Some changes to California’s marijuana laws went into effect over the past couple of months. As many are aware, Proposition 19, the state-wide ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for personal use, failed to win the approval of a majority of voters last November. Nevertheless, non-lawful possession of up to one ounce, 28.5 grams, has been downgraded from a misdemeanor to an infraction punishable by a maximum fine of $100. 

As an infraction, consistent with the previous statutory scheme, anyone cited for a violation of simple possession of up to an ounce of cannabis cannot be taken into custody by law enforcement personnel. This is codified in California Health & Safety Code section 11357, subdivision (b).  Keep in mind, however, because possession of even a small amount of marijuana is prohibited under federal law, a state court infraction conviction for the possession of a small amount of marijuana could technically result in unfortunate collateral consequences under federal law, such as eligibility for federal employment, and/or federal benefit programs.  Furthermore, unlawful non-medical simple possession of over an ounce of cannabis will still be punishable as a misdemeanor with up to 6 months in jail and a $500 fine. 

A lesser publicized change to the law concerns the simple possession of up to one ounce of marijuana while driving a vehicle. The legislature has likewise relaxed penalties in this area. Under section 23222 of the California Vehicle Code, simple possession of up to one ounce of marijuana (other than concentrated cannabis, more commonly referred to as hashish) while driving a vehicle has also been downgraded from a misdemeanor to an infraction punishable by a maximum fine of $100. Alleged violators will not face the possibility of being arrested by law enforcement personnel.

Passed by the California State Legislature, and signed by into law by then Governor Schwarzenegger in October of 2010, these new laws went into effect on January 1, 2011.

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