Effective immediately in 2016 and beyond, California’s prop. 64 has legalized the personal use of marijuana and radically reduced criminal penalties for violations of marijuana use.  Prior to prop. 64, medical marijuana was legal for Californians who had a valid medical prescription.  These laws are still in effect, so if you have a valid medical prescription, you should continue to use it.  It could be another couple years before state licensed marijuana dispensaries can sell marijuana for recreational use.

Freedoms on Personal Use of Marijuana  

If you are 21 years or older it is now legal to own, use, consume and give away up to one ounce of marijuana, or 4 grams of concentrate.  You can also grow up to 6 plants of marijuana on your property and use, consume, or gift such marijuana.

Relief from Criminal Penalties For Use or Sale of Marijuana

Another welcome aspect of the new law is the reduction of criminal penalties for unauthorized use or sale of marijuana.

Adult violations (18  yrs. to 20), which engage in any uses which are authorized if you are 21 yrs. and older are now $100 infractions.   Previously such violations carried jail time and fines.

If you are 21 yrs. and older and engage in uses beyond one ounce or 6 plants you still can face a misdemeanor with up to 6-months jail time and a $500 fine.

If you are engaged in the sale of marijuana without a state license, your penalties are now reduced to a misdemeanor with no more than 6 months in jail and a $500 fine.

What About Federal Laws On Marijuana?

The big caveat here is that federal laws still criminalize the use, possession and sale of a marijuana. These laws carry hefty prison terms and fines.  However, an important 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision in United States v. McIntosh (Aug. 2016) held that the federal spending provisions do authorize the Department of Justice to prosecute federal drug violations where the states had legalized such uses.

It is worth quoting the August 16, 2016 opinion:

“We therefore conclude that, at a minimum, § 542 prohibits DOJ from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the State Medical Marijuana Laws and who fully complied with such laws.”

we conclude that § 542 prohibits the federal government only from preventing the implementation of those specific rules of state law that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals covers California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, Montana and Hawaii.  Most of these states have already legalized or decriminalized the use of marijuana.

Conclusion of California’s Marijuana Laws

In sum, the new California laws allow adult users over the age of 21 to use and possess up to 1-oz. of marijuana. Engaging in the business of marijuana is more tricky and requires licensing and permits from state and municipal authorities.  Decriminalization of minor possessions and sales is also a infraction or misdemeanor at worst.  As for federal law, the question is still open as to what the Supreme Court might do, but for now the Court of Appeals in the 9th Circuit has said the Department of Justice cannot criminally prosecute people who are protected under state law.

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