Prohibiting marijuana started over 80 years ago, but jurisdictions like California have spearheaded efforts to overturn his laws at a local and federal level. California was the first state to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana back in 1966, and many places have since followed. Millennials mainly drive these progressive attitudes; the Pew Research Center finds.
As of January 2019, thirty-three states have legalized medical marijuana, and ten states plus Washington DC have legitimized the recreational use of cannabis for persons over 21. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) firmly puts forward that marijuana should be decriminalized in all jurisdictions and standardized, just like tobacco and alcohol. The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney has prepared this informative guide so you can understand marijuana laws and what they mean for you.
Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) – PROP 64
In 2016, state laws became even friendlier for pot users by allowing the recreational use and possession of up to one ounce of cannabis. This lofty goal was achieved through the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) or better known as Proposition 64. Under this law, adults over 21 years can legally purchase up to eight grams of marijuana concentrate, and they grow up to six marijuana plants in their household.
PROP 64 is demanding strict product development systems to develop industry standards to govern the testing, packaging, labeling, and distribution of cannabis. This regulation aims to bring transparency to the cannabis industry and implement an efficient seed-to-sale tracking system. The Bureau of Marijuana Control, formerly called the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, is taking the lead on this. For instance, the packaging must have details of net weight, age, source, type of cannabis, the milligram amount per serving, and mention any pesticides used during cultivation.
The medical marijuana industry is more sensitive and therefore requires more oversight by the following agencies:
- The California Department of Food and Agriculture (cultivation)
- The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (nutrients and pesticides)
- The California Department of Public Health (manufacturing of cannabis edibles)
- The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (impacts on local environments)
- The California State Water Resources Control Board (water quality)
PROP 64 was meant to achieve more than allowing recreational use of cannabis in the Golden State. This law is poised to economically stimulate the market, alleviate financial pressure on the criminal justice system. The war on drugs has wreaked havoc on the justice system due to numerous arrests over marijuana-related crimes. This system leaves non-violent offenders trapped in jails awaiting arraignment.
The state is collecting revenue by imposing a tax on the cannabis industry. This revenue will come 15% excise tax and an extra $9.25 for every ounce of flower or $2.75 for every ounce of leaf growers harvest. The newly-minted California Marijuana Tax Fund will collect revenue and distribute 60% of outflows to fund youth programs, cleaning up the environmental (20%), and public safety will take the remaining 20%.
By all accounts, these progressive attitudes still come with strict guidelines on the usage of cannabis. Smoking marijuana in public is unlawful, and people caught doing this will pay a $100 fine. Businesses must get a permit from the state-level Bureau of Marijuana Control. Local governments have a considerable influence in this industry as they can ban retailers from operating in their neighborhoods. Also, retailers who wish to have on-site consumption must get a special permit from their respective local governments. Marijuana retailers cannot sell or consume alcohol or tobacco.
What are the Reasons for Legalizing Marijuana?
Alleviate the harm – people of color, and many youths have suffered dramatically by being incarcerated for possessing or taking marijuana. The Controlled Substance Act (CSA) Scheduling classifies marijuana as a schedule 1 drug along with heroin and methaqualone. If a young person is apprehended for marijuana-related crimes, they are subjected to elongated sentences that rob them of their productive years.
Save taxpayers’ dollars – when cannabis is no longer a crime, law enforcement can allocate their resources to public safety. State and local governments would acquire significant new sources of tax revenue from regulating marijuana sales.
Create employment opportunities – legalizing and regulating cannabis means the biggest cash crop in the country will now be under state and federal laws. People will get economic opportunities by opening up retail shops, growing cannabis Sativa and other source plants, and becoming distributors.
Enhance consumer safety – standardizing the industry also entails testing cannabis products for fungus and microbial organisms before they are distributed and sold to consumers. This requirement will educate users about the strain of marijuana and the potency and dosage.
Why is the Marijuana Black Market Still Thriving?
Favorable laws notwithstanding, getting California residents to buy weed legally rather than from the black market is proving difficult. There are endless debates about regulating the black market, opening retail marijuana shops on city streets, and many promises surrounding the use and sale of cannabis.
With these problems in mind, regulators are finding it hard to run a high-tax market that operates on strict rules. Streamlining the cannabis market while controlling and possibly eradicating the booming black market will require formulating sound policies over time.
In 2017, only medical marijuana was legal, and sales were doing very well but legalizing recreational use has not matched up the sales projections. GreenEdge, a sales tracking company, surmised that cannabis sales dropped in 2018 by half a billion dollars from the previous year. It appears that convincing people to vote for legalization was not the hardest part. Getting marijuana users to stop buying from the black market is an arduous task.
In contrast, other jurisdictions like Washington and Colorado recorded much higher sales after legalization. Industry experts attribute the lower sales in California to the state's huge surplus. The Sunshine State produces more volumes of cannabis than its market can consume. At the close of 2017, the California Department of Food and Agriculture published a report indicating the state produces 15.5 million pounds of marijuana. Nevertheless, the market is only consuming an estimated 2.5 million pounds of cannabis.
