California Marijuana Cultivation Laws

Recent years have brought changes to California’s marijuana laws. It’s now legal in some instances for residents to cultivate and possess marijuana for more than just medical purposes. While recreational use and cultivation are now legal, there are limitations in place to protect the health and safety of all residents.

Violating these laws result in legal consequences, including serving time in jail, paying fines, and having a criminal record. A criminal defense attorney who understands California’s marijuana cultivation laws can help offenders develop a strong defense needed for their case.

Learn how current laws impact you, the consequences of a marijuana conviction, and the best defense strategies for marijuana violations.

What is Marijuana Cultivation?

Marijuana cultivation is the planting, growing, harvesting, drying, and processing of cannabis plants. Cultivation includes any steps during the growing process such as planting the marijuana plant in a pot, watering the plant, trimming the plant, turning on grow lights, or clipping the leaves to smoke it.

California Health and Safety Code 11358-HS outlines the crime of illegal marijuana cultivation and the penalties violators may face. Current state laws allow California residents 21 years and older to cultivate up to six cannabis plants in a single private residence. This means that couples and roommates are limited to six marijuana plants total, not per person.

Residents who want to cultivate marijuana must also follow all local ordinances. Towns and counties may have their own specific rules for marijuana cultivation. In general, people must cultivate marijuana:

  • On the premise of their private property or indoors
  • In areas that can’t be seen from a public space, such as a sidewalk or road
  • In a locked or secured area

California residents under the age of 21 and those who cultivate more than six cannabis plants per private residence are violating state laws and face marijuana cultivation charges. People may also face local fines and penalties if they’re found in violation of their local ordinances.

Los Angeles Municipal Code 104.15

LAMP §104.15 outlines the consequences of unlicensed marijuana operations within Los Angeles. It affects the unlicensed business owners, their employees, and the landlord of the building where business is conducted. This law makes it illegal to establish, operate, or take part in an unlicensed marijuana business in any way.

These restrictions also apply to contractors and volunteers involved in any related activity with the unlicensed business. The law includes medical marijuana cooperatives and collectives unless they’re residing in a unit with three people or less who are qualified patients, have proper medical marijuana ID cards, or are the primary caregiver of a qualified patient.

The penalties from this law also affect landlords and any person who rented, leased, or gave the property to an unlicensed marijuana business. They are subject to the law even if they had no previous knowledge that an unlicensed marijuana business was operating on the property.

Penalties for violating this law can include fines, jail time, or a combination of both. Violators can be charged with being a public nuisance or face more serious misdemeanor charges. Public nuisance charges can include a restraining order or injunction by the court and a fine of no more than $20,000. Misdemeanor charges can result in a fine no higher than $1,000, a county jail sentence of up to 6 months, or a combination of the two penalties.

People who violate this municipal code may also have utilities shut off to the property where the unlicensed marijuana business operates. Power, waters, and other utilities can be turned off if both:

  • The LAPD provides written confirmation that unlicensed marijuana activity is taking place at the location and
  • The Department of Cannabis Regulation (DCR) has also provided written confirmation that the marijuana operation in question has no temporary license.

Law enforcement handles each day that a violation of this municipal code occurs as a separate offense. Fines and other penalties are cumulative and can grow quickly. Fines for this violation are capped at $20,000.

LA Municipal Code Section 12.21

LAMC Section 12.21 makes it illegal for any building or structure to be used for purposes other than what zoning laws permit. Building owners can only operate under the zoned purpose after applying and receiving any permits or licenses required by state and local laws. The zoning administrator has the authority to interpret zoning regulations as they apply to specific situations or properties.

In terms of marijuana cultivation and sale, landlords can be held criminally liable if their property is used by someone for unlawful marijuana cultivation or an unlicensed marijuana business. Landlords are liable even if they had no knowledge of their tenant’s marijuana-related activities.

Recreational use of cannabis products, including hash, became legal in California following the passing of Proposition 64. This proposition was a ballot measure decided by registered California voters during an election. The proposition passed, allowing people aged 21 and up to legally engage in recreational cannabis use under state law beginning on January 1, 2018.

Under this ballot measure and subsequent state law, California residents can legally possess up to 28.5 grams of cannabis, such as marijuana, and up to 8 grams of concentrated cannabis, also known as hash.

Since hash is a more concentrated form of cannabis, it contains higher THC levels and is more potent than marijuana. People in possession of amounts higher than legal limits may be charged with a misdemeanor crime and face fines, possible jail time, or both.

What is the Punishment for Cultivating Marijuana in California?

Convictions of marijuana cultivation charges can result in fines and jail time. People convicted of unlawful marijuana cultivation before Proposition 64 may want to petition the court for a resentencing of their crime.

First and Second Offense penalties under HS 11358

Anyone between 18 and 20 who cultivates six or fewer marijuana plants is committing an infraction. An infraction is considered a violation of the law but is less serious than committing a misdemeanor or felony crime. If convicted of this marijuana infraction, they will face a maximum fine of $100.

Adults aged 18 and older who cultivate more than six cannabis plants face misdemeanor charges. Punishment for the first offense includes a fine of up to $500, serving up to six months in county jail, or a combination of a fine and imprisonment.

The severity of the penalty can depend on the number of marijuana cultivation offenses the defendant has previously been convicted of. These penalties apply to defendants convicted of the first and second offenses. First-time offenders may be eligible for drug treatment programs instead of facing a conviction.

