California marijuana laws

Published on September 4, 2020 · Last updated May 26, 2022

Current legality status


Cannabis is legal under state law for adults 21+.

Yes. Marijuana is legal for both medical and recreational use in California. Voters approved recreational cannabis was in 2016 and medical cannabis in 1996.

California recreational marijuana laws

Recreational cannabis became legal in California in 2016. Under this law, adults over 21 years of age can use and possess cannabis for recreational purposes. They can also give cannabis to other adults (as long as there is no payment in exchange).

California public consumption laws

While consuming cannabis is legal in California, it is unlawful for any person to engage in the use of marijuana items in a public place.

Public consumption qualifies as a Class B violation, punishable solely by a fine. Other penalties may occur for smoking weed in public, but not imprisonment.

The maximum fine for a violation committed by an individual is $1,000 for a Class B violation.

Possession/use limits

Adults over the age of 21 may possess a combination of the following forms of recreational marijuana in California:

  • Twenty-eight and a half (28.5) grams of usable marijuana (Note: Adult-use consumers are limited to purchasing one (1) ounce per day)
  • Eight (8) grams of cannabis concentrates

California recreational marijuana bills

Recreational marijuana became legal in California in 2016 when 56% of California voters approved Proposition 64. The law allows adults over 21 years of age to use, possess, and gift other adults up to an ounce of cannabis for recreational purposes.

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Proposition 64 also mandated the creation of a regulatory system to license cannabis businesses. In 2018, cannabis businesses such as licensed dispensaries and delivery services in California began legally selling recreational cannabis to adults.

California medical marijuana laws

Medical cannabis has been legal in California since 1996, when voters approved the Compassionate Use Act, also known as Prop 215. This law allowed for the medical use of marijuana when recommended by a medical doctor. In 2003, Senate Bill 420 expanded protections by creating a state ID card program for medical cannabis patients, and allowing non-profit cannabis collectives to form.

California medical marijuana possession limit laws

California medical cannabis patients do not face specific possession limits. The amount must only be “consistent with the patient’s needs.”

Medical cannabis patients or their caregivers can also cultivate up to 6 living cannabis plants. In addition, if they require more plants and it is recommended by their physician, they may grow more plants in accordance with their medical needs.

Still, local ordinances can limit or ban medical cultivation.

California qualifying conditions for medical marijuana

Cannabis is legal for adult use in California, but to get qualified as a medical patient you must have a qualifying condition, which include:

  • Anorexia
  • Arthritis
  • Cachexia
  • Cancer
  • Chronic Pain
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Glaucoma
  • Migraine
  • Persistent Muscle Spasms
  • Severe Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Any debilitating illness where the medical use of marijuana has been “deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician”

For a complete list of qualifying conditions and guidelines, please refer to California Proposition 215, with revised Senate Bill 420

How to get a medical marijuana card in California

Getting a medical cannabis card in California is pretty easy. There are many doctors in the state who offer recommendations.

  1. To get started, find a doctor and make an appointment. You can even find doctors who will see you online.
  2. At your appointment, let your doctor know about the medical issues you would like to treat with cannabis. If they agree you would benefit from cannabis, they will issue you a medical recommendation letter that day and a patient ID code that registers you with the California Medical Marjiuana Program.
  3. Once you have your letter, you can enter medical cannabis dispensaries and make purchases.
  4. Optionally, you can also apply for a county-issued medical marijuana identification card, which allows law enforcement agents to identify you as a medical cannabis patient. 

Does California accept out-of-state medical cards?

No. California does not accept out-of-state medical cards. Still, since recreational marijuana is legal in the state, out-of-state visitors can get weed during their stay.

When does my California medical cannabis card expire?

Both medical cannabis recommendations in California and the medical marijuana identification card expire after one year. Once expired, patients need to renew these in order to continue being considered a medical patient and to be allowed higher amounts of cannabis.

California marijuana growing laws

Adults over the age of 21 may cultivate up to six (6) plants per residency. Growing beyond that limit can result in a misdemeanor charge, up to 6 months in jail, and up to $500 in fees.

Medical cannabis patients or their caregivers can also cultivate up to six (6) living cannabis plants. In addition, if they require more plants and it is recommended by their physician, they may grow more plants in accordance with their medical needs.

Still, local ordinances can limit or ban medical marijuana cultivation.

California cannabis DUI laws

While it is legal to use cannabis in California, it isn’t legal to drive under its influence. California law carries implied consent of an individual to submit to a chemical test of blood or urine and makes no exceptions for lawful medical cannabis patients.

Failure to submit to a chemical test will result in a fine, mandatory imprisonment in the event of a DUI conviction, and a one-year suspended license. Drivers may choose between a blood or urine test, but do not have the right to consult an attorney before submitting to the test.

A refusal to submit to a test is admissible as evidence of guilt in a court of law.

Tests that may be administered:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test: An officer will move an object, usually their finger, from side to side in front of the driver’s face to detect an involuntary jerking of the eye if intoxicated.
  • Walk and Turn Test: A suspected offender will be instructed to walk a straight line while the officer watches for loss of balance, inability to stay on the line, or breaks in walking beginning before instructed.
  • One Leg Stand Test: Officer will instruct driver to raise one leg, hold still and count. Officer will watch for swaying, hopping, or putting one’s foot down.
  • Blood, Breath or Urine Test: There is no breath test for cannabis, and blood and urine tests are generally considered inaccurate, but a driver may be required to submit to these tests, anyway.
  • Saliva Swab Test: This test is now being employed at various checkpoints, takes eight minutes to administer, and can detect trace amounts of THC.

Cannabis DUI penalties:

First offense: 96 hours to six months in jail, $390 to $1,000 fine, four-month suspended license, offender must complete a DUI program at the person’s cost, $125 license reissue fee, installation of IID

Second offense (within 10 years): 90 days to one year in jail, $390 to $1,000 fine, two-year suspended license, offender must complete a DUIU program

For more information, refer to California Vehicle Code Division 11.5, Article 2.

California cannabis testing regulations

Testing in the Golden State is stabilizing after a rocky start, which included a number of recalls of products falsely and deliberately cleared by testing labs but later found to be contaminated. The state now requires all cannabis to be tested for cannabinoids, terpene content, mycotoxins and heavy metals in addition to moisture content, residual solvents, pesticides, and microbial impurities.

In late 2019, many labs took it upon themselves to test for Vitamin E acetate, the primary culprit in the VAPI lung outbreak, and the state skated up to the brink of issuing a heavy-handed ban on vape products before opting for an educational approach to understanding vaping contaminants.

Common questions about marijuana legalization in California

When did California legalize?

California legalized medical cannabis in 1996 and recreational cannabis in 2016.

Are dabs legal in California?

Yes. Dabs are legal in California for both medical and recreational cannabis consumers.

How many recreational dispensaries are in California?

There are an estimated 675 dispensaries currently licensed and operating in California. Hundreds more come online each year.

Are drugs legal in California?

Cannabis is legal in California but many other drugs remain illegal.

Are you more likely to get arrested for cannabis crimes in California if you are Black?

Yes. While California has more racially balanced arrest rates than most states, the ACLU found that black Californians were 1.81 times as likely to get arrested for cannabis as white Californians.

Keep up with the latest news about legalization in California

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Post last updated Sept. 7, 2020

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