial reporting standards. That way, they do not have to file expensive reports that may totally discourage these institutions from providing services to California cannabis licensees. Gov. Newsom also signed a directive ensuring the privacy and confidentiality of licensee data.
  • The Testing Bill (SB 1244): This Bill ensures that marijuana testing laboratories in California can get test samples from any regulatory or law enforcement agency at the state and local levels. This helps local enforcement agencies fight against the state's underground marijuana market.

Timeline of Сannabis Law in California

Over time, California has made changes to the state cannabis laws as follows:

  • 1975: The decriminalization of cannabis in California started in 1975 after the passing of the Moscone Act. The law eliminates prison sentences for the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana and the possession for personal use of more than one ounce of marijuana. The decriminalization reduced the felony charge for both offenses from a felony to a citable misdemeanor charge.
  • 1996: With the approval of Proposition 215, California became the first state to legalize the medical use of marijuana. Proposition 215, known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, makes it legal for persons with qualifying medical illnesses and their designated caregivers to possess and cultivate cannabis for personal use, with approval from a licensed physician.
  • 2011: In 2011, SB 1449 came into effect with California decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana to a misdemeanor. The bill reduces criminal charges for the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana to a fine of $100. The Bill treats possession of one ounce of marijuana as an infraction and eliminates the provision for booking and referral for rehabilitation, education, and treatment.
  • 2014: Proposition 47 implemented in 2014, reclassifies several felony theft and drug possession offenses under the Health and Safety Code section 11350 and 11357(a) on concentrated cannabis. It reclassifies drug possession offenses from felony to misdemeanor punishable by a maximum sentence of one year in a county jail. However, the law does not apply to persons with prior convictions or persons required to register as sex offenders.
  • 2016: Proposition 64 legalized the recreational use and cultivation of marijuana for persons 21 years and older in California. It also reduces the penalties for marijuana-related offenses for adults and juveniles and authorizes the resentencing, sealing, or dismissal of eligible marijuana-related convictions
  • 2023: In 2023, Governor Gavin Newsome signs SB 700 into law. This cannabis employment protections legislation made it unlawful for most employers to ask applicants about their past cannabis use during interviews. The only exceptions are employers in the building and construction industry and employees requiring federal background checks and security clearances. The law came into effect on January 1, 2024

Federal Legalization of Weed in 2024

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act seeks to decriminalize marijuana and directs the Drug Enforcement Administration to remove marijuana to a lower schedule of controlled substances, specifically from schedule I to III. In addition, the bill seeks to eliminate criminal penalties for persons who possess, distribute, or manufacture marijuana. The bill makes changes to the following:

  • Replacing marijuana with cannabis
  • The regular compiling and publishing of demographic data on cannabis businesses and their employees by the Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • Establishing an Opportunity Trust Fund to support communities, businesses, and individuals impacted by the war on drugs
  • Taxation of cannabis products produced in, or imported into the US. Also, imposing an occupational tax for cannabis export warehouses and production facilities.
  • Making available small business administration loans and services to cannabis-related businesses
  • Outlawing denying individuals with certain cannabis-related convictions access to federal public benefits and protection under immigration law
  • Initiate a process to expunge convictions relate to federal cannabis offenses

The bill also stipulates that:

  • The Government Accountability Office studies the impact of recreational cannabis in the states
  • The Department of Education studies the effect of state recreational cannabis in schools and school-aged children
  • The National Institute for Occupational Safety examines the outcome of legal cannabis in the workplace
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposes new ways to determine if a driver is impaired by marijuana

Can I Use Cannabis?

Yes, an individual above the age of 21 is legally allowed to use the designated amount of recreational cannabis in California. Although for medical marijuana, a minor is legally recognized to use medical marijuana. However before there were laws to legalize marijuana in California, it used to be considered a dangerous drug. Hence why it is still categorized as a Schedule 1 drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. In the past, many Americans' attitudes towards cannabis changed partly because of the emergence of Mexican immigration to the U.S during the time of the 1910 Mexican Revolution. The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was enacted to ban marijuana use nationwide. In the mid-1970s all states eventually relieved penalties for marijuana possession in California.

