California Cannabis Laws + Possession Limits

by Kat Austin November 27, 2023 7 min read

California Cannabis Laws + Possession Limits - Vida Optima™

In recent years, California has seen significant changes in its cannabis laws, allowing for both recreational and medical use. Understanding the intricacies of these regulations can be complex, so let's delve into the details of California's cannabis laws, covering possession, cultivation, penalties, and the specific nuances of obtaining and distributing cannabis within the state.

Table of Contents
Is Cannabis Legal in California?
California Cannabis Laws
How the Legal Sale of Cannabis Happens
Penalties for Marijuana-Related Crimes

Key Takeaways

  • Cannabis is legal for both recreational and medical use in California.
  • Adults over the age of 21 can buy cannabis at state-licensed dispensaries and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.
  • Possession limits include up to one ounce of cannabis or 8 grams of concentrated cannabis.
  • There are strict penalties for exceeding the allowable amounts, unlicensed sales, and consuming in prohibited public spaces.

Is Cannabis Legal in California?

Cannabis flower and concentrate, two available forms of cannabis products in California

Yes, both recreational and medical marijuana are legal in California. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), also known as Proposition 64, passed on November 8, 2016, legalizing adult use. This legislation allows adults aged 21 and over to possess, use, and grow limited amounts of cannabis for personal use.

Regulations for Medical Use in California

California's medical cannabis laws under Proposition 215 remain in effect under AUMA. Patients and caregivers have the right to possess and cultivate cannabis for medical needs, with no set limit on possession for medical use.

The Cannabis Patient Protection Act of 2003, Senate Bill 420, granted patients and their designated caregivers the allowance to possess a maximum of six mature plants or 12 immature plants, along with up to eight ounces of dried cannabis. 

Patients have the option to cultivate their marijuana or obtain it from authorized dispensaries. However, selling cannabis without the necessary licensing remains illegal.

Furthermore, municipalities hold the authority to increase these quantity limits, though exceeding 100 square feet would subject individuals to comply with new licensing prerequisites. 

Additionally, local jurisdictions retain the right to implement zoning regulations that may restrict the establishment of dispensaries or prohibit outdoor cultivation. It's essential to review and adhere to the specific regulations outlined in local codes.

Qualifying Conditions and Regulations for Medical Cannabis in California

According to Proposition 215, the qualifications for medical marijuana patients are relatively loose. It read that a doctor can recommend marijuana for any patient who is living with “cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.'' That means that a doctor can recommend cannabis at their discretion, and doctors in California may also recommend cannabis for numerous other conditions, including insomnia, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more.

Regulations for Adult Use Cannabis in California

Under the Adult Use Marijuana Act, it is legal for adults 21 or older to:

  • Possess, transport, purchase, obtain, or give away up to one ounce of cannabis or 8 grams of concentrated cannabis.
  • Cultivate, possess, plant, harvest, dry, or process up to six live plants and possess the produce of those plants.
  • Exceptions and regulations for cultivation include storing excess cannabis in a private residence, limitations on the number of plants, and allowances for local government restrictions on cultivation.

Restrictions for Cannabis Use in California

AUMA prohibits certain activities related to cannabis:

  • Consumption in public places is forbidden, with penalties for violations.
  • No smoking or vaping of cannabis in non-smoking areas, within 1,000 feet of specific locations while children are present, except privately at a residence.
  • Manufacturing concentrated cannabis with volatile solvents is illegal, except for state-licensed manufacturers.
  • Consuming cannabis or possessing an "open container" while driving or in a vehicle is prohibited.

California Marijuana Laws

In California, the landscape of marijuana laws has evolved significantly over the years, both for medical and recreational use. Back in 1996, Californians made history by voting for the legalization of medical marijuana, marking the state as the pioneer in allowing cannabis for therapeutic purposes. 

Then, in 2016, Proposition 64 brought the green light to recreational marijuana, passing with a 56% majority vote. Come January 1, 2018, at 6 a.m. PT, legal sales commenced across the state.

These laws around cannabis in California are intricate, weaving a complex network involving growers, sellers, transporters, buyers, and all other players in the cannabis market. Whether you're aiming to set up a dispensary or simply seeking where to buy recreational marijuana in California, staying updated about the frequent changes in cannabis laws is crucial.

For instance, Proposition 65 underwent a significant change on January 3, 2021, impacting Cannabis business operators. As cannabis got listed as a carcinogen and reproductive toxin by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), all smokable cannabis products are now mandated to carry Prop. 65 warnings for both cancer and developmental toxicity. These warnings must be visibly displayed on the physical product or prominently featured on the retailer's website with appropriate signage.

Then there's the Medicinal Cannabis Patients’ Right of Access Act (SB 1186), signed into law on September 18, 2022. This act prevents local agencies from prohibiting medicinal cannabis delivery, slated to take effect from January 1, 2024, facilitating the operation of medical delivery-only retailers in cities and counties that presently restrict medical delivery.

