If you live in the Golden State or plan to visit sometime soon, it’s in your best interest to know the local drug and alcohol laws. You might be wondering what the rules are regarding marijuana use. Or perhaps you’re interested in the penalties for breaking the law. Read on for information about substance abuse laws in CA.

DUI Laws in CA

Like other states, California has a ‘Per Se’ driving under the influence (DUI) law. This means that having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% is illegal. If you’re a commercial driver, it’s unlawful to have a BAC above 0.04%. This limit applies to taxi drivers too.

After consuming a single drink, waiting a few hours before driving can return the BAC to 0.00%. But it’s best not to drink and drive at all.

Bear in mind that DUI laws don’t just apply to alcohol. There are serious consequences to driving under the influence of impairing drugs.

Zero Tolerance Laws for CA

In California, driving with a BAC of 0.01% to 0.05% is an infraction if you’re under the age of 21. And it takes one drink to raise the BAC to 0.01%. 

Is Cannabis Legal in CA?

Like other West Coast states, adult marijuana consumption is legal in California. But even if you’re 21 and over, you:

  • Can only have up to 28.5 grams of cannabis in your possession, and up to 8 grams of the concentrated substance.
  • Can’t smoke or ingest cannabis in public.
  • Cannot operate a vehicle unless you have a doctor’s recommendation.
  • Cannot have an open container of marijuana in a vehicle.
  • Can grow six plants on your property as long as the public cannot see them.
  • Cannot sell cannabis without a license.

Other Substance-Related Crimes in CA

The following activities are punishable by law:

  • Manufacturing dangerous drugs listed by the California Penal Code. And manufacturing illegal controlled substances without a state-issued license
  • Possessing the chemicals used to make PCP and meth without a permit
  • Selling or distributing illegal drugs
  • Transporting alcohol while underage

Penalties for Alcohol or Drug Abuse in CA

DUI Penalties in CA

  • First time offences get fines of $350 to upwards of $1000.
  • It’s possible to get 48 hours to six months in prison. But judges rarely order jail time for first time offenders.
  • A 6-month license suspension. Offenders can apply for a restricted license. This includes the use of an ignition interlock device (IID).
  • Informal probation for three years and at least 30 hours of DUI classes.
  • If your BAC reaches 0.16%, you receive an enhanced penalty for an aggravated DUI.
  • Refusing to do a breathalyzer test can result in a separate charge. Consenting to a blood test removes this charge.

Multiple convictions mean worse penalties. For example, longer licence suspensions, more jail time and up to five years of probation. And the same goes for DUIs that cause injuries or deaths or involve minors in the car. Vehicle confiscation is also possible.

Zero Tolerance Penalties in CA

Young people under 21 who drink and drive receive the following penalties:

  • Up to $250 in fines for a BAC up to 0.04%.
  • A minimum one-year license suspension.
  • If your BAC is 0.05% or more, your driver’s record will reflect two demerit points. Too many demerits leads to further license suspension.

Drug-Related Penalties in CA

  • Selling marijuana without a license can result in up to 6 months in jail and/or fines up to $500. 
  • Possessing more non-concentrated cannabis than is lawful leads to the same penalty. 
  • Underage possession leads to community service and a compulsory drug education course.
  • Manufacturing drugs illegally earns up to $50,000 in fines and up to seven years in prison.
  • Possessing ingredients to make meth or PCP results in up to six years in prison.
  • Hiring minors to sell drugs can lead to nine years in state prison.

A defendant’s prior criminal history can alter the sentencing and make the penalties more severe.

Please note that while we strive to provide updated information, the legal environment is dynamic. Consult with a local lawyer before making decisions that could lead to drug or alcohol charges.

Get Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Abuse in CA

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, there is hope. We highly recommend seeking treatment. Health professionals can assist you to get back on your feet, starting with a supervised detox. Treatment also includes therapy which is essential for understanding and avoiding triggers.

Getting help doesn’t have to be more difficult than getting drugs. Contact a rehab program near you to discuss the best options to suit your needs. It’s the first step towards a more healthy and happy life.


  1. Hartney, E. (2020). How Much Can You Drink Before You Are Affected by the Alcohol?
  2. McCurley, J. (Undated). California DUI: What are the Penalties?
  3. California Drug Possession Laws – FindLaw
  4. https://www.verywellmind.com
  5. https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov

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