Is weed legal in California? 

The short answer is yes. Adults 21 and over can legally consume weed for medical or recreational purposes. 


California voters passed Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Use Act, in 1996. Proposition 215 allowed patients and caregivers to possess and cultivate marijuana for medical use. It was the first medical marijuana ballot initiative in the U.S. to pass at the state level. Senate Bill 420, notable for its number, clarified the mandate and implementation of Proposition 215 in 2003.


California voters passed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, or Proposition 64, on November 8, 2016. It established sales and cultivation taxes and legalized the sale, possession, growing, and consumption of cannabis for adults 21 and older for non-medical purposes.


The legislature addressed some of the problems Prop 64 inadvertently caused when it passed the Medicinal and Adult Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA) in June 2017. It  went into effect on January 1, 2018, simplifying licensing requirements and clarifying medical marijuana rules. It also set up a single regulatory entity to oversee both medical and recreational cannabis operations in the state: the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC). It also gave some oversight powers to the state’s agriculture and public health departments. 


MAUCRSA established all of the regulatory laws and procedures for commercial medical and adult-use cannabis in California. It granted the Bureau of Cannabis Control primary oversight and licensing powers for the medical and recreational markets, though it has help from two other agencies. 


The California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch regulates commercial cannabis manufacturing to assure safe production and contaminant-free cannabis with packaging that meets state standards. The California Department of Agriculture’s CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing (CAL) division licenses and regulates cultivators and runs the state’s seed-to-sale tracking system.  

Where is it safe to purchase?

Adults 21 and older may purchase marijuana from any state-licensed dispensary, regardless of patient status. Delivery services are available throughout the state. 


California adult-use purchases include a 35% to 45% net effective tax, which includes excise, retail, and cultivation taxes. Local governments can add an unlimited cannabis business tax as well. The tax revenue is used to fund law enforcement, the administrative and regulatory costs of administering the program, research, and education. 


Under Proposition 64, however, medical marijuana patients who present a valid medical marijuana identification card do not have to pay the sales and use tax when making retail purchases of medical cannabis, concentrates, edibles, or topical products. The California Department of Public Health lists counties that participate in the California Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program.


[Related: Find licensed dispensaries and delivery services nearby.]

Where is it safe to consume?

Cannabis consumption must take place in a private space. Onsite consumption is permitted inside businesses or spaces that hold a commercial cannabis consumption license. Smoking or vaping in a designated non-smoking area is an infraction.


Consumption in a motor vehicle is not allowed, neither while driving nor while riding as passengers. Even having an open container of cannabis in a car is not allowed. Riding a bicycle under the influence of cannabis also is illegal.  


Adults 21 or older can buy and possess up to 1 ounce, or 28.35 grams, of cannabis, and up to 8 grams of cannabis concentrate. Adults also may participate in California’s home cultivation program. Adults without a valid qualifying physician’s recommendation are allowed to grow a maximum of six plants, regardless of maturity level.


Under MAUCRSA, medical cannabis patients and their caregivers can possess and transport up to 8 ounces, or 226.8 grams, of dried cannabis or concentrates and up to six mature plants, or 12 immature plants. 


Legal consumers can carry cannabis in their vehicles, but it must be in a sealed container or in the trunk.


Adults may transfer or give up to 1 ounce, or 28.35 grams, of dried cannabis and 8 grams of cannabis concentrates to another adult 21 or older. Patients and their caregivers should not give away or transfer medical marijuana.

How Old Do I Need
to Be to Consume?
Possession Limit
for Flower
Possession Limit
for Concentrates

Medical marijuana registry

The California Department of Public Health created the Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program (MMICP) to establish a state-authorized ID card, along with a registry to verify qualified patients and their primary caregivers. Patients must apply for a card for themselves and their designated primary caregivers. Generally, medical cards are valid up to one year. Prior to receipt of their registry identification cards, patients are required to pay the fee required by their county’s program.


Since cannabis is legal in California, adults can buy it without an MMICP card. But the card allows patients to easily prove to law enforcement that they are allowed to possess or grow the amount of cannabis they need, which is more than the amount allowed for recreational use. The card also keeps patients from having to pay sales tax on cannabis purchases. 


California’s Health and Safety Code lists the following medical conditions that qualify a person for a medical marijuana card. 

Qualifying Conditions

  • AIDS
  • Anorexia
  • Arthritis
  • Cachexia, or wasting syndrome
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Glaucoma
  • Migraine
  • Persistent muscle spasms
  • Seizures
  • Severe nausea
  • Any other chronic or persistent medical condition that limits the ability of the patient to conduct one or more major life activities

Application Process

  1. Obtain written certification from a physician confirming a qualifying medical condition, and that medical cannabis is an appropriate treatment.
  2. Visit the CDPH’s Medical Marijuana ID registration site for an application form.
  3. Fill out the application and designate a caregiver, if needed. 
  4. Visit the county health department in your county of residence to submit the application and show proof of residency in a California county and a valid copy of a government-issued identification card.


Patients in the registry who require assistance obtaining or using medical cannabis may designate a primary caregiver. A primary caregiver must be at least 18 years old and consistently assume responsibility for the housing, health or safety of the patient. This may be an individual, or the owner, operator, or employee of an appropriately licensed clinic, facility, hospice, or home health agency. 


A primary caregiver cannot apply for a Medical Marijuana Identification Card. The patient must apply for the designated caregiver. Caregiver registration is valid for the same duration as the patient’s Medical Marijuana Identification Card. The required fee varies by county.


The law allows for non-resident adults who have a valid driver’s license or state or federal ID to purchase marijuana for adult, recreational use.

Lab testing

The BCC requires that all cannabis harvested for commercial, medical, and adult use, as well as all cannabis products, be tested to meet certain quality and safety standards.


California testing regulations require cannabis products be analyzed for the following:

  • Cannabinoids
  • Moisture content
  • Residual solvents and processing chemicals
  • Residual pesticides
  • Microbial impurities (i.e. A. fumigatis, E. coli, and salmonella)
  • Foreign material
  • Terpenoids
  • Mycotoxins 
  • Heavy metals 
  • Water activity testing of solid or semisolid edibles 


Business registrations for distributors, retailers, testing laboratories, temporary cannabis events, and microbusinesses can be initiated at the BCC, where the full forms are available for each type of licensee. Licensing is conducted online.


This page was last updated on August 28, 2020.