Fernandez said he was inspired to change the sign by another similar incident in 1976.
Los Angeles police on Monday arrested a local artist suspected of a New Year's Day prank in which he altered the letters of the famous Hollywood sign to read "Hollyweed."
Zachary Cole Fernandez, 30, was booked on a misdemeanor charge when he voluntarily surrendered to the authorities with his attorney at his side.
He was released on his own recognizance and ordered to appear in court on February 15, a police spokesman said.
Fernandez, who goes by the moniker "Jesus Hands" said he was inspired to change the sign by another similar incident in 1976 that was the work of an art student named Daniel Finegood.
He and his partner conducted research on the sign to determine how to scale the structure and place tarps over the 45-foot-tall o's to turn them into e's, Fernandez told the online magazine Vice.
They aimed to prompt a conversation about cannabis after California voters approved a measure to legalize recreational marijuana in November, he said.
But while many chuckled at his daring feat, one Los Angeles councilman, David Ryu, said he was not amused and would push for Fernandez to be prosecuted to the fullest.
"The Hollywood sign has seen many alteration attempts over the years for people seeking notoriety or commercial gain," he said in a statement. "Pranks of this nature deplete the resources of our valuable public safety personnel, in both responding to the prank and in responding to the increased crowds and copycat attempts that these incidents generate."
Police said Fernandez was charged with a misdemeanor charge of trespass, as opposed to vandalism, because he did not damage the sign.
The landmark was erected in 1923 as "Hollywoodland" to advertise a local real estate development.
It has undergone a number of transformations over the years, including in 1987, when pranksters changed it to "Holywood" to mark the visit of Pope John Paul II.