Is Cannabis Legal in California?

Californians voted to legalize weed for recreational use in 2016, and anyone aged 21 or over in the state can buy, possess and use up to an ounce without punishment.

Written by

Lee Johnson

Lee Johnson is the senior editor at CBD Oracle, and has been covering science, vaping and cannabis for over 10 years. He has a MS in Theoretical Physics from Uppsala...

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Map of marijuana laws in California
Illustration: Layla Selestrini / CBD Oracle
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Key Takeaways

  • Legal status: Weed is fully legal in California for both recreational (up to 28.5 grams) and medical use (up to 8 ounces).
  • Penalties and restrictions: Possession above legal limits results in misdemeanors, and public consumption or driving under the influence of cannabis is illegal with various fines and penalties.
  • Medical use and cultivation: Medical marijuana patients can possess up to 8 ounces and grow up to six mature plants, with the option to grow more if needed. Recreational users can grow up to six plants per residence.

Weed is completely legal in California for both medical and recreational use, with adults aged 21 and over able to purchase up to 28.5 grams of usable marijuana and 8 grams of concentrate on a recreational basis.

For medical use for patients over 18, there is a much higher possession limit at 8 ounces per patient.

Although things are pretty relaxed with cannabis in California, there are still some important rules that apply and anyone in the state must follow.

California’s Cannabis Laws

Weed is legal in California for both recreational and medical use.

You can possess, buy and transfer (without payment) up to 1 ounce of marijuana legally, if you’re over 21.

The California recreational weed law, called the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (a.k.a. Proposition 64), was passed on November 8th, 2016.

Since that date, it has been totally legal for adults in the state to possess, use and buy up to 1 ounce (28.5 g) of marijuana, as well as up to 8 grams of concentrate.

After some back and forth on the specifics of the law and regulatory requirements, the state established the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) in mid-2021.

Adults in the state can buy cannabis and weed products legally through state-licensed dispensaries, which began operating in 2018.

Penalties for Excess Possession

While there is no punishment for possession of up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and 8 grams of concentrates, there are still penalties if you possess more than this.

However, given the more relaxed approach to cannabis in the state, the punishment isn’t too harsh. If you have more than 28.5 grams of cannabis, it’s considered a misdemeanor and carries a punishment of up to 6 months in prison and a maximum fine of $500.

Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, when the state passed the Compassionate Use Act (prop 215), and the program was expanded with SB 420 (yes, they really managed to get that bill number) in 2003, which created a state ID card program for medical marijuana patients. These are the two main California medical marijuana laws you should know about.

Patient Possession Limits in California

According to the California Health and Safety Code, a qualified patient can have no more than 8 ounces of dried cannabis in their possession.

However, this rule is flexible if your doctor deems that this amount is not “consistent with the patient’s needs.”

Medical marijuana patients in California are also allowed to grow up to six mature cannabis plants (or 12 immature plants), or more if deemed necessary by their physician.

How to Get a Medical Marijuana Card in California?

Getting a medical marijuana card in California is a very similar process to other states with medical marijuana programs.

The first step is getting an appointment with a doctor in the state, and then you can inform them of your medical issues and that you would like to use marijuana as treatment.

To qualify for the medical marijuana program, you have to be diagnosed with one of the qualifying conditions:

If your physician diagnoses you with one of these conditions, and agrees that you would benefit from cannabis, they will give you a recommendation letter on the same day, as well as a patient ID that registers you with the state’s medical marijuana program.

You can use the letter alone to make purchases in dispensaries.

If you want to, you can also apply for a physical medical marijuana identification card. However, the main purpose of the weed card in California is to make it easier for law enforcement to identify you as a registered medical patient.

Can You Consume Cannabis in Public in California?

Despite having both medical and recreational legalization, this doesn’t mean you can consume cannabis wherever you like.

In fact, you can only legally use cannabis products in private, and there are penalties for public marijuana consumption in California.

Public consumption is considered a Class B violation, which is punishable solely by a fine of up to $1,000.

Can You Drive Under the Influence?

As in all legal states, you still can’t legally drive under the influence of marijuana in California.

The state has an implied consent law, which means that by driving in the state you’ve already given your consent to testing of your blood or urine to determine the drug or alcohol content of your blood.

If you don’t allow the testing, you will receive a fine, a one-year license suspension, and mandatory imprisonment if you’re later convicted of a DUI.

For the DUI itself, the punishment depends on your number of previous offenses.

  • For a first offense, you will receive jail time of between 96 hours and six months, a fine of between $390 and $1,000, your license will be suspended for six months and you must complete a DUI program.
  • For a second offense within 10 years, you’ll receive between 90 days and 1 year in jail, the same $390 to $1,000 fine, your license will be suspended for 2 years and you’ll have to complete a DUI program.
  • For a third offense, the jail time increases to between 120 days and 1 year, the same fine and DUI program requirement applies, your license suspension will be increased to three years, and you’ll have an ignition interlock device installed on your car.
  • For fourth or subsequent offenses within the 10 year period, the punishments are the same as for a third offense, except the minimum jail sentence is 180 days and your license will be suspended for four years.

Delta-8 THC is restricted in California.

The state passed AB 45, which basically re-defines THC as used in the Farm Bill to mean any form of THC rather than just delta-8.

While this means that delta-8 is technically allowed, the limit means that hemp-derived delta-8 products on the market today will not meet the requirements of the law and will come under the jurisdiction of the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC).

The DCC regulates such products in the same way as other adult-use cannabis products, meaning rules are stricter than for other hemp products like CBD oils.

Is Weed Decriminalized in California?

Weed is fully legalized, so the issue of weed decriminalization in California is a thing of the past.

Weed cultivation in California is completely legal for either adults aged 21 and over or medical marijuana patients.

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act states that adults can have up to six plants per residence, provided the plants (and any of the harvest that would take you over the one-ounce limit) are kept out of public view and in a locked space.

Medical patients are allowed to have more plants if a high enough dose is recommended by a physician.

Conclusion

The weed laws in California are some of the best in the country, with basically everything you could want available and enough leeway in the laws to let businesses flourish.

If you’re living in California or just visiting, provided you’re over 21 and have somewhere private to smoke, you can just pick up an ounce at a dispensary and have fun.