CALIFORNIA MARIJUANA LAWS
Possession For Personal Use (California Health & Safety Code §11357)
Possession of Less Than an Ounce (28.5 grams or less) is a misdemeanor punishable only by a fine of up to $100 and additional amounts as court and penalty assessments.
Possession of More Than an Ounce (over 28.5 grams) is also a misdemeanor punishable by up to six (6) months in county jail and a fine of up to $500 plus penalty assessments.
Possession of Concentrated Cannabis is a so-called "wobbler" which can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony punishable by up to three (3) years in state prison. Fines can amount up to $10,000. If charged and sentenced as a felony, this offense for possession of what is commonly known as hashish can be subsequently reduced to a misdemeanor.
Possession For Sale (California Health & Safety Code §11359)
Possession with intent to sell for benefits such as cash, goods, services or other favors can result in imprisonment in state prison for up to three (3) years and a fine of $10,000. Unfortunately, in California possession with intent to sell can be prosecuted and proven based on the quantity alone and/or the opinion of a police officer that the marijuana was possessed for sale rather than personal use. Technically, the testifying officer must qualify as a narcotics expert; however, in practice, the officer's mere statement that he/she is such an expert is sufficient to make testimony admissible in court.
The prosecution's case will depend on "indicia" of sales including the presence of scales, packaging in terms of type and number of packages, money, pay/owe sheets, multiple cell phones, pagers, the degree of foot traffic at the premises and, of course, the quantity of the marijuana involved. Often, text messages retrieved from cell phones constitute the most damaging and incriminating evidence, together with admissions that marijuana was to be exchanged for anything of value. Number, as opposed to size of packages involved, is also very important. In other words, multiple, small and uniformly packaged and weighed baggies or containers can be more damaging than a single package containing a greater amount of marijuana.
Maintaining or Making Available a Place Where Marijuana is Stored or Distributed (California Health & Safety Code §§11366, 11366.5)
These offenses, known as "wobblers", felonies which can be charged as or subsequently reduced to misdemeanors, punish opening, maintaining, renting, leasing or otherwise controlling or making available spaces where controlled substances, including marijuana, are held for the purpose of storage or distribution. Punishment can be imprisonment for up to three (3) years in state prison. For the statute to apply, the defendant must know that marijuana is being stored or distributed but it is not necessary that defendant be proven to have benefited or been compensated for his or her role.
Cultivation (California Health & Safety Code §11358)
In California, it is a felony, punishable by imprisonment of up to three (3) years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000, to plant, cultivate, harvest, dry or process marijuana. One plant is sufficient for criminal liability although, as described in the medical marijuana laws section of this website, California medical marijuana laws protect qualified patients and primary caregivers. Possession of even a small number of plants can be charged and prosecuted as possession with intent to sell.
Transportation, Importation and Distribution (California Health & Safety Code §11360)
Anyone who transports, imports into California, sells or distributes marijuana, by giving it away or otherwise, can be punished by imprisonment in state prison for up to four (4) years. Attempts or offers to do any of these acts are treated the same under the law. In cases when a person transports or gives away, or attempts or offers to do so, not more than 28.5 grams of marijuana other than concentrated cannabis (hashish), the offense is a misdemeanor punishable only by a fine of not more than $100.
Sales to Minors or Employment of Minors (California Health & Safety Code §11361)
An adult who (1) hires, employs or uses a minor to unlawfully carry, transport, give away and sell or prepare for sale, (2) distributes or (3) induces a minor under fourteen (14) years of age to use any marijuana, can be sentenced to up to seven (7) years in state prison. If a minor is over fourteen (14) the maximum punishment is five (5) years.
License Suspension Upon Conviction of Drug Related Offenses (California Vehicle Code §13202)
The court may order driver's license suspension for up to 3 years if a person was convicted of a drug related offense when the use of a motor vehicle was involved in or related to the commission of the offense. This broad statute can be applied to even minor marijuana or drug crimes such as possession for personal use. However, practical use of this statute is limited to cases involving sales, possession for sale, transportation, or sale to a minor.
Defendants convicted of first time offense for simple possession for personal use of no more than thirty (30) ounces can avoid adverse immigration consequences, such as deportation or denial of naturalization, by successfully completing a rehabilitation program or probation. Possession of over thirty (30) grams is a deportable offense. Potential negative immigration consequences increase with more serious offenses such as possession for sale, transportation or cultivation.
Jones Law has experience in helping non-citizens with solutions to immigration related problems caused by marijuana as well as other charges.
Juvenile and Under 21Defendants
For persons under age 21 a marijuana conviction, including a conviction for simple possession, can result in the loss of a driver's license for up to 1 year, even if no vehicle or driving was involved when the offense was committed. However, some courts offer youthful offender alternative programs allowing defendants to avoid conviction and loss of license by participating in counseling or education programs.
A person under 21 whose license has been suspended may request a restricted license from the DMV or the Court if such person can demonstrate a "critical need to drive." Typically, to get a restricted license, a person will need to show a great need to drive to either school or work as well as a lack of public transportation as an adequate alternative to driving.
Minors (up to age 18) may have all marijuana convictions, including possession for sale, dismissed by participating in community service or a drug rehabilitation or education program. Courts have wide discretion in imposing punishment which can include probation, placement or a youth authority commitment up to the maximum term of imprisonment for the offense.
Presence of firearms will not only affect your success in defending your case but also will likely result in significant sentence enhancements, depending upon the type of offense charged. In a federal prosecution, presence of a gun may mean additional five (5) years in prison.
The help of a good lawyer is critical in limiting the damage that a criminal or DUI case can have on your family, your life and your livelihood. Of course a good lawyer can minimize the penalties such as jail, fines and license suspension or revocation.
David E. Jones is a former Deputy District Attorney and a highly skilled DUI/DWI and criminal defense lawyer with more than 20 years of experience helping clients who are facing State and Federal criminal charges.