January 1st, 2018 ushered in a new age of cannabis in California with adult use recreational sales becoming legal statewide for individuals 21 and older. Amid the excitement, medical cannabis patients and recreational consumers alike understandably have a lot of questions about what to expect when they visit a licensed dispensary, what they’ll be paying in taxes and where they can legally use the cannabis products they’ve purchased.
Preparing for your shopping trip
Whether you’re visiting a dispensary as a medical patient or a recreational consumer, it’s crucial that you select a legally licensed shop. In Los Angeles alone, there has been an influx of illegal dispensaries popping up ever since Prop 64 passed in November 2016—these shops don’t pay their taxes, aren’t required to test the products on their shelves for harmful chemicals and pesticides and they can be raided by law enforcement at any time. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to determine if a dispensary is illegal. Here are a few quick questions you can ask:
(1) What are their hours of operation?—Under current law, licensed dispensaries may operate between the hours of 6am-10pm daily. If a shop is open outside of those hours, they aren’t legal.
(2) Do they pay their taxes?—Look at your receipt. Are there taxes listed on it? You should be able to clearly see the taxes you’re paying (or an indicator that tax is included in the advertised price). If they don’t give you a receipt at all, that’s also not a good sign.
(3) Do they check your ID on every visit?—Dispensaries cannot allow anyone underage into the area where cannabis products are sold, so they should be checking your ID every time you visit. If you’re a medical patient under 21 you may also be asked to show your MMJ recommendation or county ID card.
(4) Is consumption happening on the premises?—The laws vary by city, but here in Los Angeles consumption of cannabis products cannot occur in a licensed dispensary. In San Francisco where consumption licenses have been approved, a dispensary may have a designated area where you can legally use cannabis on the premises. Be proactive and educate yourself about the laws in your city so that you don’t end up at an illegal consumption lounge!
(5) Is their license prominently displayed?—All legal dispensaries will either have an A License (Adult Use), a M License (Medical) or both clearly displayed in their store. Most shops put them in their front window so that you can easily see what they are licensed for, but you can always ask an employee and they’ll be happy to show you.
(6) Do they deliver?—Laws on delivery vary from city to city, but here in Los Angeles no delivery licenses have been issued as of yet. This means that any delivery service currently operating in Los Angeles isn’t legal and you’ll probably want to avoid them. If you’re unable to wait in line, look for licensed dispensaries that offer online ordering for pick-up like
Once you’ve found a licensed dispensary in your area, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got everything you need to purchase cannabis. If you’re a recreational consumer you’ll need a valid photo ID from any state or a valid passport to verify that you’re 21 or older. Medical cannabis patients will also need to provide their MMJ recommendation or Medical Marijuana Identification Card issued by the county in addition to a valid photo ID. You’ll be asked to present these items before you’ll be allowed to enter the area where cannabis products are. It varies from dispensary to dispensary, but many shops will also require you to become a member and sign in at the front desk whenever you visit. Something else to keep in mind is that many dispensaries are cash only, so you may want to visit the ATM before going! If you do forget your cash, most shops have an ATM on site and some are even able to accept debit and credit cards.
Before you go on a shopping spree, keep in mind that there are limits to how much cannabis an individual can purchase at a time and possess overall. Adult use recreational consumers may possess up to 1 ounce of dried cannabis or 8 grams of concentrated cannabis, while medical cannabis patients can possess whatever amount is deemed medically necessary by their doctor but they can only purchase up to 8 ounces of dried flower at a time. (The limit for growing your own cannabis at home is 6 plants, but some medical patients are able to grow more if their doctor deems it necessary.) Dispensaries will be enforcing the limits as far as how much an individual can obtain from them, but it will be up to you to make sure that the total amount you possess remains within the legal limit. Also, if you’re a fan of edibles and tinctures be advised that there are new limits on milligrams per item—an edible or tincture may contain up to 100mg of THC easily divided into ten 10mg doses. Some companies like Kiva Confections have already altered their product lines to comply with this new regulation, but many are still in the process of making the change. As a result, some of your favorite brands may be out of stock for a bit as they work to reconfigure their products.
