California is among the most liberal states in many areas, including the recreational and medical use of marijuana. Both are legal under state law, though of course they remain illegal under federal law. Additionally, medical and recreational users can have, carry, sell, and grow marijuana according to California laws.
To use medical marijuana in California, one does not need to have a medical marijuana ID card, only a doctor’s recommendation.
However, having the card makes it easier to obtain weed and increases the amount that can be possessed and purchased. Also, registered medical users are exempted from paying sales tax when buying marijuana.
Go to the end of this article for the current legal position for the use of and possession of Cannabis in California at the start of 2024.
Before WWI, medical marijuana and cannabis could be obtained in California with a prescription. But by 1932, the possession and sale of marijuana became punishable by up to 10 and 15 years in prison, respectively.
After WWII, the possession, use, and selling of marijuana remained illegal, and the first legalization movements began springing up in the mid-1960s in the San Francisco area.
In 1975, the Moscone Act decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana and made it a civil, instead of a criminal, offense. The possession of up to an ounce was treated as a misdemeanor, but larger quantities and cultivation remained a criminal matter.
In the early 1990s, a movement for the legalization of medical marijuana started in San Francisco. It quickly spread throughout the state and led to the eventual legalization of medical marijuana in California.
The Compassionate Use Act (1996)
Medical marijuana was legalized back in 1996 with the passage of Proposition 215, commonly known as the Compassionate Use Act. Prior to the ballot, cannabis activists gathered around 775,000 signatures across the state in support of the ballot proposition. Finally, on November 5, it was approved with 55.6% (5,382,915) of the votes for and 44.4% (4,301,960) against.
The adoption of Proposition 215 made it legal for patients with a doctor’s recommendation to own, use, grow, and transport marijuana in California. The diagnoses and symptoms for which medical marijuana could be recommended included AIDS, anorexia, chronic pain, cancer, glaucoma, migraine, arthritis, spasticity, and more. The voter initiative also urged lawmakers to help develop affordable and safe distribution of the drug.
Subsequent Bills, Acts, and Propositions
California Senate Bill 420 (also known as the Medical Marijuana Program Act) was adopted in January 2003 to further clarify the guidelines proposed in The Compassionate Use Act and to differentiate between patients and non-patients. Bill 420 introduced the Medical Marijuana ID Card system.
In 2009, the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act was proposed by Tom Ammiano. If passed into law, the act would regulate the use and sale of marijuana in California. According to the bill, marijuana can be openly sold to legal adults (persons aged 21 and older).
A year later in November 2010, Proposition 19 was rejected by California voters. 53.5% were against it to 46.5% for. If passed into law, the proposition would have legalized the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana in a similar fashion to alcohol.
Proposition 64 (2016)
Finally, on November 8, 2016, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (Proposition 64) was adopted. On election day, it gathered 57% of votes for and 43% against. The law legalized the sale and distribution of concentrated and dry cannabis for recreational purposes.
Adults are allowed, according to the law, to have 6 marijuana plants per household. The plants must not be visible from the outside and can’t be grown on the front lawn. Additionally, adult individuals can possess up to 8 grams of concentrated cannabis and up to 1 ounce of dry cannabis.
Starting in 2018, the first licenses for business establishments and cultivation were issued in California. The first retailers opened in Santa Ana on January 1, 2018, and West Hollywood a day later.
Medical Marijuana ID Card
While not required, having a Medical Marijuana ID Card can make things a lot simpler. For example, a cardholder is permitted to possess more than one ounce of marijuana. Also, they can have more than 8 grams of concentrated cannabis and grow more than 6 marijuana plants per household. Additionally, they can buy marijuana from any marijuana dispensary.
The California Medical Marijuana ID Card can be obtained quite easily, as patients only need a recommendation from their doctor. Keep in mind that doctors can’t prescribe marijuana, as it is still a Schedule I illegal substance at the federal level, but they can recommend it.
California led the wave of marijuana legalization across the country in recent years.
Medical marijuana users in California are not required to have a marijuana ID card and can obtain the drug at any marijuana dispensary in the state.
Even though medical marijuana and cannabis are legal for both medical and recreational use in California, they are still outlawed at the federal level. Thus, the possession and use of weed on federal ground, such as Yosemite, is technically punishable by law.
Penalties for Personal Possession and Use
You can go to the NORML website for restrictions and penalties applying to trafficking, sales or non-personal use. The following information concerns personal use and possession:
California has some of the most liberal and leniant laws governing the possession and use of marijuana and cannabis products for non-medical use.
What is important to note with the law is the differentiation of conditions and penalties governing private possession over 21 years, less than 21 years, and under 18 years.
The NORML website states:
"Proposition 64, The Adult Use Marijuana Act, permits adults over 21 years of age who are not participating in the state’s medical cannabis program to legally grow (up to six plants, including all of the harvest from those plants) and to possess personal use quantities of cannabis (up to one ounce of flower and/or up to eight grams of concentrates) while also licensing commercial cannabis production and retail sales. The law took effect on November 9, 2016.
Possession of more than 28.5 grams of marijuana flower is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months imprisonment and/or a fine up to $500. If the amount possessed is 28.5 grams or less but the person is 18 years of age or older and the possession occurred on school grounds, the person is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to 10 days imprisonment and/or a fine up to $500. If the offender is younger than 18 years of age, then the offense is an infraction punishable by up to 8 hours of drug counseling and/or up to 40 hours of community service."
NORML states on their website:
"Proposition 64, The Adult Use Marijuana Act, permits adults over 21 years of age who are not participating in the state’s medical cannabis program to legally grow (up to six plants, including all of the harvest from those plants). The law took effect on November 9, 2016.
Cultivation of 6 plants or more is a misdemeanor punishable by 6 months incarceration and a fine of $500.
Cultivation of any amount by a person under 18 years of age is an infraction punishable by up to 8 hours of drug counseling and/or up to 40 hours of community service."
In short, you can legally grow your own plants for recreation use, and grow five of them with the state allowing you to keep the whole harvest from 5 plants, if you are over 21.
Concentrates, Hashish and Hashish Oil
In California, hashish or concentrates are referred to as “concentrated cannabis”. Proposition 64, The Adult Use Marijuana Act, permits adults over 21 years of age who are not participating in the state’s medical cannabis program to possess personal use quantities of up to eight grams of concentrates. The law took effect on November 9, 2016.
Possession of more than 8 grams of concentrates is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months imprisonment and/or a fine up to $500.
If the offender is younger than 18 years of age, then the offense is an infraction punishable by up to 8 hours of drug counseling and/or up to 40 hours of community service.
There is no penalty for the simple possession of marijuana paraphernalia.
New Conclusion, 2024
California takes an enlightened approach to the possession and use of cannabis and marijuana and proposition 64, enacted in 2016, has seen a wholesale relaxation of previous laws and penalties to the point of decriminalizing marijuana. Laws are now moree focused on guiding youth away from abusing cannabis and from levels of possession that might indicate business that is outside of the rules and purview of the state government's granting of cannabis business and industry licences.
Proposition 64 has also supported the expunging of records for possession before the law took effect, effectively removing any unfair character records when possession was considered a criminal offense:
"This state has enacted legislation explicitly providing the opportunity for those with marijuana convictions for activities that have since been decriminalized/legalized to have past marijuana convictions expunged, vacated, otherwise set aside, or sealed from public view."
California also has medical marijuana laws enacted.