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California debates legalizing recreational marijuana use

On November 8, 2016, California residents will be given the opportunity to vote on whether recreational marijuana use by adults should be legalized. If the measure passes, California would become the fifth state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana use.

Under the proposal, adults 21 and over would be able to lawfully possess, transport and use up to one ounce of marijuana for recreational purposes. Adults would also be allowed to legally grow up to six marijuana plants.

Marijuana use isn't a new issue for California

Although California was the first state to legalize marijuana use for medicinal purposes, it is still illegal to use it without a doctor's prescription. And marijuana use or possession for any purpose is still strictly illegal under federal law - and will continue to be so if the new measure passes in November.

This conflict between state and federal law, and the interplay between medicinal and non-medicinal marijuana use, make navigating the marijuana landscape decidedly hazy. Let's take a look at a few key marijuana laws as they presently stand:

  • Possession for personal use - Currently, possession of 28.5 grams (approximately one ounce) of marijuana is a civil infraction punishable by a $100 fine. Possessing more than 28.5 grams is prohibited and punishable by criminal charges that increase in severity based on the amount of marijuana.
  • Growing marijuana - Unless authorized under the medical marijuana laws, it is a felony criminal offense to plant, grow or process marijuana. A first offense is punishable by up to three years in jail.
  • Possession with intent to sell - Possessing any amount of marijuana with the intent to sell is a felony-level offense. Period.
  • Medical marijuana - Under California's Compassionate Use Act, a person may legally use medical marijuana if a doctor approved it for the treatment of a serious health condition. What constitutes a "serious health condition" is legally debatable, but generally such conditions include AIDS, arthritis, cancer and chronic pain. Medical marijuana users and their caregivers are exempt from most laws criminalizing marijuana use and possession, but they still may not permissibly sell marijuana or possess more than is reasonably necessary for medicinal purposes.

If you have questions about what is and is not currently legal regarding marijuana use, possession and cultivation, or if you have been charged with a crime relating to marijuana use or possession, make sure you call a qualified criminal defense attorney for professional guidance and advice.

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