Cannabis in California

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Hemp (Cannabis ruderalis) has a lower amount of THC than "Marijuana", most Hemp plants contain as little as 0.03% THC. The word Cannabis is not the name of the "drug", it is the Latin Genus for the Family of flowering plants known as Cannabis. This includes Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica, and Cannabis Ruderalis. All of these can flower into psychoactive Marijuana, but the hemp leaves themselves remain non-psychoactive.

Cannabis in California comprises a number of legislative, legal, and cultural events surrounding use of cannabis. Medical marijuana is legal pursuant to Proposition 215 in 1996 and Senate Bill 420. Recreational marijuana possession of up to one ounce is an infraction, similar to a traffic violation, with a $100 fine. There have been many failed proposals regarding its legality.


On September 30, 2010, the Governor signed into law CA State Senate Bill 1449, which effectively reduces the charge of possession of one ounce of cannabis from a misdemeanor to an infraction, similar to a traffic violation, with a $100 fine and no mandatory court appearance or criminal record.[1] The law became effective January 1, 2011.

California was the first state to establish a medical marijuana program, enacted by Proposition 215 in 1996 and Senate Bill 420 in 2003. Prop. 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act, was approved by initiative with a 55% majority, allowing people with cancer, AIDS and other chronic illnesses the right to grow or obtain marijuana for medical purposes when recommended by a doctor. SB 420, or the Medical Marijuana Protection Act, was signed into law by Governor Gray Davis and established an identification card system for medical marijuana patients.

Vague wording became a major criticism of Prop. 215, though the law has since been clarified through California Supreme Court rulings and the passage of subsequent laws. In January, 2010, the California Supreme Court ruled that the amendments to Prop 215 were illegal, and all limits on medical marijuana in California were lifted. Presently, within the state of California, Medical Marijuana users with a valid Doctors recommendation may grow and possess as much marijuana as they require, provided that it is strictly for personal use.[2] To differentiate patients from non-patients, Governor Gray Davis signed California Senate Bill 420 (colloquially known as the Medical Marijuana Program Act) in 2003, establishing an identification card system for medical marijuana patients. SB 420 also allows for the formation of patient collectives, or non-profit organizations, to provide the drug to patients.[3] Medical marijuana ID cards are issued through the California Department of Public Health's Medical Marijuana Program (MMP).[4] The program began in three counties in May 2005, and expanded statewide in August of the same year. 37,236 cards have been issued throughout 55 counties as of December 2009.[5]

Critics of California's program argue that marijuana has become quasi-legal, as "anyone can obtain a recommendation for medical marijuana at any time for practically any ailment".[6] Acknowledging that there are instances in which the system is abused and that laws could be improved, Stephen Gutwillig of the Drug Policy Alliance Network[7] insists that the passages of Proposition 215 is "nothing short of incredible". Gutwillig argues that because of the law, 200,000 patients in the state now have safe and affordable access to medical marijuana to relieve pain and treat medical conditions, without having to risk arrest or buy the drug off the black market.[6] Twelve other U.S. states have followed California's lead to enact medical marijuana laws of their own: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.[8]

In 2009, Tom Ammiano introduced the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act, which would remove penalties under state law for the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana for persons over the age of 21. When the Assembly Public Safety Committee approved the bill on a 4 to 3 vote in January 2010, this marked the first time in United States history that a bill legalizing marijuana passed a legislative committee. While the legislation failed to reach the Assembly floor, Ammiano stated his plans to reintroduce the bill later in the year, depending on the success of Proposition 19, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act, which appeared on the November 2010 ballot.[9] However, the proposition lost 46% to 54%.[10]



The Poison Act was passed in 1907, and in 1913 an amendment (Stats. 1913, Ch. 342, p. 697) was made to make possession of "extracts, tinctures, or other narcotic preparations of hemp, or loco-weed, their preparations and compounds" a misdemeanor.[11] There's no evidence that the law was ever used or intended to restrict pharmaceutical cannabis; instead it was a legislative mistake, and in 1915 another amendment (Stats. 1915, Ch. 604, pp. 1067–1068) forbade the sale or possession of "flowering tops and leaves, extracts, tinctures and other narcotic preparations of hemp or loco weed (Cannabis sativa), Indian hemp" except with a prescription.[11] Both bills were drafted and supported by the California State Board of Pharmacy.[11]

In 1925, possession, which had previously been treated the same as sales, became punishable by up to 6 years in prison, and illegal sale, which had initially been a misdemeanor punishable by a $100–$400 fine and/or 50–180 days in jail for first offenders, became punishable by 6 months–6 years.[11] In 1927, the law against opium dens was finally extended to Indian hemp.[11] In 1929, second offenses for possession became punishable by sentences of 6 months–10 years.[11] In 1937, cannabis cultivation became a separate offense.[11] In 1939, the word "marihuana" was written into the law for the first time when the narcotics code was rewritten and codified as part of the new California Health and Safety Code (Stats. 1939, Ch. 60).[11] In 1954, penalties for marijuana possession were hiked to a minimum 1–10 years in prison, and sale was made punishable by 5–15 years with a mandatory 3 years before eligibility for parole; two prior felonies raised the maximum sentences for both offenses to life imprisonment.[11]


