California Marijuana Possession Laws

Is Possession of Marijuana Legal in California?

Yes. Possession of marijuana is legal for adults in California per the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA).

In California, adult (recreational) use means a person of legal age may possess and use marijuana without needing special permission. Even at that, the state stipulates the amount of marijuana a person may possess. On the other hand, medicinal use means individuals below the legal age may still possess and use cannabis, albeit within limits and with official permission.

The Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) regulates all activities regarding growing marijuana plants for personal and commercial purposes. The agency also has regulatory oversight over commercial cannabis activity in the state. 

How Much Weed Is a Felony in California?

It depends. The possession of weed is legal in California. Adults can have up to 28.5 grams (1 ounce) of weed on them. Above this amount, however, possession becomes criminal. Criminal possession, for the most part, is an infraction or misdemeanor. However, there are circumstances when having weed becomes a felony.

Factors that affect whether having weed is a felony in California include:

  • The person’s age: Generally, individuals over the age of 21 can be charged with felony possession. Younger adults (over 18) can still face felony charges under aggravating circumstances.
  • The amount of marijuana in possession at the time of arrest: Possessing more than 28.5 grams of weed, in commercial quantities, without a license, and with proof of intent to distribute or sell can result in felony charges.
  • The location of the arrest: For example, school areas, especially K-12 schools, while school is in session. Law enforcement can level felony charges against persons who habitually sell or distribute weed to underage persons, even if the amount is less than 28.5g. The same applies to having more than 8g of cannabis concentrate.
  • The circumstance surrounding the arrest: Selling or possessing commercial quantities of weed (over 28.5grams) in the act of violent or sexual crimes can result in felony charges. For example, if a person commits an offense that results in serious injury to another individual. 

What Are the Penalties for 1st Time Offense of Possession of Weed in California?

For the most part, offenses related to the possession of weed outside the purview of state laws are infractions or misdemeanors. First-time offenders typically face fines and alternative sentencing programs like community service and drug counseling. In some cases, however, a person will spend time in the county jail.

These penalties are stipulated under the California Health and Safety Code 11357 HS. The following are first-time possession offenses and their corresponding penalties:

  • Underage possession (less than 18): This offense is an infraction. First-time offenders typically have to complete court-ordered drug counseling and serve up to ten (10) hours of community service.
  • Underage of possession (older than 18 but less than 21): This offense is an infraction. In addition to court-ordered drug counseling and community service, the offender may have to pay up to $100 in fines.
  • Unlicensed possession of commercial quantities (21 and older): This offense refers to an adult caught with more than 28.5 grams of marijuana or more than 8 grams of cannabis concentrate. A first-time offense is a misdemeanor. The applicable penalties include up to six months in the county jail or paying up to $500 in fines. The court may also impose a combination of fines and jail time.
  • Possession of weed on K-12 school premises: Possession of weed on K-12 school premises is illegal, even if the amount is less than 28.5 grams and the individual is of legal age. A first-time offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to $250 in fines.
  • Possession of weed on K-12 school premises (under 18): The penalties for this infraction include drug counseling and community service.

Where To Buy Legal Weed in California

The DCC recommends that eligible adults and persons over 18 (with a permit) buy weed from licensed cannabis retailers. The agency maintains a database of licensed retailers that is accessible to the public. 

A search on this database will show the retailer’s business name, county of operation, address, phone number, email, and license information. Available license information include the expiry date, the license designation, license type, and status. It is important to check a retailer’s license status before buying weed to ensure the purchase is legal. 

That said, licensed cannabis retailers have three options for adults who want to buy weed:

  • Online order (private delivery or pickup)
  • In-store purchase

Retailers that offer the in-store purchase option operate marijuana dispensaries. These stores will have their commercial licenses displayed in their window in full public view. Cannabis retailer licenses have QR codes that intending customers may scan to see information about the seller and verify the license status. 

How Old Do You Have to Be to Buy Weed in California

The legal age to buy marijuana in California is 21 years old. However, California residents over 18 years can still buy marijuana, but only for medicinal purposes, and they must have supporting documentation.

