While Northern California is typically thought to be the “pot capital” of California, Southern California has become a leading spot for growing marijuana. In the Angeles National Forest, above the city of Glendora (about 20 minutes east of Downtown Los Angeles), the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has noted that 1000 square miles of the Forest have become a favorite spot for marijuana growers due to its dense peaks and canyons that provide camouflaged protection.
Last year, the Sheriff’s Department confiscated nearly 700,000 plants from the Forest. Since May 2010, deputies have confiscated $200 million dollars worth of marijuana plants. No suspects have been detained, although deputies reportedly believe that growers and cultivators may be connected to Mexican drug cartels. Marijuana cultivation (Health and Safety Code §11358) is a felony. In order to be convicted of unlawful marijuana cultivation (i.e. not lawful medical marijuana cultivation), the prosecution must prove that the defendant had a role in growing or manufacturing marijuana which includes handling of the seeds, cultivation in soil, or drying and processing the marijuana once it has been harvested.
A defendant convicted of marijuana cultivation can face up to three years in prison if probation is denied. In additional to a marijuana cultivation charge, a prosecutor could also charge a defendant found with marijuana with Possession of Marijuana with the Intent to Sell (Health and Safety Code §11359) if the alleged evidence supports this charge. To convict a defendant of possession of marijuana for sale, the prosecutor must prove that a person knowingly possessed marijuana with the intent to sell it.
Police officers typically testify that a defendant possessed the “intent to sell” based on factor such as:
(1) a large amount of marijuana seized, (2) the marijuana was packaged in individualized, often small, baggies, (3) the defendant is located where dealers typically conduct sales, (4) the defendant is located without paraphernalia (e.g. a bong or pipe) indicating personal use and (5) the presence of a significant amount of cash and/or weapons, If convicted of marijuana possession for the purpose of sale, a person can face up to three years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. Without evidence of marijuana cultivation of possession for sale, a defendant found with marijuana may still be charged with possession of marijuana for personal use (Health and Safety Code §11357), a misdemeanor (unless the substance is has).
In order to be convicted of simple possession, the prosecutor must show that (1) there was marijuana in an individual’s possession and (2) that individual knew marijuana was in their possession. “Possession” means that the marijuana was somewhere within a person’s control, such as in their pocket, car, or apartment. For example, if marijuana is found in an apartment the defendant shares with a roommate, he can still “possess” marijuana even if it does not belong to him or her, because it is located in a common areas. However, the person must still have knowledge of the marijuana’s presence.
A person’s lack of knowledge that the marijuana was in the common area should bar a conviction. Conviction of marijuana possession for personal use under an ounce, other than concentrated cannabis (hash), typically results in a $100 fine, court surcharges, and no jail time.
For persons under 21 years old, a marijuana conviction will result in suspension in driving privileges.
Many defendants convicted of possession of marijuana for personal use qualify for drug programs, instead of jail time. Such programs include Deferred Entry of Judgment, Drug Court, Proposition 36, or some other court-ordered drug program. These programs generally allow for the complete dismissal of the case once the program is completed, and the defendant will have no criminal record.