The surplus cannabis is then distributed across the nation through the black market. Mississippi and the Rockies are ripe markets for marijuana as the wholesale prices are usually three times higher than California. Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged the existence of this flourishing black market which is estimated to export 85 – 90% of all marijuana produced within the state.
At the close of 2018, Cannabis Benchmarks released a report comparing the average prices of cannabis in California and other states, with the former being much cheaper than other jurisdictions. Connecticut led the way with $3,072 per pound, Illinois $3,044, Washington $2,846, which are significantly higher prices as compared to California where one pound of marijuana trades for $1,183. As a result, the low prices in California, coupled with the cutthroat competition, will force smaller retailers out of business.
Unlawful Cannabis Growing Sites
Drug trafficking cartels have cleared expansive swathes of forest cover such as the Sierra National Forest to create farmland. Once a harvest season is done, the growers abandon their makeshift camps leaving trash, propane tanks, and leftover supplies lying around. The Integral Ecology Research Center estimates there are 1,700 growing sites in California and these cartels are diverting millions of gallons of water to irrigate these plants.
This practice compromises the state's water supply leaving residents with water shortages not to mention poisoning watersheds. Apart from the indiscriminate felling of trees, these cartels use hazardous pesticides like Carbofuran, and trace amounts have been found in animals. These outdoor cultivation sites run by illicit growers have become an eyesore, and the government is taking notice. In 2018 alone, law enforcement destroyed over 889 sites which were mostly run by Mexican cartels.
Growing sites are usually located in hidden and rugged areas and therefore, finding them is an arduous task. Cleanup crews have to use helicopters to ferry the garbage of inaccessible regions. Apart from being time-consuming, cleaning up growing sites is an expensive affair. Forest Service agencies have spent $1.5 million since October 2018, and this bill will increase as they identify more sites.
Who Regulates Marijuana in California?
California has come a long way in its journey to legalize and regulate cannabis. In 1996, voters passed Proposition 215, otherwise known as the Compassionate Use Act (CUA) to approve the use of medical marijuana. This bill permitted qualified patients and ratified caregivers to grow and possess medical marijuana. CUA was responsible for facilitating the creation of cooperatives to provide medical cannabis to patients in California.
In 2015, the legislature passed the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA) which comprises of three bills (Assembly Bill 266, Assembly Bill 243, and Senate Bill 643). These bills established a state licensing and regulatory system for the marijuana medical industry, which is booming as more doctors prescribe this drug. After PROP 64 was passed in 2016, AUMA legitimized selling and distributing cannabis in a regulated market, and this law took effect on January 1, 2018.
Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA) are responsible for regulating the medicinal and recreational use of cannabis. In 2017, the California State Legislature passed Senate Bill 94 to integrate MCRSA with AUMA, thus forming a more robust regulatory body – MAUCRSA.
There is a likelihood of more Senate or Assembly bills coming as the state strives to regulate this market. As things stand, all licensees must adhere to the rules and regulations of operating marijuana businesses, whether for medicinal or adult use.
Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana
Driving under the influence (DUI) of cannabis remains illegal even when you are taking it for medicinal purposes. One of the critical compounds of cannabis is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and it can impair someone's ability to drive, among other things. THC makes people tired, alters the sense of time, reduces your memory, among other adverse side effects which make driving dangerous.
Traffic patrol officers usually pull over DUI suspects and then test for whatever substance they may have ingested. When it comes to marijuana, the officers will be on the lookout for the smell, rapid breathing, dilated pupils, traces of cannabis, and your general behavior. They may also request for blood, saliva, or urine sample to check for specks of this psychoactive ingredient.
Unlike alcohol, there is no stipulated amount of marijuana in the blood to determine how impaired the driver is, which means there is no baseline conviction mark. The prosecutor has the burden to prove you had consumed cannabis and was reduced to the extent of not driving the way a sober person would operate under the same circumstances. There is no automatic conviction for trace levels of THC, but the California Vehicle Code Section 23152 recommends the following penalties and assessments:
First-time offenders get a lenient sentence of up to six months in county jail. The judge will ask you to pay $390 or more in fines, and then suspend your license for six months. You will be on probation for five years and may be asked to attend a drug counseling program for a minimum of three months.
Just like the DUI penalties involving alcohol, any subsequent DUI charge involving marijuana increases with extended jail sentences, higher fines, and more driving restrictions.
California has the implied consent rule where every driver who is apprehended for a DUI must submit to a test for alcohol or other substances, including cannabis. Whether a first-time or subsequent offender, failing to comply with testing for marijuana will attract extra penalties.
Testing for THC is not always reliable, and there are arguments that drivers could be arrested unfairly. For example, it is possible to find trace amounts of THC in the system days after consumption. What's more, you can be charged with a DUI even when the marijuana was prescribed to manage a medical condition.
Criminal charges can be levied against drivers who are found in possession of more than the required amount of marijuana on the person. California permits carrying up to one ounce of marijuana at any given time. If you are found with more than this amount on your person or in the car, you will face criminal charges. The prosecutor may charge you with a misdemeanor, infraction, or a felony depending on the amount of cannabis you have and other factors.