Valid supporting documents include a physician’s recommendation letter or a valid medical marijuana identification card (MMIC). MMICs are valid outside the county of registration. The Department of Public Health maintains a list of counties participating in the MMIC program. 

Note that physician recommendation letters are different from prescriptions doctors issue for FDA-approved marijuana-containing medicine. Also, these prescriptions are only issued for qualifying conditions. Some of these conditions include arthritis, cancer, chronic pain, epileptic seizures, and conditions included in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

How Much Weed Can You Carry in California?

Per the California Health and Safety Code, an adult may only carry 28.5 grams or 1 ounce (oz) of marijuana on their person at any time. This amount is lesser for concentrated marijuana, however. The Safety Code restricts the amount of concentrated marijuana a person can carry to 8 grams.

Concentrated marijuana refers to a gooey, honey-like mass created by processing the marijuana plant. This end-product contains a higher amount of  THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), the potent component in marijuana. 

Possession of Marijuana Is Illegal on Federal Land in California

Indeed, California state laws permit commercial medical and adult (recreational) use and possession of marijuana in the amount specified in the Safety Code. However, at the federal level, marijuana remains illegal per the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA). As such, the possession of any amount of marijuana is illegal on federal lands within California.

These areas include National Forests and National Parks, military bases, and facilities, including VA hospitals. Furthermore, certain Indian reservations, ports, international airports, and border checkpoints in California fall into this category of federal land. In addition, the possession of marijuana in federal prisons, US post offices, and affiliated facilities in California is illegal. 

What Happens if You Get Caught With Weed Under 18 in California?

Per the Health and Safety Code Section 11357, possession of marijuana is illegal for persons under the age of 18. The penalties for underage possession are community service, completing drug education, or counseling. Generally:

  • Underage persons with less than 28.5 grams of marijuana (1 ounce) commit an infraction under this safety code. The penalty for this violation is serving up to 6 hours of drug education or counseling. The violator may also be ordered to serve up to 20 hours of community service. The same penalties apply to possessing less than 8 grams of cannabis concentrate.
  • Similarly, underage persons with more than 28.5 grams of marijuana (1 ounce) commit an infraction. Per the safety code, this offense is punishable by up to 10 hours of drug education or counseling. The individual may also serve up to 60 hours of community service. The same penalties apply to possessing more than 8 grams of cannabis concentrate.

How Many Marijuana Plants Can You Have in California?

Six (6) marijuana plants. The California Health and Safety Code Section 11362.2 limits the maximum number of marijuana plants a person or household can grow on private (non-commercial) properties to six (6). Furthermore, the safety code stipulates that private growers must grow the plants out of public view and in a locked space.

Despite this stipulation, counties and cities in California may have ordinances that regulate the outdoor cultivation of marijuana. Thus, it is best to check local ordinances in your county of residence before growing marijuana plants for personal use.

How Much Weed Can You Fly With from California?

None. California state laws prohibit crossing state lines (into or out of) California. This restriction applies even if the other state legalizes marijuana possession. Interstate transport of weed is illegal because weed is illegal at the federal level.

Is It Illegal to Be High in Public in California?

Yes. It is illegal to use marijuana in public in California per Section 11362.2. of the California Health and Safety Code:

  • Indeed, California residents can use marijuana on private property. However, it is illegal to use, smoke, eat, or vape marijuana in public places. These include roads, public squares, parks, and beaches.
  • Also, it is illegal to use or smoke marijuana and marijuana products on private properties where the property owner has banned the use or possession of marijuana on that property.
  • It is illegal to use marijuana in a car, especially while operating a car, boat, or other vehicles.
  • Having an open container or bag of marijuana in a car is illegal, even as a passenger. State laws, however, permit having marijuana in an approved sealed package or container. In every other instance, drivers and passengers must keep marijuana and marijuana products in the trunk of the car.
  • Driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal in California. 
California Marijuana Possession Laws