Proposition 19, a ballot proposition previously attempting to decriminalize marijuana, was defeated in the November 1972 state election by a 66.5% majority.[12] In 1973, California's neighboring state of Oregon became the first state to decriminalize cannabis.[13]

Decriminalization of marijuana, which treats the possession of small amounts of the drug as a civil, rather than a criminal, offense, was established in July 1975 when the Legislature passed Senate Bill 95, the Moscone Act.[11][13][14][15] SB 95 made possession of one ounce (28.5 grams) of marijuana a misdemeanor punishable by a $100 fine[16] (with the assessments added to fines in California, this will total about $480), with higher punishments for amounts greater than one ounce, for possession on school grounds, or for cultivation.[17]

Proposition 36 (also known as the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act of 2000) was approved by 61% of voters, requiring that "first- and second-offense drug violators be sent to drug treatment programs instead of facing trial and possible incarceration."[18] Marijuana remains decriminalized in California today.[17]

On September 30, 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law CA State Senate Bill 1449, effectively reducing the charge of possession of up to one ounce of cannabis from a misdemeanor to a violation, similar to a traffic violation, with a $100 fine and no mandatory court appearance or criminal record.[1] The law became effective January 1, 2011.

Medical marijuana[edit]

Medical marijuana sign at a dispensary on Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles, California

California's medical marijuana program was established when state voters approved Proposition 215 (also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996)[19] on the November 5, 1996 ballot with a 55% majority.[20] The proposition added Section 11362.5 to the California Health and Safety Code, modifying state law to allow people with cancer, anorexia, AIDS, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraines or other chronic illnesses the "legal right to obtain or grow, and use marijuana for medical purposes when recommended by a doctor". The law also mandated that doctors not be punished for recommending the drug, and required that federal and state governments work together "to implement a plan to provide for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need."[19][20] Proposition 215 does not affect federal law, which still prohibits the cultivation and possession of marijuana.

On October 7, 2011 an extensive and coordinated crackdown on California's marijuana dispensaries was announced by the chief prosecutors of the state's four Federal districts.,[21] leading to concerns among advocates and patients that a de facto nullification of state medical marijuana laws was in the offing.

Recreational marijuana[edit]

In November 2010 California voters were presented with Proposition 19 that would have effectively made possession and cultivation of marijuana legal for everyone over the age of 21, and would regulate it similarly to alcohol. If passed, Proposition 19 would not only provide much needed revenue for the Californian budget, but would virtually eliminate marijuana grown illegally on public lands, removing the threat of hikers, hunters, fishermen and others walking into illegal grow operations and quite possibly boobytraps set up by illegal growers. California's Proposition 19 has the support of many law enforcement agencies as it would free up much needed resources and allow them to direct them into areas of law enforcement that they are really needed, such as the eradication of illegal drug labs where methamphetamine is manufactured.[6]

On February 23, 2009,[22] Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D) introduced the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act, a proposed bill that would "remove all penalties under California law for the cultivation, transportation, sale, purchase, possession, and use of marijuana, natural THC and paraphernalia by persons over the age of 21" and "prohibit local and state law enforcement officials from enforcing federal marijuana laws".[23] The bill would help with battling the 2008–2010 California budget crisis by allowing the state to regulate and tax its sale at $50 per ounce.[24] According to Time, California tax collectors estimate the bill would raise about $1.3 billion a year in revenue.

Critics such as John Lovell, lobbyist for the California Peace Officers' Association, argue that too many people already struggle with alcohol and drug abuse, and legalizing another mind-altering substance would lead to a "surge" of use, making problems worse.[24] Apart from helping the state's budget by enforcing a tax on the sale of cannabis, proponents of the bill argue that legalization will reduce the amount of criminal activity associated with the drug. Orange County Superior Court Judge and 2012 Libertarian Party Vice Presidential nominee James P. Gray estimates that eliminating arrests, prosecutions, and imprisonment for nonviolent offenders due to legalization could save the state $1 billion a year.[24]

The bill was delayed until January 2010, when the Assembly Public Safety Committee approved the bill on a 4 to 3 vote—this marked the first time in United States history that a bill legalizing marijuana passed a legislative committee.[7] However, the bill was unable to move forward to the Health Committee, where it was required to be heard before reaching the Assembly floor, before the January 15 deadline for proposed 2009 legislation. Ammiano plans to re-introduce the bill later this month or wait to see how a ballot measure for legalization fares in November 2010.[7]

There were three separate marijuana related initiatives put forth to qualify for the November 2010 elections. Two of these failed to gather the required number of signatures.

