Marijuana law in California could be described as unusually lenient when it comes to casual users, and rather draconian as to sellers and distributors.
A casual user caught with under an ounce is charged with Health & Safety Code 11357 : Marijuana Possession. The maximum sentence for the offense is a $100 fine, plus county penalty assessments. But the person convicted could not be put in jail. Compare this with cocaine possession, which can land a person in the joint for 3 years.
The situation changes if the person is charged with Marijuana Possession for Sale under Health & Safety Code 11359 . If convicted, he faces probation, fines and up to 3 years in state prison. If the person is caught for sale of marijuana under Health & Safety Code 11360 , the prison term can be up to four years.
Finally, for cultivation of marijuana one can be convicted of Health & Safety Code 11358 . This offense carries up to 3 years is state prison. But California marijuana law makes an exception for someone who grows just a few plants for medical purposes.
The aim of the law is obviously to punish growers and sellers severely, but give casual users and possessors just a slap on the wrist. But if the substance is benign enough that it doesn't warrant going after simple users, why do we invest enormous resources going after the suppliers? (Refer to our articles, "Is hashish illegal in California?" and "Five things to know about California marijuana possession.")