Marijuana is legal for adults and is taxed and regulated similarly to alcohol; state also has a medical marijuana law
Cannabis businesses essential as lawmakers take a pause
Last update: April 23, 2020
In response to COVID-19, California was an early leader in declaring cannabis businesses essential — a critical decision for medical cannabis patients and the many adults who use cannabis for medical reasons. Both curbside pickup and delivery service are possible from licensed cannabis retail locations, but availability varies from location to location.
Lawmakers are currently not in session due to concerns around COVID-19, and it is unclear when they might resume. Like all “legalization states,” California lawmakers and agencies regularly update and refine regulatory policy from year to year, but currently that work is on pause as lawmakers and agencies respond to the health emergency.
Areas of particular attention in cannabis policy include concerns around banking solutions, the tax burden imposed on cannabis sales, the environmental impact of cannabis production, and ways to move a greater percentage of cannabis sales from the underground to the regulated system. California’s rich history in cannabis culture, massive population, and interest in small business and environmental impact gives California an unusual political and regulatory landscape compared with many of its peers.
The current legal status of marijuana in California
Until the 2016 Election Day vote, possessing up to an ounce or less of marijuana was a civil infraction similar to a speeding ticket. Following the vote, possession of an ounce or less and the secure cultivation of up to six plants is lawful for all adults 21 and over.
While California had already reduced penalties before the vote, the state still punished tens of thousands of responsible adults each year for possessing a substance that is objectively safer than both alcohol and tobacco. A study released by the Drug Policy Foundation reported that despite the reduction in penalties, state law enforcement still arrested over half a million people in the past 10 years on marijuana-related charges, a huge number of which are minorities.
California stopped wasting precious resources citing, arresting, and prosecuting marijuana offenders and is now in the process of ensuring the profits of marijuana sales go to responsible businesses and state budgets, instead of the pockets of criminals.
Timeline of marijuana policy reform in California
1996: Voters approved the Compassionate Use Act, allowing for the medical use of marijuana.
2003: California’s legislature expanded the state’s medical marijuana law to allow patients and caregivers to collectively or cooperatively cultivate marijuana.
2015: California’s legislature enacted a licensing and regulatory system for medical marijuana businesses.
2016: Voters approved a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana for adults and establishing a regulated marijuana market.
2017: Licensing and regulatory system for medical marijuana businesses is paired with similar regulatory system being developed for non-medical, now under one agency.
2018: First legal sales for adult consumers began!