• Medical and adult use of cannabis (21+) are legal in California.
  • Additional state legislation further implements the voter initiatives legalizing medical and adult use cannabis and creates a framework for licensing commercial medical and adult use cannabis.
  • Specific state rules for commercial medical and adult use cannabis should be in effect by January 1, 2018.
  • Cities and counties may adopt their own rules about medical and adult use cannabis. 

California voters adopted the Compassionate Use Act (CUA), known as Proposition 215, in 1996. That landmark voter initiative removed criminal penalties for most cannabis crimes for patients with a doctor’s recommendation for medical cannabis use (Qualified Patients) and their designated Primary Caregivers. CUA allows doctors to recommend cannabis for any serious or persistent medical condition, and allows Qualified Patients to legally use, possess, and grow cannabis.  Qualified Patients may also designate a Primary Caregiver to assist them. A Primary Caregiver is someone who has “consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health, or safety” of the Qualified Patient.

The state legislature adopted the Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA), known as SB 420 (Vasconcellos), in 2003. MMPA establishes a voluntary ID card program, protections for transporting cannabis, and a legal framework to protect not-for-profit patients’ cooperatives and collectives. The voluntary registry issues ID cards that offer protection from arrest for patients and caregivers in possession of no more than eight ounces of useable cannabis, or cultivating no more than six mature or twelve immature plants. Patients and designated caregivers without a state ID card or those in possession of larger quantities are afforded an affirmative defense. Qualified Patients on probation or parole may legally use medical cannabis with the consent of their probation or parole officer.  Municipalities may restrict or ban the operation of not-for-profit cooperatives and collectives in their jurisdiction. 

The California Attorney General published guidelines for interpreting the MMPA in 2008. These non-binding guidelines explain how to comply with MMPA for patients, doctors, law enforcement and cooperative and collective cultivation associations (including storefront dispensaries).

The California legislature adopted three bills, known collectively as the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA), to license and regulate commercial medical cannabis activity in 2015. When fully implemented on January 1, 2018, the bills will license and regulate the lawful cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, transportation, sales, and testing of medical cannabis in the state. MCRSA establishes the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation (BMCR) in the California Department of Consumer Affairs (CDCA). The BMCR and other state agencies are charged with writing rules and issuing licenses for medical cannabis businesses and organizations. MCRSA crates a “dual licensing” model. Applicants for state licenses must have a permit, license or authorization from the city or county in which they operate or propose to operate.

Qualified Patients are exempt from state licensing requirements under MMRSA, if they cultivate 100 square feet or less of medical cannabis. Primary Caregivers serving up to five Qualified Patients may cultivate up to 500 square feet of medical cannabis without a state license. Cities and counties retain the right to license, regulate or ban medical cannabis cultivation.  MMRSA repeals the cooperative and collective cultivation option created by the MMPA one year after state licensing agencies post a notice that commercial licensing is underway.

California voters approved Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), on November 8, 2016. The initiative reduces or eliminates most penalties for the non-medical use, possession and cultivation of cannabis, within certain limits, by adults aged twenty-one and over. It also creates a state licensing and regulation program for adult use of cannabis to run in parallel with MCRSA. AUMA differs from MCRSA is some aspects related to commercial license types, restrictions on holding multiple licenses, etc.

AUMA imposes a 15% excise tax on medical and adult use cannabis, as well as a tax of $9.25 per ounce on all cultivation. However, the initiative exempts Qualified Patients with a voluntary ID card issued pursuant to MMPA from ordinary state sales and use tax. AUMA also enhances patient privacy and protects legal patients from discrimination related to parental rights.

The roll out of MCRSA and AUMA should be complete by January 1, 2018, but amendments, new legislation and additional rule making are likely to continue for several years. Cities and counties retain broad rights to license, regulate and ban medical and adult use cannabis activity, subject to limits imposed by AUMA. Local medical and adult use ordinances vary in their scope and contents. 



Proposition 215, the "Compassionate Use Act"

The Compassionate Use Act is a voter initative, passed in 1996, that made California the first state to legalize cannabisfor medical use

California Senate Bill 420, the Medical Marijuana Program Act

This bill was passed in 2004 with the following purpose: "(1) Clarify the scope of the application of the act and facilitate the prompt identification of qualified patients and their designated primary caregivers in order to avoid unnecessary arrest and prosecution of these individuals and provide needed guidance to law enforcement officers. (2) Promote uniform and consistent application of the act among the counties within the state. (3) Enhance the access of patients and caregivers to medical marijuana through collective, cooperative cultivation projects."

California Assembly Bill 1300

This bill amends the Medical marijuana Program Act to specify that nothing in that Section prevents a city or county from "[a]dopting local ordinances that regulate the location, operation, or establishment of a medical marijuana cooperative or collective."

California Assembly Bill 2650

This bill prevents any medical cannabis cooperative, collective, dispensary, operator, establishment, or provider authorized by law to possess, cultivate, or distribute medical cannabis that has a storefront or mobile retail outlet which ordinarily requires a local business license shall be located within a 600-foot radius of any public or private school providing instruction in kindergarten or grades 1 to 12. 

California County and City Medical Cannabis Laws

Municipalities and counties in CA have chosen in some cases to create their own guidelines to further clarify the 1996 Compassionate Use Act and SB 420. This listing gives up-to-date guidelines for counties that have implemented them.

Medical Marijuana Program Act 

SB 420, the Medical Marijuana Program Act, left dispensary regulations up to cities and counties. Patient and Caregiver IDs are not mandatory but can be acquired through county Departments of Public Health.

Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act 

AB 243, AB 266 and SB 643 was passed in 2015 and is collectively known as the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act.  Each deals with different aspects of licensing and regulating commercial medical cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, transportation, sales, and testing.

AB 243 requires various state agencies to promulgate regulations or standards relating to the cultivation of medical marijuana.  he bill would also require various state agencies to take specified actions to mitigate the impact that marijuana cultivation has on the environment.  This bill would also impose certain fines and civil penalties for specified violations of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, and would require moneys collected as a result of these fines and civil penalties to be deposited into the Medical Cannabis Fines and Penalties Account

AB 266 establishes a new Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation under the Department of Consumer Affairs. The Bureau is to establish a comprehensive internet system for keeping track of licensees and reporting the movement of commercial cannabis and cannabis products.

SB 643 would, among other things, set forth standards for a physician and surgeon prescribing medical cannabis and require the Medical Board of California to prioritize its investigative and prosecutorial resources to identify and discipline physicians and surgeons that have repeatedly recommended excessive cannabis to patients for medical purposes or repeatedly recommended cannabis to patients for medical purposes without a good faith examination, as specified. The bill would require the Bureau of Medical Marijuana to require an applicant to furnish a full set of fingerprints for the purposes of conducting criminal history record checks. The bill would prohibit a physician and surgeon who recommends cannabis to a patient for a medical purpose from accepting, soliciting, or offering any form of remuneration from a facility licensed under the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act. The bill would make a violation of this prohibition a misdemeanor, and by creating a new crime, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program.