Understanding California Law Regarding Recreational and Medical Cannabis Consumption

17 November, 2022
Understanding California Law Regarding Recreational and Medical Cannabis Consumption

Ahh, California. A pioneer state. Where legalization and decriminalization all began in the United States. If you're a cannabis consumer looking for a place to visit or relocate within the U.S., you can't do much better than the Golden State. Yes, California is a haven for those who love the plant, but even there you'll find rules you have to follow when consuming products. So if you are California bound and ready to make the most of your time there or a local who's new to cannabis, then you're in the right place; we're going to give you a rundown of California law regarding recreational and medical cannabis consumption.

Medical Consumption


Medical consumption has been legal in California since the Compassionate Use Act passed in 1996. This allows patients 18 and up and their caregivers to purchase cannabis products as long as that patient receives a recommendation from a doctor. In rare circumstances, patients under the age of 18 may be eligible as well. Medical consumers and caregivers are allowed to be in possession of and transport as much as 8 ounces (226.8 grams) of bud or concentrates. Growing plants is also an option, with a limit of 12 immature plants or six fully matured plants.

California has the Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program (MMICP), which issues ID cards to both patients with qualifying conditions and caregivers of those medical cannabis consumers. Applications are required, and each county has its own fees for issuing cards. Those cards are typically good for a year. Patients suffering from migraines, seizures, extreme nausea, glaucoma, chronic pain, arthritis, anorexia, regular muscle spasms, wasting syndrome, AIDS, cancer, or other ailments that significantly impact their lives, may qualify for an MMICP card. 

If you have a primary caregiver who will be assisting with your cannabis purchases and consumption, you must apply on their behalf. The minimum age for a primary caregiver is 18, and that person must regularly be in charge of keeping the medical consumer safe, in good health, and well cared for. There will be a fee for the caregiver's application as well, and their card will last as long as the patient's card.

Depending on where you buy, products sold in California may come with an unlimited cannabis business tax, on top of a net effective tax that ranges anywhere from 35% to 45%. Medical consumers are exempt from paying extra taxes, as long as they can provide a current medical card. 


Recreational Consumption

In 2016, the people of California came together to vote in the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which legalized recreational cannabis consumption for those 21 and up. With its passage, the Bureau of Cannabis Control was established to govern the cannabis industry within the Golden State, bringing both public health and agriculture departments into the fold. It would later become the Department of Cannabis Control, which absorbed even more departments into a single entity. 

This agency is responsible for issuing licenses to dispensaries, maintaining a standard of operations that includes tested products with accurate information on the labels, and a policy against selling to customers under the legal age limit. Buying from a trusted retailer is always the way to go, as products from unlicensed vendors could have hazardous chemicals, mold, mycotoxins, and/or pesticides. 

If you are 21 or older, you are free to buy cannabis products at any dispensary that is licensed by the state. You may also have your orders brought to you through a delivery service. You are allowed to purchase and carry as much as 1 ounce (28.35 grams) of bud and as much as 8 grams of concentrates. Non-residents who are of legal age and in possession of a valid form of identification can buy products in California as well. As mentioned above, non-medical purchases will be subject to extra taxes. 

Growing your own cannabis is legal through the state's home cultivation program. If you are cultivating for recreational purposes, you are limited to six plants, regardless of their level of maturation. You may also turn your yields into products, though using butane, propane, or any other unstable solvent in this process is prohibited. Before you invest in equipment, reach out to your local office to find out about the regulations and requirements for indoor cultivation in your area. 


Where Is It Legal to Consume?


While you may have an image in your mind of Californians smoking prerolls at every turn, it is not legal to consume in public. You are only allowed to enjoy products on private property or within a business in possession of a commercial cannabis consumption license. It is also illegal to partake inside of a car, keep an open container in a vehicle, or ride a bike while experiencing the effects of cannabis (so kiss those biking adventure fantasies goodbye). You are allowed to transport products in vehicles if they are properly sealed away in containers or stored in the trunk.

If you are currently renting or looking for a new place to rent, it's important to review rental agreements, as landlords can legally prohibit tenants from consuming on their properties. The same conditions may apply to hotels and vacation property rentals, so visitors should check out the lodging policy before they bring their stash.   

While there has been a push to loosen cannabis drug testing for company employees, such a law failed to make it through. As such, even in California, you may face consequences if your place of employment discovers through drug testing that you've been consuming cannabis. Something to keep in mind, especially if you're on the hunt for a new job.

Feeling generous? Want to share the love? Well, cannabis culture is all about sharing and caring, and fortunately, in California you can gift as much as an ounce of bud or 8 grams of concentrates to anyone who is at least 21 years old — so long as it is not a medical-grade product. You cannot, however, profit off cannabis without owning and selling through a licensed dispensary. 




If you are caught consuming in public, know that this is an infraction that carries a fine of $100. The charge is increased to $250 if you smoke/vape in a designated non-smoking area or within 1000 feet of a facility where children are present. You will also be subject to a $250 fine if you are found to be in possession of an open container of products in public, or if you are caught consuming inside a vehicle — including boats and planes. Because cannabis is federally illegal, you cannot indulge in products while occupying federal grounds (like national parks, monuments, and so on), even in California. It's also illegal to cross state lines with cannabis.

Those who are younger than 21 and found to be cultivating or carrying cannabis without a qualifying medical condition may be fined and face disciplinary action, including counseling, drug education, and community service. Consumers 18 and up could be hit with a six-month jail sentence and/or a $500 fine if they have more than the legal limit of cannabis or cannabis concentrates.

Now that we've had some time to review key elements of California law regarding cannabis consumption, you can light up with a clear mind and know how to have fun/take care of yourself while staying out of trouble. So kick back, relax, and enjoy what the Golden State has to offer!