Unlike medical marijuana which allows minor users, California only allows individuals who are 21 years and older to grow up to six living marijuana plants recreationally. Generally cultivating more than six plants is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months jail time or a fine of $500. However, it can be deemed a felony offense in any of the following circumstances:

  • A prior conviction for crimes like murder, sex crimes against a minor, or manslaughter caused by DUI.
  • Convicted sex offender that requires registration.
  • Two or more prior misdemeanor convictions for marijuana cultivation.
  • The offense was such that it caused substantial environmental harm to public lands.
  • If an individual falls into this category, they will be punished for up to 16 months to three years in state prison.

How The Legal Sale Of Cannabis In California Happens

In California, only licensed dispensaries can sell cannabis to eligible persons. If you are 21 years or older, you can buy recreational cannabis by walking into a marijuana dispensary and presenting a valid ID such as driver's license or passport. On the other hand, qualified patients with MMJ cards must be at least 18 years old. It is also possible to purchase California weed via online orders or store pick-up options. Typically, most brick and mortar dispensaries accept only cash payments. However, a few accept credit cards and cashier's checks.

In compliance with the California weed laws, marijuana dispensaries in the state usually have cannabis products in four forms including flowers, concentrates, edibles, and applications.

Per the California medical marijuana laws, cannabis retailers are allowed to sell edible and non-edible cannabis products. Edible cannabis products must contain a maximum of 10 milligrams of THC per serving. Retailers may not sell packages containing more than 100 milligrams of THC. For non-edible cannabis products, retailers in California may sell products containing a maximum of 1,000 milligrams of THC per package for recreational use and 2,000 milligrams of THC per package for medicinal use.

It is important to note that cannabis retail stores do not sell alcohol or tobacco on their premises. Also, all cannabis retailers in California must have purchase limits that ensure customers do not buy more than the state-allowed limit. Retailers must also scan and record customer ID at the point of sale to maintain accurate record-keeping.

The California Bureau of Cannabis Control is the state office charged with regulating cannabis licensing in the state. There are two types of marijuana sales licenses:

  • The adult-use license (A-license) allows businesses to sell recreational marijuana. Firms with this license can sell cannabis, hash and concentrates, and marijuana paraphernalia to adults above 21 years without a doctor's recommendation.
  • The medical marijuana license (M-License) allows businesses to sell medical cannabis.

Cannabis sales licenses also differ by business type. These three types of businesses can apply for cannabis sales licenses:

  • Retailers that sell and deliver cannabis products to customers
  • Non-storefront retailers that provide a delivery-only service to customers and do not maintain a public storefront
  • Microbusinesses that do at least three of the following four activities:
    • Grow cannabis in a space less than 10,000 square feet;
    • Manufacture cannabis products;
    • Distribution;
    • Retail sales.

The California Bureau of Cannabis Control charges a $1000 application fee for retail businesses. The actual sales license fee can cost between $4,000 and $72,000 annually - depending on the expected sales volume.

Penalties for Marijuana-Related Crimes in California

In California, adults over 21 years old can purchase and consume cannabis. However, the state keeps stringent regulations around cannabis use and sale. The following are cannabis-related crimes and their penalties.

What Are Cannabis Possession Charges In California?

California adults older than 21 years old can legally possess up to 28.5 grams of cannabis flower or up to 8 grams of hash of cannabis concentrate. It becomes a possession charge if you are caught with marijuana greater than the stipulated amount. In most cases, weed possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months imprisonment and a maximum fine of $500. These penalties can become more severe if the defendant was caught on school property or if there is proof of possession with intent to distribute.

If the defendant is under the age of 21 years, the charges are lighter. Usually, an infraction punishable by a fine. Minors below the age of 18 are usually sent for drug counseling and community service. However, if the minor was in a vehicle at the time of contact with law enforcement, they may face harsher penalties, including up to $250 in fines and ten days in a detention center. The courts may also suspend the convicted minor's driver's license for twelve months or postpone their eligibility to obtain one.

Individuals may use recreational cannabis on private property only. However, consumption on the premises of a school, youth center, or daycare facility where kids are present or within 1,000 feet of any of these institutions is illegal. Consumption on the premises attracts jail time of up to 10 days and fines not exceeding $500.

