California Marijuana Laws: Is Marijuana Legal in California?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Marijuana use and cultivation for personal medicinal purposes is currently legal in California. On November 8, 2016, California voters approved the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. However, marijuana would still be illegal under federal law. Come back soon for updates to the information below.

Possession of Marijuana in California
If you are arrested for charges relating to possession of marijuana, and do not have a recommendation from your doctor, the charges you face depend on the amount of marijuana in your possession and how you intended to use it. Marijuana penalties can include incarceration, fines, and marijuana addiction treatment. Those who have small amounts for personal use face much lesser penalties than those who are growing it, who have large amounts, or who intend to sell marijuana. Likewise, while adults can face jail or prison sentences, minors will typically face spending time in a juvenile facility. Also of note is that those who possess synthetic forms of marijuana (tetrahydrocannabinols) typically face stiffer penalties than those who possess actual marijuana.

In order to be charged with attempted distribution of marijuana you do not have to be caught in the act of selling it. A large amount of marijuana, measuring equipment, baggies, and other paraphernalia can be used as evidence of your intent to sell. Below is a table that indicates the penalties for acts related to the illegal possession, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana under California law. Keep in mind that there are separate penalties under federal law. Due to the sometimes complicated nature of California’s marijuana laws, specific penalties could vary depending on your particular circumstances so you should consult an attorney. (California Health and Safety Code Section 11357-11362.9)

Marijuana Penalties Table

Activity Offense Incarceration Fine (max)


Possession 28.5 g or less 1st, 2nd, 3rd   $100


4th or more2 Drug Treatment
At a school By an Adult 10 days (max) $500
By a Minor 1st   $250
2nd or more 10 days at a juvenile facility $500
Over 28.5 g Any 6 months (max) $500
Giving Away 28.5 g or less Any   $100
Over 28.5 g Any except third strike3 2, 3, or 4 years  


To a minor 14 or older Any except third strike3 3, 4, or 5 years  
under 14 Any except third strike3 3, 5, or 7 years  
Cultivation Any except third strike3 2, 3, or 4 years  
Sale To an Adult Any except third strike3 2, 3, or 4 years  
To a Minor Any except third strike3 3, 5, or 7 years  
  1. In cases of possession or cultivation for personal use, drug court may be available in lieu of the penalties ascribed in the above table.
  2. Offense must be within two years of a previous marijuana offense. Any above marijuana offense is considered a previous marijuana offense.
  3. California has a three strikes law. You should consult an attorney to see if this is applicable in your case.

Follow this link for more information about California Marijuana Laws and California Medical Marijuana Laws

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