Being found with more than the legal amount of cannabis is punishable by law, and the penalties increase as per the additional cannabis found on your person or car.
28.5 grams or less – this is a misdemeanor crime, and you will be incarcerated for ten days and ordered to pay $500. The same penalties apply for persons under 18, but the fine is $250.
More than 28.5 grams – this misdemeanor crime requires up to six months’ incarceration and a fine of $500
Possession with intent to distribute is a misdemeanor crime for which you could serve six months in jail and pay a fine of $500. Persons below 18 and in school could be sentenced to a detention center.
Sale or Delivery
The unlawful sale or distribution of any amount of cannabis is a misdemeanor that attracts six months’ incarceration and a $500 fine. If you receive a gift of 28.5 grams or less, you pay a fine of $100.
When a person over 18 sells marijuana to someone who is 14 - 17, this crime is a felony, and you could serve 3 – 5 years in prison. If you sell to someone below 14, the sentence is 3 – 7 years.
If you are found cultivating more than six plants of cannabis, this misdemeanor crime requires six months’ incarceration and a fine of $500.
The sale, delivery, manufacture, and possession of paraphernalia with intent is a misdemeanor crime that requires a sentence of 15 days to 6 months and a $500 fine. If this crime involves an accomplice who is three years younger, the penalties increase to a one-year sentence and $1,000 in fines.
Hash and Concentrates
If you are found with 8 grams or more of hash and cannabis-related concentrates, this misdemeanor requires six months’ incarceration and a $500 fine. Unlicensed manufacture attracts a sentence of 16 months to three years, and a fine of $500 while chemical manufacture requires a sentence of 3 – 7 years, and a $50,000 fine.
Other Marijuana-Related Penalties
Using a minor to sell or distribute marijuana is a felonious crime that attracts 3 – 7 years in prison. Encouraging a minor to use cannabis is also considered a felony and is punishable by three to seven years in prison.
Contravening the California Uniform Controlled Substances Act attracts a fine of $150, and someone who markets cannabis illegally will face civil charges. Please note, your vehicle may be impounded due to violating the state’s marijuana laws.
Training Peace Officers on Enforcing Marijuana Laws
The Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) was created to set the minimum selection and training guidelines for peace officers in California. This goal is achieved through the "Marijuana Initiative," which trains members of law enforcement on enacting and investigating regulations of cannabis. These laws cover the sale, possession, and consumption of marijuana as outlined by Proposition 64.
Regular training empowers officers to keep abreast of the latest amendments to this bill and understand how to manage illicit use and possession of this drug. The training material also covers the cultivation, marijuana-DUIs, search and seizure, criminal investigations, and policing the industry.
The new adult cannabis law can be summed up as follows:
- Recreational use of cannabis in public places is unlawful
- Searching vehicles for marijuana is legal provided individual articulable facts exist
- Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) are still used to gauge levels of impairment
- Marijuana chemicals are hazardous to humans, animals, and the environment
What is the Future of Marijuana in California?
The legalization and subsequent regulation of the cannabis industry for recreational and medicinal use have not fulfilled all the promises as yet. Despite an early start, California failed to regulate the industry right away, and this oversight has had a ripple effect. Sales are not as higher as more people still acquire cannabis from the black market. The Mexican drug trafficking rings and other illicit growers are clearing forest cover to make room for cultivating this plant and causing unfathomable damage along the way.
The negative stigma surrounding marijuana persists, and many people still view this industry as polarizing even when cancer patients are benefiting. Society has been severely affected by hard drugs, and California is no different. Many people still perceive cannabis as a gateway drug that will create more problems directly or indirectly.
On the upside, some reports project a bright future for this market in the Golden State. BDS Analytics and ArcView Group estimate that the sale of marijuana will hit $7.7 billion by 2021 from the storefronts and delivery services. At present, there are over 3,000 retail stores and 7,500 delivery services where customers can get marijuana as they wish, and this accessibility is poised to boost sales.
For this to happen, there must be constant education of the public and industry regulators. Visiting retailers to know how they operate daily is key to standardizing the industry, thus negating the harmful impacts of marijuana use. Also, listening to the concerns of cannabis operators is necessary so the state and retailers can come to an understanding.
For example, the dual licensing system is creating bottlenecks for operators. Getting a state permit requires a local license, and yet not many municipalities don't have regulations in place. There are many reasons for this to hold up with many areas waiting for the state to complete permanent rules. Other districts are working on standardization while others are defying the will of voters. The state must guide local governments on how to proceed so they can serve retailers for medical and recreational cannabis.
Finding a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
The recreational and medicinal consumption and possession of marijuana are now legalized in California and other jurisdictions. However, people are still getting apprehended for cannabis-related crimes such as driving under the influence, possessing more than the required limit, etc. The prospect of going to prison for years is unnerving, especially when you consider the harmful effects of a criminal record.
You will lose your livelihood, and your children may have to go into the foster care system. The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney has excellent experience defending clients like you who are facing marijuana-related charges. We know how the system works and are more than ready to help you avoid jail or at least get a reduced sentence. Contact us today at 310-564-2605, so you can start benefiting from our expert legal counsel.
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