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The state of California has been a longtime trailblazer for legalized cannabis use. Almost 50 years ago, California proposed the nation’s first ballot initiative on the issue and, although this initial attempt failed, the state would go on to legalize the medical use of marijuana in 1996 and its recreational use in 2016.
These first milestones opened the path forward for legalized marijuana across the country, while industry and its surrounding laws have since developed. In this article, we’ll look at California’s medical and recreational marijuana laws, answer some frequently asked questions and help you get a better understanding of legal marijuana use in the state.
Simply put, yes, marijuana is legal in California. This goes for both medical and recreational use. However, the laws surrounding these types of usages differ, so it’s a good idea to get familiar with each to better understand the allowances and limitations guaranteed under California law.
California legalized the medicinal use of marijuana in the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, or Proposition 215. This act granted medical cannabis patients who are 18 years of age or older and their caregivers the right to possess and cultivate marijuana, and for patients to consume marijuana when prescribed for medicinal use by a California-licensed physician. Patients under the age of 18 can also consume medicinal marijuana products but only under the guidance of a California-licensed physician and their parents or guardians.
Currently, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) offers a voluntary Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program (MMICP) through which an eligible patient may receive a medical marijuana identification card. There are some perks associated with having a medical marijuana card, but a physician’s recommendation is enough to purchase marijuana for medicinal use within the state.
California’s Proposition 64, or the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, passed in November of 2016. Among other things, this act gave California residents who are 21 years of age or older the right to cultivate, possess, sell and consume marijuana for non-medicinal purposes. This proposition also outlines possession, cultivation and consumption limitations for recreational marijuana use. As a general overview, this act limits the possession of recreational marijuana to 28.5 grams (one ounce) and the cultivation of no more than six marijuana plants at a private residence.
California medical marijuana law granted residents of the state who are 18 years of age or older the right to medical cannabis with a physician’s recommendation on November 5, 1996.
California cannabis laws expanded to include the recreational use of marijuana for residents of 21 years of age or older in late 2016, going into effect the following year.
Patients and guests over age 21 can legally obtain medical and recreational marijuana from any licensed marijuana dispensary in California.
In California, all retail sales of cannabis products are subject to the standard 7.5% – 9.25% sales tax rate. Depending on where you’re located in California, you may pay further taxation on marijuana products because of laws passed by local governments.
As of 2018, the state also began to apply an additional 15% excise tax to all retail marijuana product sales. It is important to note that patients who hold a medical marijuana card may be exempt from the sales and use tax normally applied to retail sales of marijuana products.
Marijuana is safe to consume in a private space or in a privately-owned or government-owned location that holds a commercial cannabis consumption license. In California, marijuana cannot be consumed in a public space, while in a motor vehicle (whether driving or riding as a passenger), while riding a bicycle, or near or on the premises of a school, youth center, or daycare (unless in one’s own private residence).
Limitations to the possession of cannabis products in the state of California vary depending on whether an individual uses these products recreationally or medicinally.
Limitations on recreational marijuana possession
Limitations on medical marijuana possession
Currently, the state of California does not accept out-of-state medical marijuana cards. However, visitors to the state are welcome to apply for a California-issued medical marijuana card.
As of this year, 36 states and four U.S. territories allow for the medical use of marijuana. Some (but not all) of these states honor California medical marijuana cards. These are:
Note: Please visit the official state MMJ program site and/or contact their MMJ programs office to make sure your card will be accepted.
Residents of California are permitted to carry marijuana in a motor vehicle, boat or airplane. However, recreational cannabis products may not be transported in an “open container,” meaning the original factory or distribution seal has been previously broken. Instead, recreational use products must be carried in containers without a broken seal during transport. Exceptions to the broken seal rule may apply to individuals with medical marijuana approval.
Since marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, it is, in most cases, illegal to carry legally purchased marijuana across state lines.
