Everything You Need to Know to Buy Legal Weed in California
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Want to smoke a joint in California? Right this way.
Recreational cannabis use is legal in California—and now, shops are licensed to sell it. But who can buy it? Where can you smoke it? We answer all your burning questions.
C an you legally buy a beer? Congratulations! That means you can also legally buy cannabis (pot, weed, marijuana ) in California. Decriminalization came into effect on January 1, 2018, after voters passed Proposition 64 in November 2016. California joins Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, Alaska, Maine, and Nevada in legalizing recreational cannabis use, making the state the largest legal marijuana market in the country.
Here’s what you need to know about getting high in the Golden State.
Who can buy legal weed?
You have to be 21 or older to buy recreational cannabis products (we’ll get to them in a bit) and present a valid ID—a driver’s license or a passport will do just fine—upon entering a marijuana dispensary. People with a medical marijuana card issued by a doctor must be 18.
Marijuana plants come in two main branches, indica and sativa. Indicas bring the body buzz, promoting relaxation. They are typically lower in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels and higher in cannabidiol (CBD) levels. THC is pot’s psychoactive element that fosters a feeling of higher energy levels and euphoria. CBD doesn’t cause a person to feel high and has a muting effect on THC. Sativas are typically the inverse of indicas, having higher THC levels and lower CBD levels, causing a trippier high. A third branch, hybrids, are crossbred plants that produce effects of both indica and sativas.
What products can I buy?
Cannabis products are broken down into four main categories: flower, concentrates, edibles, and applications.
Flower refers to the plant itself—the dried buds of a marijuana plant—and comes in a seemingly endless variety of strains, each with clever monikers such as LA Confidential, Granddaddy Purple, or Nina Limon. Leafly is an excellent app and online resource to better know your strains. Flower is meant to be smoked either in joints or out of a pipe or bong.
Concentrates include a range of products made from trichome extractions taken from a pot plant. (Trichomes are those sparkly little crystals that cover mature plants.) Concentrates pack a more powerful punch than flower and are sometimes used to top off flower in a joint or bowl. The extracts come in a variety of forms, including kief, wax, and oils. One of the easiest ways to enjoy an extraction is with a vape pen. They’re sold in a nifty kit that includes a cartridge containing the oil, a rechargeable battery that powers the pen, and a charger that plugs into your laptop. Popular cartridge brands include Bloom Farms , Legion of Bloom , and Dosist.
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Edibles are just that: food that has extractions incorporated into their manufacturing process. Look for cookies, gummy candies, lollipops, chocolate-covered anything (dried fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, and raisins are popular), and even cannabis-infused drinks such as sodas, hot cocoa mixes, and cold-brewed coffee. While smoking brings on immediate effects, the effects of an edible can take as long as two hours to be felt and last much longer than simply smoking. Because it can take some time, people sometimes make the rookie mistake of over-consuming edibles. Don’t be that person. Kiva and Satori manufacture low-dose edible products. Start with those if that’s your thing.
Applications use extractions to target medical conditions primarily. High CBD products such as tinctures and patches are used to alleviate physical pain, anxiety, and even depression.
In California, you’ll need to visit a licensed dispensary to buy cannabis products. If you’re at a dispensary to purchase recreational weed, remember that it’s a medical facility first and foremost, so don’t whip out your phone to take a selfie. Respect patients’ right to privacy.
Also, bring cash. Although some dispensaries do accept credit cards, many do not.
When you get to a dispensary (use an app or site like Weedmaps to locate one near you), you’ll have to check in at the front desk with your ID to prove you’re of age, then you’ll need to wait your turn. Since recreational marijuana became available in California, long lines have formed at dispensaries, especially on weekends, overwhelmed by demand. Patience is key.
Once your name is called by one of the “budtenders,” take as much time as you need to discuss what kind of experience you’re looking for. Do you want to mellow out, or do you want to laugh and explore? The people behind the counter are well-informed and can talk in-depth about different products and will direct you to the item that’s right for you.
Can I get weed delivered?
An alternate method for purchasing is using an app-based delivery service like Eaze. Go online or download it to your phone, create a brief user profile, upload your ID, then order away. Typically your product is delivered within an hour after placing your order, a convenient service for travelers staying at hotels or people who aren’t quite ready to come out as a cannabis user. Some dispensaries also offer delivery services. In the San Francisco Bay Area, places like the Apothecarium publish their full daily menu online and offer both delivery and in-store pickups, the latter helping to cut down on wait times.
