In 2018, California weed laws changed as recreational marijuana use and sales became legal. This was a milestone for the state's cannabis industry, its proponents and its potential customers. However, while recreational weed is now legal, laws are still in place regarding its use, growth and sale. Despite this newfound legality for recreational use, it is not a free-for-all. Navigating California cannabis rules and regulations can be tricky, and there are strict consequences for violating them.
California Recreational Weed Laws in 2018
In November 2016, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, otherwise known as Proposition 64, was passed overwhelmingly by voters, making it legal for California residents to use, grow and sell marijuana for recreational purposes. On January 1, 2018, the law went into effect.
Cannabis use, growth and sale in California is strictly regulated and controlled. Just as with alcohol, California weed laws state that users must be 21 years old or older. Users can legally possess up to one ounce (28 grams) of cannabis or 8 grams of concentrated cannabis. Concentrated cannabis, also known as hash, is crude or purified resin separated from the cannabis plant.
Cannabis is available in food such as candy, brownies, butter and soft drinks. It is also available in non-edible products including lotions, oils, bath salts and transdermal patches. Under Prop 64, a user can possess one ounce, or 28 grams, of marijuana-infused product, depending on the product's cannabis concentration. A densely concentrated product combined with other cannabis-infused products might put a user over the legal limit of possession.
Should you choose to grow your own cannabis plants, under Prop 64 you can "cultivate up to six plants per residence and possess the marijuana produced by these plants. All plants and harvest in excess of one ounce must be kept in a locked space not in public view at one’s residence." To grow marijuana outside, check with your local municipality for its rules and regulations, as some have banned outdoor pot gardens.
California Dispensary Laws
Users must purchase cannabis and cannabis products from a state-licensed recreational dispensary. The law also makes it illegal to sell marijuana or cannabis-infused edibles between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
To buy from a dispensary, you'll need to show a valid government-issued ID, which can be from any state as long as it has a photo and date of birth. Acceptable IDs include a driver’s license, a military ID or a passport.
To find a recreational cannabis dispensary near you, visit the website of the California Bureau of Cannabis Control for a regularly updated list of all the licensed dispensaries in the state.
Read More: California Marijuana Dispensary Laws: Retail & Licensing
Additional Packaging and Testing Regulations
Under Prop 64, the state enacted a six month grace period for cannabis industry manufacturers and retailers to make their products compliant with its packaging and testing regulations for pesticides, chemicals and foreign materials. On July 1, 2018, these regulations went into effect. Any cannabis distributor or dispensary incompliant by that date risked fines and a potential loss of license. This drove up prices and lowered supply. Now, before marijuana products go to a distributor, they must follow stricter regulatory standards than before. The California Department of Public Health now requires the following from marijuana product manufacturers:
- Marijuana product packaging must be tamper and child-resistant. It must also be resealable if it contains multiple servings of the product.
- Cannabis edibles cannot resemble traditional food packaging, and the packaging must be opaque.
- Cannabis products must not be attractive to children. They must not include cartoons or self-promote as "candy."
- Marijuana product labeling must not show any health claims or benefits.
- Labeling must consist of a primary panel and informational panel. Primary panel labeling, located on the front of the package, must include the identity of the product, the CDPH-issued universal symbol, the net weight or volume of the product, the words “cannabis-infused" and the product's THC/CBD ratio along with the amount of THC/CBD per serving. THC is the chemical compound in marijuana that can make a user feel high. CBD, also a chemical compound, does not cause a psychoactive effect. The greater the ratio of CBD to THC in a product means less of a high for the end user.
The informational panel is secondary and can be placed anywhere else on the package. This panel requires information including the manufacturer’s name and contact information, the date of manufacture, a government warning statement, the list of ingredients, instructions for use, the product expiration date and the product's ID or batch number. Cannabis edibles must also contain allergen information, artificial food coloring information and necessary nutritional information. Also, medicinal cannabis products, those which need a recommendation from a doctor, must be labeled “For Medicinal Use Only.”
California Recreational Weed Licensing Laws
California recreational weed laws require any commercial cannabis business to be in possession of a license to operate in the state. Having a license ensures and requires that a cannabis business follows not only state law, but local ordinances as applicable.
There are two types of cannabis licenses. The holder of an M-license can sell medical marijuana, while those that sell recreational cannabis must get an A-license. A business that wishes to sell both medical and recreational cannabis can obtain licenses for both and operate both types of sales out of the same facility.
Before being established, any cannabis-related business, from a retail outlet to a growhouse, is subject to public hearings. There is no limit to the size of commercial cannabis farms, but every plant grown must be clearly traced from seed to sale. The law also enforces security at all cannabis-related businesses and in the transportation of marijuana and marijuana-infused products.
