Changing times have resulted in misconceptions about California’s marijuana laws. Here are five facts that will help you better understand California Marijuana charges so you can make informed decisions.
1. MOST CALIFORNIANS CANNOT LEGALLY POSSESS OR SELL MARIJUANA
Personal use possession of one ounce or less of marijuana is now an infraction in California. That does not mean possession is legal. Unless you meet the legal requirements for the possession of medical marijuana, you can still be fined for possessing an ounce or less, but you will not have a criminal record if you pay the fine.
Possession of more than an ounce is still a crime unless you legally possess medical marijuana. The sale of marijuana continues to be a felony in California unless you are authorized by California law to dispense medical marijuana.
2. IT IS ILLEGAL FOR MOST CALIFORNIANS TO GROW THEIR OWN MARIJUANA
Possessing marijuana is not the same as possessing a marijuana plant. For most people, growing marijuana is a felony.
If you are a medical marijuana patient who has been authorized by a doctor to possess marijuana, you are subject to a bewildering array of California laws governing marijuana cultivation. The default law allows you to possess six mature or twelve immature plants. Many communities use zoning laws in an effort to eradicate all marijuana cultivation. Court challenges to those zoning regulations have met with mixed results.
Marijuana collectives that seek to grow marijuana for patients to use face an even more confusing set of contradictory laws. If a doctor has recommended that you treat a medical condition with marijuana and you want to grow your own, or if you want to join a collective, you should get advice from a marijuana defense lawyer in Orange County to find out whether or not your operation is lawful. That advice may differ depending on the city and county in which you want to grow your marijuana.
3. MARIJUANA CRIMES CONTINUE TO BE PROSECUTED IN CALIFORNIA
Misdemeanor arrests for marijuana crimes were dramatically reduced after the California legislature made simple possession of an ounce or less an infraction rather than a misdemeanor. A record high of 61,000 marijuana prosecutions in 2009 plummeted to fewer than 8,000 misdemeanor marijuana arrests in 2012, a year after the change in the law took effect.
The change in California law has saved millions of dollars in law enforcement and judicial costs associated with marijuana prosecutions, but it has not stopped the police from making marijuana arrests. Preliminary estimates from the California Attorney General show that there were 13,779 felony arrests for marijuana crimes in 2013, up slightly from 2012. When misdemeanor arrests are added to that total, more than 20,000 people were arrested for marijuana crimes in California during 2013.
4. A MEDICAL MARIJUANA RECOMMENDATION IS NOT ALWAYS A SHIELD AGAINST PROSECUTION
If a doctor recommended the use of marijuana to treat your medical condition, you have a defense to a prosecution for simple possession of marijuana in violation of California law. That defense might not protect you under the following circumstances:
- You possessed more than the law allows. Determine what “the law allows??? can be tricky. A medical marijuana patient can possess 8 ounces of marijuana at a time, but that quantity can be higher if a doctor recommends possession of a larger quantity. Municipalities are also authorized to increase the amount that patients can possess within their boundaries. The difficulty of knowing “how much is too much??? can pose a trap for unwary patients but it can also assist the defense of a possession charge.
- You sold your marijuana to someone else. The law authorizes patients to possess marijuana for their own use. It does not allow patients to sell marijuana to someone else. You can be prosecuted for a felony if you sell your medical marijuana.
- You participated in an unauthorized medical marijuana collective. The laws governing California’s medical marijuana laws are confusing. Local governments have taken inconsistent positions regarding regulations of collectives within their boundaries. Prosecutions are common when the collective sells marijuana for a profit or when it does not meet the legal requirements that govern medical marijuana collectives. If you are prosecuted for your role in a collective, an experienced marijuana defense attorney can exploit ambiguities in the law for your benefit.
5. LATINOS AND BLACKS ARE MORE LIKELY THAN WHITES TO BE ARRESTED FOR MARIJUANA POSSESSION
Surveys conducted by the United States government consistently find that whites are more likely than blacks or Hispanics to use marijuana. According to the Drug Police Foundation (DPF), however, Los Angeles arrests blacks for marijuana possession at seven times the arrest rate for whites while San Diego arrests blacks at six times the arrest rate for whites. Blacks account for only 11% of Pasadena’s population but they make up 49% of the population arrested for marijuana possession. Similar disparities are evident when arrests of whites are compared to arrests of Latinos for marijuana possession.
The DPF concluded that changing simple possession to an infraction rather than a misdemeanor did not affect the discriminatory application of the law. Blacks and Latinos continue to receive disproportionately more citations than whites for marijuana infractions. The DPF does not attribute those disparities to individual instances of racism but to institutionalized practices that affect law enforcement agencies in every county in California.