Cannabis in California

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. In the November 2016 election, voters passed an amendment legalizing recreational use of marijuana.[1]



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.[2] 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.[2] Both bills were drafted and supported by the California State Board of Pharmacy.[2]

In 1925, possession, which had previously been treated the same as distribution, became punishable by up to 6 years in prison, and black market 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.[2] In 1927, the laws designed to target opium usage were finally extended to Indian hemp.[2] In 1929, second offenses for possession became punishable by sentences of 6 months–10 years.[2] In 1937, cannabis cultivation became a separate offense.[2] 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.[2]


Proposition 19, a ballot proposition previously attempting to decriminalize marijuana, was defeated in the November 1972 state election by a 66.5% majority.[3] In 1973, California's neighboring state of Oregon became the first state to decriminalize cannabis.[4]

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.[2][4][5][6] SB 95 made possession of one ounce (28.5 grams) of marijuana a misdemeanor punishable by a $100 fine[7] (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.[8]

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."[9]

On September 30, 2010, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law CA State Senate Bill 1449, which further reduced the charge of possession of one ounce of cannabis or less, from a misdemeanor to an infraction, similar to a traffic violation—a maximum of a $100 fine and no mandatory court appearance or criminal record.[10] The law became effective January 1, 2011.

Medical marijuana

California's medical cannabis program was established when state voters approved Proposition 215 (also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996)[11] on the November 5, 1996 ballot with a 55% majority.[12] 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."[11][12]

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. The first solution of this came by legislation that established statewide guidelines for Proposition 215 by Senate Bill 420 in January 2003. 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. In January, 2010, the California Supreme Court ruled in People v. Kelly, that SB 420 did not limit the quantity a patient can possess and all possession limits on medical marijuana in California were lifted.

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.,[13] which caused much widespread panic within the social community thereof. These subsided in the time following.


In February 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.[14] According to Time, California tax collectors estimated the bill would have raised about $1.3 billion a year in revenue.

In November 2010, California voters rejected Proposition 19, by a vote of 53.5% to 46.5%, an initiative that would have made possession and cultivation of cannabis for recreational usage legal for adults over the age of 21, and would regulate it similarly to alcohol.[15]

Critics such as John Lovell, lobbyist for the California Peace Officers' Association, argued 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.[16] Apart from helping the state's budget by enforcing a tax on the sale of cannabis, proponents of the bill argued that legalization would reduce the amount of criminal activity associated with the drug.

On November 8, 2016, Proposition 64, also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, passed by a vote of 56% to 44%, legalizing the sale and distribution of cannabis in both a dry and concentrated form. California is one of eight states where recreational cannabis usage is legal, including Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada. Adults are allowed to possess up to one ounce of cannabis for recreational use and can grow up to six live plants individually or more commercially with a license. Licenses will be issued for cultivation and business establishment beginning in 2018.

Public opinion on the legalization of recreational marijuana in California (2016)
Poll source Date(s)
Margin of
% support % opposition % Undecided/Don't Know
USC Dornsife/LA Times October 22–30, 2016 1500 RV ± 2.3% 58% 37% 5%
Public Policy Institute of California October 14–23, 2016 1016 LV ± 4.3% 55% 38% 6%
SurveyUSA October 13–15, 2016 725 LV ± 3.7% 51% 40% 9%
CALSPEAKS October 7–13, 2016 622 LV ± 7.0% 60% 30% 10%
Hoover Institution/YouGov October 4–14, 2016 1247 LV ± 3.28% 56% 34% 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%


Medical usage

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 allows people the right to obtain and use cannabis for any illness if they obtain a recommendation from a doctor. California's Supreme Court has ruled there are no specified limits as to what a patient may possess in their private residence if the cannabis is strictly for the patient's own use.[17] Medical cannabis identification cards are issued through the California Department of Public Health's Medical Marijuana Program (MMP). 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. However, cannabis dispensaries within the state accept recommendations, with an embossed license, from a doctor who has given the patient an examination and believes cannabis would be beneficial for their ailment.

Critics of California's medical cannabis program argued that the program essentially gave cannabis quasi-legality, as "anyone can obtain a recommendation for medical marijuana at any time for practically any ailment".[15] Acknowledging that there were instances in which the system was abused and that laws could be improved, Stephen Gutwillig of the Drug Policy Alliance[18] insisted that the passages of Proposition 215 were "nothing short of incredible". Gutwillig argued that because of the law, 200,000 patients in the state had safe and affordable access to medical cannabis to relieve pain and treat medical conditions, without having to risk arrest or buy off the black market.[15] 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.[19]

Recreational marijuana

Recreational usage of marijuana is legal under Proposition 64. Adults over the age of 21 may:

Users may not:

Proposition 64 is not meant in any way to affect, amend, or restrict the statutes provided for medical cannabis in California under Proposition 215.

See also


  1. "US election: California voters approve marijuana for recreational use". BBC News. 9 November 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Gieringer, Dale H. (1999). "The Forgotten Origins of Cannabis Prohibition in California" (PDF). Contemporary Drug Problems. 26 (2).
  3. Phillips, Kevin (June 2, 1973). "Marijuana: Political future in California?". St. Petersburg Times. Times Publishing Company. Retrieved January 15, 2010.
  4. 1 2 Suellentrop, Chris (February 14, 2001). "Which States Have Decriminalized Marijuana Possession?". Slate. The Washington Post Company. Retrieved January 15, 2010.
  5. Budman, K B. "IMPACT OF CALIFORNIA'S NEW MARIJUANA LAW (SB 95) REPORT, 1ST". Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  6. Philip Bean, ed. (2003). Crime: Critical Concepts in Sociology. Routledge. pp. 249–250. ISBN 978-0-415-25267-6. Retrieved January 15, 2010.
  7. "Marijuana Laws California".
  8. "California - NORML". National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Retrieved January 15, 2010.
  9. Wallace, Bill (November 15, 2000). "Money, Opinion Propelled Prop. 36". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved January 15, 2010.
  11. 1 2 "Health and Safety Code Section 11357-11362.9". California State Legislature. Retrieved January 12, 2009.
  12. 1 2 Conaughton, Gig (November 12, 2006). "County, medical marijuana users head to showdown". North County Times. Lee Enterprises. Retrieved January 12, 2010.
  13. Hoeffel, John (October 7, 2011). "Federal crackdown on medical pot sales reflects a shift in policy". Los Angeles Times.
  14. Banks, Sandy (March 29, 2010). "Pot breaks the age barrier". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved March 31, 2010.
  15. 1 2 3 Imler, Scott; Gutwillig, Stephen (March 6, 2009). "Medical marijuana in California: a history". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved January 12, 2010.
  16. Stateman, Alison (March 13, 2009). "Can Marijuana Help Rescue California's Economy?". Time. Time Inc. Retrieved January 12, 2010.
  17. "Ca Supreme Court Strikes Down Medical Marijuana Possession, Cultivation Limits". Retrieved 2016-11-10.
  18. Harmon, Steven (January 12, 2010). "Committee passes marijuana legalization bill". San Jose Mercury News. MediaNews Group. Retrieved January 12, 2010.
  19. Raguso, Milie (November 16, 2007). "Medical pot users seek help in theft". The Modesto Bee. The McClatchy Company. Retrieved January 12, 2010.
  20. Adult Use of Marijuana Act, .pdf

External links

The Wikibook California Public Policy and Citizen Participation has a page on the topic of: Cannabis policies in California
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