Where can I smoke my weed?
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Here’s the tricky part. While it’s legal to have recreational marijuana, it’s not legal to consume it in public places, just like alcohol. That being said, enforcement is a low priority for police, and, if enforced, a ticket comes with a relatively low $70 penalty.
While the law doesn’t allow it, societal norms in major cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco do foster public consumption. Visit any urban park on a sunny weekend day, and the scent of marijuana will come wafting by at some point. Discretion is key.
Right now there are a few public cannabis consumption spaces, or “social consumption lounges” (SCLs), where you can legally smoke indoors. So far, the Bay Area has the most SCLs, but more are coming to Southern California soon. Expect the trend to grow quickly in the coming months and years.
Another option is to stay in an Airbnb that allows it. Even though they don’t have a filter for it (yet), a search of Airbnb for “420 friendly” will bring up listings of properties that allow guests to consume. Two sites, TravelTHC and Bud and Breakfast , market accommodations targeted specifically at pot enthusiasts.
Finally, consider a cannabis tour. Currently operating tours in San Diego, West Coast Cannabis Tours offers half-day jaunts that include visits to dispensaries and breweries, all on groovy, decked-out private buses on which you’re allowed and encouraged to enjoy your purchases. The company is developing new tours in LA and Orange County, set to launch later in 2018. In the Bay Area, Emerald Farm Tours offers a seed-to-sale tour , where participants visit a cannabis farm, a manufacturing plant, and a retail shop all in one day. The company plans to expand its tour offerings .
But what about the feds?
While medicinal or recreational cannabis use is legal in the majority of states, it is still illegal in the eyes of the federal government. In fact, it’s still a Schedule I drug on the federal level, putting it in the same category as cocaine or heroin. You can’t ship it or send it in the mail, and you absolutely cannot fly with it. For more details on federal law concerning cannabis, Americans for Safe Access is a great resource.
If you want to make sure you know every little detail on recreational marijuana use in California before you consume, visit GreenState , an online publication dedicated solely to the subject. But if you’re ready to explore the world of legal recreational cannabis, it’s high time you get to California (or Canada).
This article originally appeared online on March 1, 2018; it was updated on October 16, 2019, to include current information.
Here's everything you need to know before you buy cannabis for recreational use in California, such as how to buy it, where to smoke it, and how it's grown and processed.
The 5 best cities in the US for a cannabis-inspired vacation
The number of states that allow recreational cannabis is rapidly growing. It’s inspiring a new class of travelers — the cannabis class — to get out of their homes to visit places where weed is warmly embraced. Even for the least experienced, the legal experience is a curiosity for people passing through on pleasure or business.
Yet not all cities are created equal. Some cities in recreational states don’t allow sales while others lack the infrastructure to have a solid selection of shops or activities. The best cities, however, are an experience. Book your flight, learn about what to expect on your first dispensary visit, and get going to the best cities in the US for a cannabis vacation.
1. San Francisco
Few places are as important to pro-cannabis activism as San Francisco and nearby Oakland and Berkeley. It’s never been difficult to find weed in the city, but recreational dispensaries have made it easier than ever. Come for the hippie culture history, stay for the selection of pot-friendly activities.
What to do: If you haven’t gone before, stroll Haight Street for a look at the epicenter of legalization movements in California. It’s become much more touristy but is still worth a peek. Stroll by the ocean at Golden Gate Park, and spend as many hours as you can dining on the city’s world-class food.
Where to stay: Hotel Kabuki is one of a small number of hotels in the city that allows consumption.
Rules to know: You’d never guess it, but you’re not allowed to smoke in public in San Francisco. There are a fair number of lounges, though.
2. Los Angeles
Southern California has embraced cannabis culture for decades, but it only opened up recreational sales relatively recently. Now, with options steadily and constantly improving, Los Angeles has become a top marijuana destination. It’s home to The Standard, Hollywood, which was the first hotel with a cannabis dispensary, and LA has so many wellness retreats you can live your life going from wellness retreat to wellness retreat and never see the outside world again.
That’s all on top of the fact that California weed has earned a solid reputation. If you’re in Central or Southern California, look for cannabis grown in nearby Santa Barbara County, Autumn Shelton, the co-founder of Autumn Brands, says. “This area has the perfect climate for growing world-class cannabis,” Shelton says, “and has quickly become the ‘wine country’ of cannabis on the Central Coast.”