It is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana in the state of California, but no explicit consumption limit is written in California statute. If a law enforcement officer has reason to suspect marijuana use while driving, they may give a driver a field sobriety test, and may also administer a blood or urine drug test, to determine whether an individual was driving while impaired. There is currently no exception to this rule for individuals who use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana can vary and depend on the number of offenses an individual has on record.
Most types of cannabis products are legal within the state of California, including, but not limited to, cannabis flower, capsules, vape cartridges, extracts, and edibles like cookies and gummies. Products containing marijuana must abide by certain THC limits per product or package, and pass quality and safety standards in tests set by the state.
Primary caregivers who care for patients with medical marijuana allowances are permitted to possess, cultivate, transport, or administer cannabis or cannabis concentrates to their patients. In California, primary caregivers need not obtain a medical marijuana card to participate in the above activities. To qualify as a primary caregiver in California, one must be responsible for a qualifying patient’s housing, health or safety. Primary caregivers must also be at least 18 years of age or an emancipated minor.
Minor marijuana transportation or possession arrest and conviction records are not kept beyond two years in the state of California. As of 2016, individuals with other types of marijuana-related arrests or convictions may petition the courts to have these records dismissed, sealed, expunged, or re-designated. The state has, in recent years, moved to make these petitions systematic, rather than relying on individual petitions to the court.
In California, it is legal to buy or give away up to 1-ounce recreational marijuana to other adults of 21 years of age or older. It is a felony to sell or give away any amount of marijuana to a minor. Primary caregivers are allowed to administer medicinal marijuana to their patients, regardless of age.
California prohibits the consumption of cannabis products in public spaces. Cannabis products are intended for use in private residences or in a privately-owned or government-owned location that holds a commercial cannabis consumption license. Federal law also prohibits the use of marijuana products on federal lands, such as public parks.
While it is legal to use cannabis products in California, the law does not prohibit employers from terminating employees for the use of these products. California cannabis laws do not affect employers’ rights to require a drug and alcohol-free workspace, nor to take action to ensure employees do not infringe on that kind of workspace.
Additionally, AB 2188 (which just passed and was signed into law) will prohibit employers from testing or dismissing employees for cannabis use starting Jan 1, 2024 (with some exceptions such as those in construction trades).
California residents may grow cannabis at home. Individuals with a California-licensed physician’s permission may grow any amount of plants that their physician deems reasonable. Recreational marijuana users within the state can cultivate, possess, plant, harvest, dry, or process no more than six plants at any given time, and must keep the marijuana produced within a private residence. All individuals who cultivate cannabis at home must keep their plants secure and away from public visibility.
It is legal to smoke marijuana in California. However, there are certain limitations imposed by the state that individuals must follow. These limitations may vary depending on whether an individual smokes marijuana for medicinal purposes or for recreational purposes. In general, though, these limitations are set around where one is legally allowed to smoke, how marijuana can be transported, and what activities one can engage in while under the influence of marijuana.
California allows for both recreational and medical use of cannabis products. Some dispensaries within the state possess both an “A” and an “M” license, meaning that both recreational and medical marijuana products are sold at their locations.
Edible cannabis products are legal in the state of California. Edibles are legally limited to 10 milligrams of THC per serving, or 100 milligrams of THC per package. This goes for both recreational and medicinal use products.
Individuals looking to purchase recreational marijuana products must be at least 21 years of age to legally obtain these products. Medicinal use marijuana products can be purchased by individuals who are at least 18 years of age and have a physician’s recommendation. Patients under 18 years of age must have a physician’s recommendation as well as their parent’s or guardian’s permission.
The first step toward navigating legal marijuana use in your state is to familiarize yourself with your state’s laws regarding medicinal and recreational use. We hope this guide has been an informative step on your cannabis journey. (To keep learning, check out our cannabis resources!) If you have more questions, please feel free to have a conversation with one of our knowledgeable patient care specialists at your local RISE Dispensary.
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