Taxes, Taxes, Taxes
We all knew that recreational legalization of cannabis would be accompanied by an increase in taxes, but what can you actually expect to pay when you visit a dispensary? It all depends on what city you’re in and whether you’re an adult use recreational consumer or medical cannabis patient. Here in Los Angeles recreational consumers will pay a 15% State Excise Tax, 10% Local Tax and 9.5% Sales Tax. Medical cannabis patients with a recommendation from a doctor (like the one you’ve been using) will pay a 15% State Excise Tax, 5% Local Tax and 9.5% Sales Tax—saving a total of 5% on Local Tax. Medical cannabis patients who obtain a MMIC from the county will pay a 15% State Excise Tax and 5% Local Tax—saving a total of 5% on Local Tax and 9.5% on Sales Tax. You can expect to see the Local Tax and Sales Tax displayed on your receipt, whereas the 15% State Excise Tax may be factored into the advertised prices of products. There are also other taxes that won’t appear on your receipt that will still have an affect on the prices of products like the 15% Cultivation Tax (essentially a tax on the raw goods used to make infused products or the dried cannabis flower itself) and the 15% Distributor Tax (a tax collected by distributors that will affect wholesale prices of products). Keep in mind that secure transportation of products and required lab testing will likely also affect overall product prices moving forward.
Where do these taxes go? The California Marijuana Tax Fund. This fund will be used to first cover the costs of administrating and enforcing The Medicinal and Adult Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act and then to cover drug research, treatment and enforcement.
“Can I smoke here?”
The catch 22 of recreational legalization in California is that individuals can now easily access cannabis, but they’re still fairly limited on where they can actually consume it. Cannabis may be consumed on a private residential property, but that’s pretty much it. Those who rent property will need to check with their landlord to see if they may smoke, vaporize or ingest cannabis on the premises. A general rule of thumb is that if you can’t smoke a cigarette there, you can’t smoke cannabis there either. This means no smoking, vaporizing or ingesting cannabis products in any public place or within 1,000 feet of a school, day care or youth center while children are present. It’s also extremely important to note that it’s illegal to consume or possess an “open container” of cannabis while driving or riding as a passenger in any motor vehicle, boat or airplane. Basically, you’ll need to keep your consumption to privately owned residences, state-licensed premises permitted by local governments (i.e. consumption lounges and licensed events) or commercial vehicles specifically licensed for such purposes without children present.
A New Age of Cannabis
There’s no doubt that the recreational legalization of cannabis in California is representative of the shifting attitude towards cannabis use in this country and all eyes are on us as we navigate the intricacies of this swiftly growing industry. With Los Angeles being a top tourist destination in the United States, it’s exciting to think about all the new individuals who will be able to come to California and experience legal cannabis. My hope is that these individuals will go back to their home states and share their positive experiences with cannabis with others—allowing us to continue to grow as a nation that understands the inherent value of a regulated cannabis economy. But I would be remiss if I didn’t also express my concern for the patients who are the very reason that California has a cannabis industry to begin with—is this new era of legalization good for them? It’s only the first month, so it’s hard to say definitively one way or the other. The 100mg THC limit for edibles and tinctures worries me, because I know there are many patients who need high doses to find relief. These patients will now be forced to purchase multiple 100mg products often at a higher price point than the higher milligram products they had access to before. Taxes are obviously another concern for many patients who already struggled to afford their medicine (as most health insurance plans do not cover medical cannabis), but the savings you can receive by signing up for a MMIC with the county are certainly helpful. Like with any major change, there will be growing pains for the first few months (and maybe even years) as licensed dispensaries, cultivators, distributors, manufacturers and vendors work with local leaders to make necessary adjustments that will benefit medical patients, recreational consumers and the cannabis industry as a whole.
How Do I Apply For A Medical Marijuana Identification Card (MMIC)?
New Rules For Cannabis Testing in California,
6 Ways to Tell if Your Dispensary is Legal,
(1) California Proposition 64, Marijuana Legalization (2016)
(2) California Cannabis Portal
(3) Pot 101: Facts you should know about California’s legal marijuana
(4) NORML California Cannabis Laws
(5) California NORML Patient's Guide to Medical Marijuana