Another change is seen in the realm of employment with AB-2188, which makes it illegal for employers to terminate or suspend workers for off-duty cannabis use. However, being under the influence or using marijuana during work hours can still lead to suspension or termination. This law will come into force on January 1, 2024.

Moreover, products containing THC, whether smokable or some non-smokable variations like vape cartridges, edibles, or CBD-dominant products with minimal THC content, require Prop. 65 warnings for developmental toxicity from tetrahydrocannabinol. Even CBD operators need to be mindful of these alterations since there's no safe harbor exposure for THC in CBD products in California.

Other laws affecting the cannabis landscape in California include:

  • The Tax Freeze Change (AB 1872), signed into law by Governor Newsom, suspends the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration's power to increase the 15% excise tax or alter the wholesale mark-up rate for a year. This means limitations on changes in markup fees and cultivation tax rates.
  • The Appellation of Origin Bill (SB 67) mandates that cannabis operators can only associate a product with a specific city or county of origin if it was entirely produced there. This law prohibits labeling something as "Humboldt Grown" if it was cultivated elsewhere, impacting both manufacturers and cultivators.
  • There's also the Testing Variance Bill (AB 1458), which adjusted the label variance threshold until January 1, 2022, affecting the state's stringent testing standards for edible manufacturers.
  • The Financial Information Bill (AB 1525) permits access to certain financial details for local and state governments, aiding banks and traditional financial institutions in complying with federal financial reporting standards for cannabis licensees.
  • Lastly, the Testing Bill (SB 1244) enables marijuana testing laboratories to acquire test samples from various regulatory and law enforcement agencies, bolstering efforts against the underground marijuana market in the state.

How Cannabis is Bought and Sold in California

In California, adults 21 and over, as well as medical users or caregivers, can purchase cannabis at licensed retail dispensaries or through delivery services. Additionally, adults can grow up to six plants at home for personal use.

The Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) in California oversees cannabis business licensing and regulation. To maintain compliance, businesses partner with Metrc, the state's track and trace system, including the following:

  • User Designation:Licensed businesses must train and identify track and trace system users.
  • Data Accuracy:Errors in data entry must be rectified within 3 days.
  • Inventory Management: All inventory must be tagged and logged into the system, reconciled every 30 days.
  • Tag Use:Unused package tags cannot be transferred; used tags must be discarded.
  • Mandatory Reporting: Within 24 hours, businesses must record various activities, such as receiving, rejecting, manufacturing, testing, selling, or disposing of cannabis products.
  • Detailed Information:Specific details, including product type, quantity, date, unique identification (UID), and brand name, must be documented for each activity.
  • Tag Receipt Notification:If ordered plant or package tags aren't received, licensees must record this within three days in Metrc and notify the DCC.

These regulations aim to ensure accurate tracking, reporting, and accountability in California's cannabis industry.

Penalties for Marijuana-related Crimes in California

When it comes to marijuana-related offenses in California, there's a range of penalties and legal boundaries to be mindful of:

Possession Penalties

Possession of more than the legal limits:

  • Above 28.5 grams of cannabis flower or 8 grams of cannabis concentrate for adults over 21: Misdemeanor, up to 6 months prison, $500 fine
  • For minors: Infraction with fines and potential drug counseling and community service, with harsher penalties if in a vehicle

Consumption Penalties

  • Illegal consumption in restricted areas: Up to 10 days jail time, fines up to $500

Possession with Intent to Distribute

Factors that may lead to charges:

  • Large quantities of marijuana, delivery to minors, presence of certain items: 6 months to 7 years prison, varying fines

Hash and Concentrates

  • Possession exceeding limits: 6 months prison, $500 fine; manufacturing without license varies in penalties


  • Possession with intent to sell or deliver: Up to 180 days jail time, fines up to $500; delivery to minors or younger individuals may result in steeper penalties

Gifting Cannabis

  • Exceeding legal limits in gifting: Misdemeanor with fines; providing marijuana to minors considered a felony with potential prison time


  • Driving with accessible cannabis: Infraction or more severe penalties based on quantity and presence of children
  • Driving under the influence: Jail time, fines, license suspension, and other consequences for both medical and recreational users

Possible Remedies

  • Potential defenses and cooperation with investigations may lead to reduced sentences or alternative penalties. 

Additional Limitations

  • Various offenses involving minors, loitering, illegal marketing, and other violations entail specific penalties and fines

Legal Cannabis and Buy Online Alternatives

Although cannabis is legal in many states, hemp-derived THC products are still rising as a noteworthy alternative thanks to their affordability and accessibility. Hemp-derived THC products are federally legal, unlike traditional marijuana products, meaning they can often be ordered online and shipped right to your door. Read “Is Delta-8 Legal? A State by State Guide to Delta-8-THC Laws” to learn more about hemp THC laws near you, then check out our Elev8 and Cloud9 Collections.

Vida Optima Delta-9-THC Gummies

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