On March 24, 2010 California Proposition 19, titled the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act, qualified for the November ballot for the State of California.[9] If it had passed, this initiative would have legalized marijuana in California and allowed local governments to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana and its related activities.[10] However, the proposal was defeated by a 53.5% majority of voters during the November 2 election.[25]

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act, an initiative legalizing adult possession and use of marijuana, received over 600,000 voter signatures and will appear on the ballot in November, 2016.[26]

Public opinion[edit]

Public opinion on the legalization of recreational marijuana in California
Poll source Date(s)
Margin of
 % support  % opposition  % Undecided/Don't Know
SurveyUSA October 13–15, 2016 725 LV ± 3.7% 51% 40% 9%
CALSPEAKS October 7–13, 2016 622 LV ± 7.0% 60% 30% 10%
Public Policy Institute of California September 9–18, 2016 1702 RV ± 3.5% 60% 36% 4%
SurveyUSA September 8–11, 2016 712 RV ± 3.7% 52% 40% 8%
USC Dornsife/LA Times September 1–8, 2016 1879 RV ± 3.0% 58% 34% 8%
California Counts August 15–24, 2016 915 ± 4.0% 71% 26% 3%
Smith Johnson Research August 17–19, 2016 500 LV ± 4.4% 56% 40% 5%
Probolsky Research August 5–8, 2016 1020 LV ± 3.1% 61.8% 34.9% 3.3%
Institute of Governmental Studies June 29–July 18, 2016 3020 RV ± 0% 63.8% 36.2% 0%
Public Policy Institute of California May 13–22, 2016 996 LV ± 4.3% 60% 37% 3%
1704 AV ± 3.3% 55% 43% 3%
Probolsky Research February 11–14, 2016 1000 LV ± 3.1% 59.9% 36.7% 3.4%
Public Policy Institute of California May 17–27, 2015 1048 LV ± 4.6% 56% 41% 3%
1706 AV ± 3.6% 54% 44% 2%

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ "California Court Strikes Down Medical-Pot Limits". January 21, 2010. Retrieved August 7, 2015. 
  3. ^ Barton, David Watts (October 31, 2009). "Support for the legalization of cannabis grows". Sacramento Press. Castle Press. Retrieved January 12, 2010. 
  4. ^ "Medical Marijuana Program". California Department of Public Health. Retrieved January 12, 2010. 
  5. ^ "California Department of Public Health Medical Marijuana Program (MMP) Facts and Figures" (PDF). December 14, 2009. Retrieved January 12, 2010. 
  6. ^ a b c Imler, Scott; Gutwillig, Stephen (March 6, 2009). "Medical marijuana in California: a history". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved January 12, 2010. 
  7. ^ a b c Harmon, Steven (January 12, 2010). "Committee passes marijuana legalization bill". San Jose Mercury News. MediaNews Group. Retrieved January 12, 2010. 
  8. ^ Raguso, Milie (November 16, 2007). "Medical pot users seek help in theft". The Modesto Bee. The McClatchy Company. Retrieved January 12, 2010. 
  9. ^ a b Banks, Sandy (March 29, 2010). "Pot breaks the age barrier". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved March 31, 2010. 
  10. ^ a b "". 2010-11-02. Retrieved 2011-04-20. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Gieringer, Dale H. (1999). "The Forgotten Origins of Cannabis Prohibition in California" (PDF). Contemporary Drug Problems. 26 (2). 
  12. ^ Phillips, Kevin (June 2, 1973). "Marijuana: Political future in California?". St. Petersburg Times. Times Publishing Company. Retrieved January 15, 2010. 
  13. ^ a b Suellentrop, Chris (February 14, 2001). "Which States Have Decriminalized Marijuana Possession?". Slate. The Washington Post Company. Retrieved January 15, 2010. 
  14. ^ Budman, K B. "IMPACT OF CALIFORNIA'S NEW MARIJUANA LAW (SB 95) REPORT, 1ST". Retrieved 6 May 2012. 
  15. ^ Philip Bean, ed. (2003). Crime: Critical Concepts in Sociology. Routledge. pp. 249–250. ISBN 978-0-415-25267-6. Retrieved January 15, 2010. 
  16. ^ "Marijuana Laws California". 
  17. ^ a b "California - NORML". National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Retrieved January 15, 2010. 
  18. ^ Wallace, Bill (November 15, 2000). "Money, Opinion Propelled Prop. 36". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved January 15, 2010. 
  19. ^ a b "Health and Safety Code Section 11357-11362.9". California State Legislature. Retrieved January 12, 2009. 
  20. ^ a b Conaughton, Gig (November 12, 2006). "County, medical marijuana users head to showdown". North County Times. Lee Enterprises. Retrieved January 12, 2010. 
  21. ^ Hoeffel, John (October 7, 2011). "Federal crackdown on medical pot sales reflects a shift in policy". Los Angeles Times. 
  22. ^ "AB 390 - Assembly Bill". California State Legislature. Retrieved January 12, 2010. 
  23. ^ Pierce, Tony (February 24, 2009). "Could Measure AB 390 put a 360 on California's budget woes?". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved January 12, 2010. 
  24. ^ a b c Stateman, Alison (March 13, 2009). "Can Marijuana Help Rescue California's Economy?". Time. Time Inc. Retrieved January 12, 2010. 
  25. ^ "CA Secretary of State: Results for Proposition 19". Secretary of State's office. November 7, 2010. Retrieved November 7, 2010. 
  26. ^ "California, Rejoice! AUMA Is Getting A Vote! | Potbox". 2016-06-29. Retrieved 2016-07-12. 

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