Possession With Intent To Distribute In California

According to California Uniform Controlled Substance Act (HSC 11359), selling cannabis without a state and local license is a crime known as possession with intent to distribute. The courts can charge you for California marijuana distribution in the following circumstances:

  • Possession of large quantities of marijuana
  • Delivery or attempted delivery to underaged persons
  • Presence of bags and scales or packaging materials
  • Marijuana divided up into more than one place
  • An excess of cash
  • Presence of weapons
  • Address books or accounting materials

Depending on the circumstances, the penalties for possession with intent to distribute range from six months to seven years imprisonment. The fines also vary per county.

Hash And Concentrates In California

Hash and concentrates contain higher levels of THC than other marijuana formulations. The cannabis laws in the state prohibit non-medical patients from possessing more than eight grams of hashish, hash oil, or any other type of cannabis concentrate. Possessing illegal quantities of hash or other concentrates in California is a criminal misdemeanor that attracts a penalty of six months in prison and a $500 fine.

Manufacturing concentrates without a license is also illegal, and the penalties vary based on the method used.

  • Individuals who manufacture unauthorized hash or concentrate through chemical synthesis may pay up to $50,000 and serve between three to five years in prison
  • Individuals who manufacture unauthorized hash by any other means like press or screening may serve between sixteen months to three years in prison.

Marijuana Paraphernalia In California

There is no penalty for the possession of marijuana paraphernalia in California. However, possession with intent to distribute, sale, and delivery of marijuana paraphernalia is a misdemeanor offense. The offense attracts a maximum jail time of 180 days and fines of up to $500. However, delivery of marijuana paraphernalia to a minor or a person at least three years younger attracts a penalty of one year jail time and fines not exceeding $1,000.

Is Gifting Marijuana A Crime In California?

The California marijuana laws allow recreational cannabis users to buy cannabis within the legal amounts as gifts for others. However, they can only buy 28.5 grams or less. Anyone who gives more than 28.5 grams of cannabis to another may be charged with a misdemeanor offense with about a $100 fine. Pursuant to California Health and Safety Code 11361 HS, giving marijuana - no matter the amount - to a minor is considered a felony. The penalty is usually between three and five years in state prison if the minor is over 14 years old but less than 18. If a minor younger than 14 years of age is involved, the adult defendant will serve three to seven years in state prison.

Can I Cultivate Marijuana For Non-Medical Use In My Home?

Yes. In California, the law permits the cultivation of recreational cannabis at home. Individuals 21 years and above may grow up to six cannabis plants at home.

Is Transportation Of Marijuana Legal In California?

No, it is a crime to transport weed in California. In fact, it is illegal to drive a vehicle that has accessible cannabis in it. Similar to a simple possession charge, driving with cannabis may be considered a minor infraction with a fine of $100 if under 28.5 grams. The penalties become more severe if the amount exceeds 28.5 grams or if a child is involved.

What Is The Legal Implication Of Driving Under The Influence Of Marijuana In California?

Driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal in California. If a member of the state's law enforcement agency confirms that a driver is under the influence of marijuana using a drug recognition evaluator, the driver will face various consequences, including jail time, fines, insurance hikes, a criminal record, and may lose their driving privileges. This is true for both medical and recreational cannabis users.

Possible Remedies For The Defendant Of Violating California Marijuana Laws

There are legal defenses for the violation of marijuana laws in California. A prosecutor or a judge can agree to a reduced penalty in exchange for information on the drug network. Agreeing to cooperate with the investigation can result in the following:

  • Reduced sentence
  • Attending a drug treatment or narcotics anonymous program
  • Carrying out community service in place of incarceration

However, possible defenses for violating California drug laws, include:

  • The defendant can argue that marijuana was found during an illegal search by law enforcement officers.
  • The marijuana was intended for personal consumption and not for sale.
  • The marijuana does not belong to the defendant
  • The defendant was coerced by a law enforcement officer to distribute marijuana or the marijuana was planted by a law enforcement officer
  • Marijuana is for medical use
  • The quantity of marijuana found on the defendant was insufficient to warrant an arrest
  • The defendant's possession of marijuana was momentary, and they intended to dispose of, destroy, or abandon it.

Additional Limitations

The following are additional California marijuana limitations and penalties:

  • Involving a Minor: It is illegal to encourage a minor to ingest marijuana, administer cannabis to a minor, or transport and sell marijuana to a minor. The offense attracts a penalty of three to five years in jail.
  • Loitering with Controlled Substance: It is a misdemeanor offense to loiter in public while in possession of marijuana to commit a controlled substance offense.
  • Illegal Marketing of Marijuana: Knowingly participating in the marketing of marijuana, including the manufacture, possession, and sale of is liable to civil damages caused by their actions.
  • Violation of the California Uniform Controlled Substance Act: Any person who knowingly violates the drug program fee pays a $150 fine in addition to the fine for the original offense.

