Voted for on November 8, 2016, and passed into law on January 1, 2018, Proposition 64 changed how marijuana is handled in California. While the use, cultivation, and distribution of medical marijuana have been legal since 1996, Prop 64 focused on allowing more leeway for personal use.

Proposition 64 changed quite a lot of things, such as changing possession of up to 28.5 grams to be legal rather than an infraction. One of the most important changes that came into effect in 2018 was how marijuana cultivation is handled. Previously, it had been a felony to cultivate any marijuana plants. Now you can legally cultivate a set number of plants, though it is still illegal to grow more than the set limit.

To understand the laws governing marijuana cultivation in California, we are going to first explore what is and what isn’t lawful marijuana cultivation. From there, we will be able to look at what penalties you could be facing for unlawful marijuana cultivation, as well as what defenses can be used to defend against a charge of unlawful marijuana cultivation.

What is Lawful Marijuana Cultivation and What is Unlawful Marijuana Cultivation?

It is lawful to cultivate up to six cannabis plants for the purposes of recreational use. Before Proposition 64, it was illegal to cultivate any marijuana plants for recreational use. However, this doesn’t mean that you can just go out to your backyard and start a new crop of marijuana plants. There are quite a few rules still regulating the cultivation of marijuana in California.

First of all, for an individual to legally cultivate marijuana, they need to be at least 21 years of age. It is an infraction for those between the ages of 18 and 20 to cultivate marijuana, though we’ll discuss that more when we look at penalties.

It is also vitally important to pay attention to that six-plant limit. An individual is only legally allowed to grow six plants at a time. However, it may be better to think of this as a household limit rather than a personal limit. If a husband and wife live together and want to cultivate marijuana, they are only legally allowed to cultivate six plants. A boyfriend and girlfriend that lived separately could each cultivate six plants, but this limit doesn’t increase to twelve plants when they move in. The limit of what is legally allowed remains six plants.

When it comes to marijuana cultivation, you absolutely must pay attention to any local municipality ordinances that may affect the legality of what you are doing. The following paragraph applies to California law in general, but local ordinances may affect it.

Marijuana cultivation must happen either inside or outdoors on the premises of an individual’s private property. The location where the marijuana is being grown has to have a lock, and the plants themselves must not be visible from a public space.

Additionally, it is worth noting that marijuana cultivation doesn’t just refer to the growing of marijuana. While this is the main use of the term, it also refers to the acts of planting, harvesting, drying, and processing marijuana. This means that if you have two plants that are currently drying, you could only have four that are growing. This is one area where people often misunderstand the law since many think cultivation refers explicitly to the growing of marijuana plants.

What Are the Penalties for Unlawful Marijuana Cultivation?

Previous to Prop 64, the penalties for unlawful marijuana cultivation were quite rough. For example, the cultivation of up to six plants had previously been a felony. While the current law certainly makes it easier to cultivate marijuana, and punishments for unlawful cultivation are certainly lighter, that does not mean that there aren’t penalties to be aware of.

As mentioned above, you need to be at least 21 years of age in order to cultivate marijuana legally. For those caught cultivating marijuana between the ages of 18 and 20, it is an infraction, and a maximum fine of $100 can be imposed.

In addition, it is a misdemeanor crime to cultivate more than six marijuana plants. As a misdemeanor, the crime of cultivating more than six marijuana plants could see you in a county jail for six months and paying a fine of up to $500.

Felony charges may still be leveled, though they are rare. Felony charges are typically reserved for when an individual cultivates more than six plants and they have either been convicted of a violent felony in the past, is a registered sex offender, has multiple previous convictions, or has violated certain environmental laws in their efforts to cultivate. As a felony, you could face up to three years in county jail and a fine of up to $10,000.

What Are the Defenses Against a Charge of Unlawful Marijuana Cultivation?

Picking the proper defense against a charge of unlawful marijuana cultivation should be a process you go over with your attorney. The unique circumstances of your situation should fuel what defensive strategy you adopt.

With that said, defenses against a charge of unlawful marijuana cultivation include the following:

  • Arguing that the plant in question is not marijuana and that there was a misidentification leading to the charges against you.
  • You are not the individual that cultivated the marijuana; therefore, the crime is not yours.
  • The authorities did not have a valid search warrant or legal excuse to search the premises; therefore, the evidence used against you was from unlawful search and seizure and should be excluded.

What Should I Do If I’m Charged with Unlawful Marijuana Cultivation?

If you are facing charges for the unlawful cultivation of marijuana plants, then you should contact an experienced attorney immediately. Drug crime convictions can have an incredibly powerful negative effect on your life, from making it harder to find work and housing to even reducing your chances of getting into a good college.

Rather than rolling over and ignoring the charges against you, you owe it to yourself to retain a knowledgeable attorney that will fight on your behalf against the draconian charges you are facing.