California Marijuana Laws

Recreational (Comprehensive) and Medical (Comprehensive)


Important Dates:

1913: California was the first state to prohibit marijuana, cited in an addendum to the Poison Act of 1907, which initially only focused on the sale or purchase of cocaine and opiates.
1937: The Marihuana Tax Act made marijuana illegal across the United States.
1972: California attempted to independently legalize marijuana cultivation and possession for those 18 years of age and older. Although a proposition decidedly failed, the vote spurred further research into the economic and social effects of consumption. These studies led to years of political debate and subsequent propositions.
1996: Proposition 215 legalized medical marijuana.
2003: Senate Bill 420 laid out specifics regarding enforcement agencies and the ID card system.
2010: Senate Bill 1449, signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, downgraded the possession of an ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction. Proposition 19 was introduced by supporters seeking to legalize marijuana outright but was defeated.
2015: The Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation was established in order to place guidelines around how medicinal marijuana was grown, dispensed and consumed.
2016: Proposition 64 made recreational marijuana legal in California (with certain regulations).


California’s history with marijuana can be traced back over 100 years, from being the first state to criminalize its cultivation, sales and usage in 1907, to being one of the first states to legalize recreational use in the 21st century. As of 2017, California residents can legally grow, purchase and use marijuana both for medicinal purposes as well as recreationally according to state regulations set forth by its governing agencies: The Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, The California Department of Food and Agriculture and The California Department of Public Health.


Can I possess, buy or grow marijuana in California?

In the State of California, you may legally cultivate, possess and use marijuana for recreational purposes in one ounce or marijuana, or eight grams of Cannabis concentrates. This is equivalent to nearly 60 half-gram joints or 16 vaping cartridges.

Proposition 64 allows individuals who are 21 years of age or older to grow up to six plants per home, contingent on the plants being contained in a locked area and not visible to the public. Additionally, according to CalNORML (updated as of March 24th, 2017), those with a doctor’s recommendation may grow more as long as it is legal in the patient’s jurisdiction.

Can I operate a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana in California?

Varying rules apply in different situations with regard to driving under the influence of marijuana in California. As of a January 2017 article, it is still illegal to drive under the influence, but you can transport marijuana in a vehicle as long as the container is sealed and has not been open or used while driving. Similar to ‘open container’ rules with regard to alcohol, you can still be penalized by fine for driving with marijuana that isn’t properly sealed.

How do I get a medical marijuana card in California?

Currently, the easiest way to obtain a medical marijuana card, also known as a doctor’s recommendation (doctors cannot legally prescribe marijuana since it is still illegal at the federal level), is by completing an online evaluation and purchasing the letter and card. Legally, this is all that is required to purchase cannabis from a dispensary. You will, however, need to renew your recommendation annually.

Can I use marijuana in public in California?

Though the recreational and medical use of marijuana is legal in the State of California, it is still illegal to consume on the street or in public spaces. There may be retail establishments with proper licensing, not in public view, where it is legal.

Can I sell marijuana in California?

Sale and distribution from one individual to another is still illegal. However, SB 420 allows for communities, collectives and cooperatives to grow on a non-profit basis and sell to its members; this also includes primary designated caregivers who purchase on behalf of others. The legal sale and distribution of recreational marijuana won’t be entirely clear until at least 2018, when lawmakers and governing agencies aim to have a framework of guidelines in place.


The information presented here should not be construed as legal advice. State and Federal laws are always subject to change. We aim to keep this page as updated as possible; however, for additional information regarding California marijuana laws, please see the California Cannabis Portal, Find Law and the National Conference of State Legislatures.