What to do: Spend some time in Venice Beach, which has long been a center for marijuana culture. There are a number of clubs and lounges, like Alchemy Lounge, where you can grab a day pass and waste away the hours, although getting out in that California sunshine is hard to beat. Also, LA is a food lover’s paradise with some of the best street food, markets, and upscale dining in the state.
Rules to know: While there’s a pretty lax level of enforcement, public consumption is technically illegal in LA.
3. Las Vegas
With recreational cannabis sales starting in the summer of 2017, Nevada is one of the newer states to embrace legal consumption. It’s gone full Vegas and fast. As of 2018, cannabis sales sent more tax dollars to the state than alcohol sales, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Las Vegas is home to the largest dispensary in the country, Planet 13, which is truly like a 40,000-square-feet theme park unto itself with an LED light and water show. And that’s just the start.
“Las Vegas has taken a progressive approach, allowing cannabis to become quickly integrated into the community despite social consumption lounges or public consumption not being legal yet,” Kevin Love, vice president of market activations for Two Roots, says. Case in point: The city is home to the Las Vegas Lights, which is the world’s first professional soccer team sponsored by a cannabis brand, Two Roots.
What to do: Check out the best dispensaries in Las Vegas. Once you’re stocked up, visit Dana’s Place in Las Vegas Releaf, which is the world’s first cannabis dispensary speakeasy, and the cannabis museum Cannabition. Even if gaudy lights aren’t your thing, make a point to stop at Planet 13.
Where to stay: Since many of the iconic Vegas hotels are attached to casinos, and casinos can’t allow cannabis, you’ll have to venture off the Strip to find a weed-friendly place to stay. One solid option is The Artisan. Another more residential option is to book with Clairbnb, which has highly Instagrammable and cannabis-friendly options.
Rules to know: It’s illegal to consume cannabis on public and casino property, and the rule is strictly enforced when it comes to the latter. The city’s airports are strict about even possessing cannabis products, so make use of the safe disposal boxes located around the entrances to the Vegas airports.
There are more than 150 recreational dispensaries in Denver, making selection alone a reason for the city to be on your list.
“Colorado and Denver have a lure for every type of traveler: the foodie, art or music lovers, and the outdoor enthusiasts,” says Amy Andrle, co-founder of L’Eagle, one of Denver’s original dispensaries. “Couple those activities with cannabis and you have a fantastic pairing for both the first timer and/or the legacy user.”
What to do: First, make a stop at Denver’s best recreational dispensaries. Then there’s Red Rocks, a concert venue that’s just as fun for hiking and the museum even when there’s no music. The RiNo neighborhood’s colorful murals are a feast for the eyes, and the quickly rising Denver restaurant scene can keep even the pickiest eater satisfied. Then there are all the museums, like the Museum of Outdoor Arts, Meow Wolf, Denver Art Museum, and Museum of Contemporary Art. If you really want to go all out, there are a number of slightly ridiculous 4/20 tours, such as sushi and joint rolling.
Where to stay: While most hotels prohibit consumption, there are plenty of cannabis-friendly choices. Some of the upscale notable options include Bud + Breakfast and Summit Recreational Retreat.
Rules to know: Public consumption is illegal in Denver, despite how many whiffs of weed you catch on the streets. There are a few social smoking clubs and lounges, but they’re geared more toward serving locals and require a membership. Also, thanks to the sheer number of options, first-timers should “do their homework when selecting a dispensary, and make sure it is a reputable establishment with a track record for taking time with new clients and investing the energy in educating the visitor to all varieties and methods of consumption,” Andrle says. Treat it like any other destination trip. “A wine enthusiast in Napa is not going to seek out the cheapest most common bottle,” Andrle says. “They seek an experience.”
The Pacific Northwest is known for its rainy days and expansive forests, but it’s also a destination point for people looking to consume cannabis on their vacation. Washington was on the forefront of legalizing recreational cannabis (the first, along with Colorado), and the industry in Seattle is developed and has had some time to get any kinks worked out. It doesn’t hurt that the city is so close to so many types of nature and has an incredible food scene.
What to do: After a stop at Seattle’s best cannabis dispensaries, go see the view from the Space Needle. Pike Place is a must-go for anyone who likes to eat (so, everyone). Make your trip a long weekend and take some time to explore the outdoors at Olympic National Park. If you happen to be in Seattle on 4/20, go to Hempfest, one of the largest and most enticing celebrations of all things cannabis in the country.
Rules to know: Public consumption is illegal.
There are a growing number of legal recreational marijuana states in the US. These are the best cities to visit for a vacation.