Felony marijuana charges

People facing marijuana cultivation charges with two prior convictions are charged with a felony offense. Felony charges also apply to defendants with a record of another serious violent felony, registered sex offenders, or have violated environmental laws through their cultivation.

Violations of environmental laws include stealing utility power to cultivate marijuana plants. Conviction of a felony charge comes with enhanced penalties.

Proposition 64 & resentencing

Penalties for cultivating marijuana were harsher before the passing of Proposition 64. Anyone convicted under the prior cultivation laws can apply to the court for resentencing or a dismissal of their charges.

In these cases, the court has the responsibility to reduce or dismiss their sentence as long as the defendant meets resentencing criteria and doesn’t pose a threat to public safety.

Other Consequences From a Conviction

People convicted of illegal marijuana cultivation face more than fines and possible jail time. The consequences of a conviction have far-reaching effects on a person’s life and include:

Financial aid applications

A drug conviction can affect student loan and financial aid applications. A question on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form explicitly asks about a person’s history of drug convictions. If an applicant answers that they have been convicted of drug possession or sale while receiving any type of federal student aid, they may lose at least part of their future eligibility.

Expunged convictions do not count against applicants.

Professional license

For someone with a professional license, a criminal conviction can cause an automatic license suspension. A professional license can be permanently revoked, and anyone applying for a professional license can be denied.

This affects a wide range of professions, including health care providers, pharmacists, social workers, daycare operators, and professional drivers.

Custody cases

A person’s convictions and criminal history can be used against them during custody cases. The other side may argue they are not a fit parent or are a safety threat to a child because of their marijuana conviction.

Parents may have to undergo regular drug testing or be allowed only supervised visitation of their children if marijuana convictions are used against them.

Background checks

Criminal background checks reveal an adult’s prior misdemeanor and felony convictions as well as any pending criminal cases. Potential employers may conduct background checks when someone is applying for a job.

Landlords may run background checks before allowing tenants to sign a lease, and financial institutions like banks may run background checks before allowing clients to take out large loans like mortgages.
Having a marijuana conviction revealed may put your livelihood at risk.

Compassionate Use Act

The Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (CUA) allowed certain groups to cultivate, possess, and use marijuana before it became legal recreationally. It currently allows patients or a patient’s caregiver to cultivate up to six mature marijuana plants and twelve immature marijuana plants. However, they must have a doctor’s approval to use it to treat their medical condition.

If a person is charged under marijuana cultivation laws but is exempt due to protections from the CUA, it is their responsibility to prove their exemption.

Drug diversion program options

A person in violation of marijuana cultivation laws might be ordered to attend drug treatment services. State law allows the court to take deferred entry of judgment (DEJ). When this happens, any sentence imposed by the court is postponed for the defendant to complete a drug treatment program.

A defendant is only eligible for DEJ if:

  • They were arrested for cultivating too many plants
  • This is a non-violent first or second time offense

This allows non-violent offenders to receive drug treatment and education in lieu of prison time. Successful completion of a drug diversion program allows cultivation charges to be dismissed and leaves defendants without a criminal record.

Defenses Against Unlawful Charges of Cultivation

Although the cultivation and recreation use of marijuana is relatively new, there are strong legal defenses people charged under these laws can use for their case. Legal defense strategies for marijuana cultivation cases include:

Marijuana was not yours

Even if marijuana plants are grown on someone’s property, it doesn’t automatically mean the resident cultivated the plants. The plant may belong to someone else, and that person is in violation of the law.

Unlawful search & seizure

The police must act in accordance with state and federal laws while conducting searches. This includes having a valid search warrant or a legal excuse if they lack a search warrant. A person can and should refuse any consent to search a vehicle or person. However, if the officer has reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, they can still conduct a search. If the police find marijuana or marijuana plants during an unlawful search, the evidence they seized cannot be used against you in your court case.

No marijuana found

This strategy can be used when someone admits to growing a plant but denies the plant is marijuana. Since the cultivation law only applies to marijuana, it cannot be used against the defendant if the plant was not pot.

The right defense can help people beat their charges. Working with an experienced legal team is beneficial to anyone charged with illegally cultivating marijuana put together a solid defense team and strategy.

Most Common Questions

Can a marijuana charge be expunged?

Under certain circumstances, a person convicted under cultivation laws is eligible to have their records expunged. They must have completed their probation or jail term before asking for their records to be cleared. An attorney can help you determine if your case qualifies for an expungement.

Where does the revenue from the marijuana tax go?

Proposition 64 established taxation for marijuana cultivation and sales. Revenue generated by these taxes helps support marijuana-related health and safety grants, youth programs, drug research and treatment, and preventing environmental damage produced by illegal marijuana cultivation.

The Law Offices of Mariya Melkonyan Can Help

Criminal charges and convictions for marijuana cultivation have long-term consequences and shouldn’t be approached lightly. Working with a marijuana criminal defense attorney can help if you’re facing these charges. Consider hiring the Law Offices of Mariya Melkonyan for your marijuana cultivation case.

marijuana cultivation defense attorney - Mariya Melkonyan

We offer you guidance through the entire process and understand how newer laws impact your case. Mariya Melkonyan is a former Deputy District Attorney with the experience and strategy needed to help you win your case. Contact the Law Offices of Mariya Melkonyan today for a free consultation.

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