Know the Laws: Recreational Cannabis in California

California flag with a weed leaf. Marijuana laws in California (iStock / Rex_Wholster)

On January 1st, 2018, California passed Proposition 64 and became one of six states in the union to allow recreational cannabis use. Anyone with a valid photo ID showing they’re 21 or older can walk into a dispensary and purchase up to 28.5 grams of flower and up to 8 grams of concentrate. Yes, that’s “and,” meaning you can stock up for your pipe and your vape pen on the same trip. A medical recommendation is no longer required, but med patients do save on taxes and have higher purchase limits, so people with med cards might want to keep renewing those.

California cannabis taxes aren’t cheap. In addition to local sales tax, which can be as high as ten percent in big cities like Los Angeles, cannabis is subject to a 15% excise tax as well as a tax on growers. Altogether taxes can add an extra 45% to the sale price, so sales haven’t been nearly as high as California dispensaries and growers expected. The problem is bad enough that CA state legislature currently has a Temporary Cannabis Tax Reduction bill up for debate, which would drop the excise tax from 15% to 11%. That would be a step in the right direction, but in the meantime, remember that most dispensaries are still cash-only businesses and be sure to bring a little extra in case the taxes surprise you.

Budget-conscious cannabis users who don’t mind gardening are welcome to cultivate their own plants. California residents can grow up to six marijuana plants at a time, but they have to be in a locked space away from public view. Just sticking them out in the backyard or on a balcony won’t cut it, you’ll need a dedicated space. You can harvest as much as your plants yield, but no private sales and no removing more than 28.5 grams from your residence at a time.

Transporting Marijuana

Cannabis delivery in California

Los Angeles, CA, USA – May 26, 2018: Advertising for legal Marijuana on Venice Boulevard

Transporting marijuana in California comes under restrictions that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever purchased alcohol. You can move no more than 28.5 grams of flower and 8 grams of concentrate at a time, the products must be in childproof containers, and, like alcohol, the products must be out of reach of the driver. Also like alcohol, open cannabis containers are strictly forbidden, even for passengers. Smoking a pipe or joint inside a moving vehicle is exactly as illegal as drinking a beer in a moving vehicle. Owners of those new, modern, ultra-unobtrusive vapes may be tempted to skirt the law but seriously, don’t risk it. Not only will you pay hefty fines and risk your license, but there are still anti-cannabis activists out there arguing that impaired driving is too much of a risk to keep cannabis legal, and you’ll only give them ammunition. They aren’t wrong about one thing: Driving while your judgment and reflexes are impaired on any substance is incredibly dangerous and puts your life at risk as well as the lives of everyone else on the road.

Any instance of driving under the influence of marijuana is wholly and entirely illegal, and one of the compromises of California’s legalizing recreational use is increased police presence on the roads and stricter enforcement of canna-DUI laws. Your first offense can mean six months in jail, a thousand-dollar fine, and six to ten months with a suspended license. THC metabolism varies so much from person to person and day to day that no one has yet come up with a handy metric like the “one drink per hour” rule for estimating alcohol intoxication, so the safest thing you can do is restrict your cannabis consumption to times when you’re finished driving for the day and will have plenty of time to sober up. For some this can take eight hours or more, so err on the side of caution. If anyone ever invents a reliable way to test for THC intoxication, rest assured we’ll report it here.

Exporting Cannabis

Out-of-state transport of cannabis is categorically illegal. No matter how you package it, no matter how much or little you have, no matter if you’re going to another legal state. In the mail, driving, or flying, it’s just not allowed at all. Individuals simply aren’t allowed to export marijuana across state lines. Technically that’s true in many cases for tobacco and alcohol too, so cannabis users may be tempted to assume the practice is effectively decriminalized, but that’s a dangerous mistake to make. The cannabis prohibition laws in many states are still life-ruiningly punitive, and that whole “crossing state lines” angle makes it a federal crime too.

Where You Can Consume

smoke weed at home

Close Up Of Man Rolling Marijuana Joint At Home

For in-state consumption, the rules are pretty simple. If you’re ever in doubt, remember that cannabis is effectively both alcohol and tobacco as far as public use is concerned. So, no public places (sorry, that means parks and beaches are out), nowhere that tobacco smoking is prohibited (don’t get cute and use a vape instead, mall security guards are wise to that one), and not within 1000 feet of a school, youth center, or daycare. 1000 feet is a lot farther than you might think, so when in doubt, measure it on a map or just find somewhere else to smoke. Even if you’re on the grounds of a private residence, if that private residence is within 1000 feet of a school or other kid-centric location, you can only consume cannabis if your use is undetectable to the surrounding area.

So where can you consume cannabis in California? It’s simple: In your private residence, in the private residence of a friend (assuming you legally transport your not-more-than-28.5-grams-of-flower there), in “accessory structures” like sheds, guest houses, or garages on the grounds of a private residence, or outdoors on the grounds of a private residence in locations where outdoor use isn’t prohibited by the city or county. Your home, your friend’s home, your family’s home, any home as long as it’s private. California cannabis laws will almost certainly relax over time, but the best thing you can do to help that, aside from activism, voting, making sure everyone you know votes, etc., is to obey the laws as they stand now. Be a good cannabis citizen!

Know the Laws: Recreational Cannabis in California was last modified: by
Kate Francis
About Kate Francis
Kate Francis is a journalist specializing in business reporting and politics. She lives in Los Angeles, where she divides her time between Lakers games, yoga, and avocado toast