Licensing fees for sellers are $1,000 per year, but additional costs can range from $4,000 to $72,000 based on how a business sells. Sellers are also charged a fee for testing firms which can range from $20,000 to $90,000. An added charge for distribution licensing can be anywhere from $1,200 to $125,000 depending on the amount of product moved.
Growers must pay a one-time fee to the California Department of Food and Agriculture for review of a cultivation license application. This fee can range from $135 to $8,655. Depending on the size of its annual cannabis production, a grower must also pay a yearly fee of $1,205 to $77,905.
Cannabis product manufacturers must pay a $1,000 application processing fee. A manufacturer's license fee can range from $2,000 to $75,000, depending on the size of the operation.
While a business sets up permanent licensing, the California Bureau of Cannabis Control issues temporary, 120-day licenses to companies that have permission from their city or county. Additionally, a passed background check is necessary to receive licensing.
California Recreational Weed Tax
Marijuana in California comes with the usual state and local taxes of 7.5 to 9.25 percent, but there is also an additional 15 percent excise tax. Local governments also tax cannabis businesses in their respective areas which can range as high as 10 to 20 percent of total business revenues.
Those that use medical marijuana and have a state-issued cannabis marijuana ID card are exempt from the sales tax on medical products.
Licensed commercial growers are also subject to a cultivation tax of $9.25 per ounce on cannabis flowers or $2.75 on cannabis leaf.
Federal Laws Conflict With California's Weed Laws
While the use and possession of recreational marijuana is legal in California, it is a federal offense and, despite its medicinal or recreational legalization in some states, the U.S. government's aggressive stance against marijuana still holds. Dispensaries collect customer information which could be seized by federal agents, although, so far, no reports of that have been heard. Despite federal law, users must continue to have a keen awareness of California's weed laws. Violation of those laws can result in a fine or arrest.
User Violations of California Weed Laws
While the use of recreational marijuana is legal, users cannot smoke, ingest or vape cannabis in public places in California. Doing so can result in a fine of up to $100. Also, a user cannot smoke, vape or ingest marijuana in a non-smoking area or within 1,000 feet of anywhere that children are present such as school, daycare or youth center. Doing so can result in a $250 fine.
Adults found in possession of more than one ounce, or 28 grams, of marijuana are also in violation of the law and can receive a misdemeanor charge, up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.
It is also a misdemeanor to cultivate, harvest, dry or process more than six plants. That charge becomes a felony when a person already has two prior illegal cultivation convictions, two violent felony convictions or is a registered sex offender.
Possession with intent to illegally sell cannabis is also considered a misdemeanor, but the charge can become a felony for third-time offenders, those with two violent felony convictions or registered sex offenders. The illegal sale of cannabis is also a felony conviction for those who knowingly sell to minors or employ minors in growing or manufacturing.
It is also illegal to take marijuana or marijuana-infused products across state lines or use it on federal lands, even if they are in California.
Driving Under The Influence of Cannabis
Driving while under the influence of marijuana is the same as driving under the influence of any other drug or alcohol. It is still considered impaired driving. If found guilty of driving under the influence of marijuana, equal measures will apply to cannabis-intoxicated drivers as to those under the influence of alcohol. While there is no standard way of measuring impairment, the California Office of Traffic Safety gives an estimate of about four hours for a cannabis "high" to abate. This, however, is a rough estimate, as everyone reacts differently.
Using cannabis or possessing an open container of cannabis or cannabis-infused products while driving or riding as a passenger can result in a $250 fine. Loose marijuana buds or any packaging containing cannabis or cannabis-related products that are open or have a broken seal violate the law except when stored in the trunk of the vehicle.
How California Weed Laws Affect the Workplace
While the recreational use of marijuana in California is legal, it is still the right of a business owner to retain an alcohol and drug-free workplace. There is no state law in place to protect against employee termination regarding the use of marijuana, and an employer can still fire an employee who fails a drug screening in California. Individual employers still have the right to continue to test for marijuana or remove it from the standard five-drug panel should they wish.
Landlords can also restrict the use of cannabis and cannabis-infused products on their property, as it is privately owned and part of their business.
The Changing Cannabis Industry in California
The cannabis industry in California is relatively new as are its accompanying laws and regulations. Both are in a state of flux as the marketplace grows, and supply and demand changes.
As an example, marijuana delivery is currently unavailable in places that have banned dispensaries per Proposition 64, but a new California Senate bill may bring cannabis to areas that have prohibited it, despite current county and city regulations. Even in cities where recreational marijuana is used and cultivated, the state has been slow to issue licenses, as local government red tape has impeded the process. The streamlining of the cannabis industry in California continues.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.