Confiscation Of Assets

Controlled substance violations can lead to the confiscation of assets in California. Government agents can seize any asset tied to illegal drug crime. Upon a conviction for the possession or sale of marijuana with intent to distribute in California, the confiscated assets become the property of the state.

What is California's Cannabis History?

California voters made recreational cannabis legal in 2016 when they approved ballot measure Proposition 64. However, the state has a longstanding history with cannabis.

The people of Mission San Jose - under Governor Diego de Borica - cultivated cannabis for fiber and rope back in 1795. Due to the Spanish missions, Southern California became a heavy cannabis producer. By 1807, California was producing 13,000 pounds of cannabis. By 1810, production had risen to 220,000 pounds.

In 1810, however, rebellion against the Spanish crown started among the Mexicans, and the crown cut all cannabis subsidies. This quickly led to the plant's disappearance from most Southern California, although some missions still locally grew the plant.

By the 1850s, during the Gold Rush, California residents began to grow cannabis for recreational use. However, the national sentiments towards cannabis started to change. In 1913, California amended the Poison Act of 1907. This amendment made California the first state to institute cannabis prohibition laws.

In the 1930s, the Reefer Madness Campaign went through the United States, and the Federal Government criminalized cannabis through the Marihuana [sic] Tax Act of 1937. The federal government repealed the Marihuana Tax Act in 1970 and replaced it with the Controlled Substances Act. Under this new act, cannabis is a Schedule 1 drug.

Also, in the 1970s, however, public opinions on cannabis began to change in California and other parts of the nation. In 1972, two years after the Federal Government implemented the Controlled Substances Act, California attempted to legalize cannabis with Proposition 19 - the California Marijuana Initiative (CMI). Although Proposition 19 failed, the California Senate passed Bill 95 three years later in 1975. Bill 95 eased the rules around cannabis, downgrading possession of 28.5 grams or less from a felony to a misdemeanor. This bill was instrumental in California's walk towards medical marijuana legalization.

San Francisco was one of the first cities in California that made efforts to legalize cannabis for medical use - around the 1990s. Santa Cruz soon joined the effort, and both cities - together - influenced the rest of the state. Across California, cities began to allow qualifying patients to buy cannabis to deal with AIDS, cancer, and glaucoma symptoms.

In 1996, California passed Proposition 215 – also known as the Compassionate Use Act - via a statewide ballot. Proposition 215 legalized medical cannabis and allowed California residents to buy and use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. Thus, the first state to prohibit cannabis became the first state to legalize medical cannabis.

California passed Senate Bill 1449 in 2010, downgrading possession of 28.5 grams or less of non-medical cannabis from a misdemeanor to an infraction. In 2015, the state passed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA), which brought proper structure to the medical cannabis industry.

The following years saw an increase in citizens' support for cannabis legalization. In 2016, 56% of California's voters approved Proposition 64. This proposition allows all California residents over the age of 21 to buy, use, or give other adults up to 28 grams of recreational cannabis. California was the sixth American state to legalize recreational cannabis.

What are Restrictions on Cannabis in California?

Although California has legalized medical and recreational cannabis, it still places restrictions on who uses it and how. In addition to the limits on the quantity of cannabis that can be purchased or cultivated, other restrictions on weed in California include:

  • Anyone who buys or uses recreational cannabis (regardless of type) must be at least 21 years old
  • Gifting or selling cannabis to minors is illegal
  • Driving under the influence of cannabis is illegal
  • Smoking, eating, or vaping cannabis in public is illegal
  • Opening a package that contains cannabis or any cannabis-related product in public is illegal
  • Consuming cannabis in any place where smoking is illegal is also prohibited. This prohibition includes (but is not limited to bars, restaurants, public buildings, and areas within 15 feet of doors and ventilation openings
  • California residents cannot consume cannabis on federal property
  • California property owners can ban the use and possession of cannabis on their properties if they choose
  • California residents cannot take cannabis across state lines, even if they are going to another cannabis-friendly state
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