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California Marijuana Penalties

Updated on April 30, 2020.  Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer

California Medical Marijuana Penalties

California became the first state in the nation to allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in 1996. California medical marijuana penalties became even more lenient in 2016, when the state’s voters approved a measure to decriminalize recreational cannabis. In California today, anyone who is over the age of 21 or who has a medical marijuana card can purchase cannabis from licensed dispensaries.  

California Medical Marijuana: Conditions and Caregivers

California’s cannabis marijuana laws are very favorable to patients who use marijuana for medicine. If you’re interested in obtaining a California medical marijuana card, you’ll need your doctor to diagnose you with a serious medical condition and recommend that marijuana is appropriate for treatment. There are many qualifying conditions, including persistent muscle spasms, cancer, nausea, migraines, AIDS, glaucoma, chronic pain and arthritis. Your doctor can also recommend medical marijuana for any condition that limits your ability to conduct major life activities.

A patient can also apply for a medical marijuana card in California for his or her primary caregiver. The primary caregiver is someone who is responsible for taking care of a qualified patient in the form of safety, health or housing. A primary caregiver may be someone who runs a home health agency, a licensed clinic or a hospice facility, for example. Typically, the primary caregiver needs to be at least 18, though certain exceptions apply.

Patients must apply for medical marijuana cards through their county. Fees are limited to $100 per card. Patients and caregivers are also exempt from paying retail sales tax on cannabis products.

California Cultivation and Possession

California medical marijuana rules say that medical marijuana cardholders can possess and grow as much cannabis as they need to treat their medical condition.

In the past, patients were allowed to grow marijuana in collectives or cooperatives. However, California medical marijuana rules changed and began requiring these groups to obtain state licenses.

Rules around growing cannabis vary greatly from county to county and even city to city in California. In Sonoma County, for example, patients are allowed to grow up to 100 square feet of cannabis, with no limit on the number of plants.

Patients can grow cannabis in their homes. However, if they live on a rental property, their landlord will not be required by law to allow that cultivation. There are some counties and cities in the state that have outlawed the cultivation of cannabis completely. In addition, landlords may prohibit tenants from cultivating marijuana on the property.

Penalties for Non-Medical Users

California marijuana laws allow residents who are 21 and older to buy and possess up to one ounce of marijuana and up to 8 grams of concentrate. Residents may also cultivate up to six cannabis plants at their residence.

The penalties vary depending on how much cannabis you possess, how old you are and where you were located. For instance, if you possess more than one ounce, you could be charged with a misdemeanor and face six months of imprisonment and a fine of up to $500. Similarly, if you cultivate more than six plants, you could be charged with a misdemeanor and face six months of imprisonment and a $500 fine. 

There are specific rules related to hash and concentrates, as well. For instance, the unauthorized manufacturing of hash and concentrates could result in 16 months to three years of imprisonment and a $500 fine.

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