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How Can I Legally Smoke Marijuana in California?

Residents and tourists must understand the laws to avoid arrest

By Doug Mentes, Esq. on May 28, 2019
Updated on June 11, 2020

As of January 2018, it’s legal to smoke marijuana in the state of California. This is good news for the many residents and potential tourists to the state. However, there are still many laws in place that restrict the use of cannabis in California. Residents and tourists must understand these laws or they put themselves at risk of not only a bad trip, but arrest.

Who can smoke?

Adults ages 21 years and over, whether a California resident or not, can smoke. An individual can purchase, daily, approximately 1 ounce (28.5 grams) of the smokable stuff—as well as small amounts of oils, edibles and similar products. Adults between 18 and 21 years of age can only smoke with a physician’s recommendation, or state of California medical marijuana ID card. To purchase marijuana there are approximately 1,700 marijuana dispensaries located throughout the state; you just have to show a government-approved form of ID, like a driver’s license.

Where can I smoke pot?

Perhaps the biggest concern for pot users is where they can get high. The blunt response is that, while pot is legal, nearly all property in California—public or otherwise—is off-limits to marijuana use. There are a few small pockets of legal use, and the largest of those legal locations for use are private residences.

There is no restriction for Californians or their guests to smoke in their private homes if they are the owner of the residence. However, for those that are renters of their homes, or short-term lodging guests, the property owner or landlord can ban marijuana use on their property. And many do. If you are in the unfortunate position to be living or staying in a property that bans use of marijuana, there are a few options left.

The law legalizing marijuana in California made use within smoking lounges legal. Most lounges are connected to dispensaries. California cities can outlaw smoking lounges within their limits, and many have, but most California smoking lounges are clustered around the largest cities and tourist areas.

More and more, lounges are being planned as cities determine whether to allow them. Further, a growing location for legal use is marijuana-accepted lodging. There are many resorts, Airbnb listings, and events that allow marijuana smoking on their premises. A quick Google search will point out a host of providers marketing themselves to pot smokers.

What else should users know?

Transporting marijuana will be an issue for most users, and the law is strict in this area. Users cannot smoke in their vehicles, or any type of transportation vehicle, for that matter. If someone is going to transport his or her pot or edible, it must be in the unbroken, sealed container it was purchased in—or in an acceptable childproof container. Otherwise, opened containers must be stored in a locked space outside the cab, such as a vehicle’s trunk.

If police suspect use while driving they will treat it, like driving under the influence of alcohol—a very serious offense. There is no developed testing method for determining whether a driver is impaired by marijuana. Police will look for certain signs of marijuana impairment from a driver—signs that, unfortunately, are sometimes present in unimpaired drivers. Anyone using or transporting marijuana should be cautious and consider public transportation or taxis to get themselves around while using. Users leaving a smoking lounge or legal smoking event and getting in their vehicles may be sitting ducks for law enforcement.

There is still the concern with federal law enforcement, as any possession of marijuana is still illegal under federal law. However, at least as of late 2018, there appears to be no efforts by federal law enforcement to step in.

Residents and tourists should ensure they are prepared for any questioning from law enforcement while possessing, transporting, or using marijuana. They should bookmark experienced southern California criminal defense attorneys, or their counterparts in northern California and San Diego, all of whom are ready to step in and protect someone facing trouble.

For more information on this area of law, see our overviews of criminal defense and drug and alcohol violations.

How Can I Legally Smoke Marijuana in California? – an article appearing in Super Lawyers Magazine February 2018

A First-Timer’s Guide to Marijuana Tourism in Los Angeles

Design by Emily Blevins

With its curated dispensaries and design-forward social consumption lounges, L.A. is the perfect place to give cannabis a try.

I f you live in a place where weed isn’t legal for recreational use, traveling to try marijuana can seem like a good idea—until you hash out the nitty-gritty details. How do you use cannabis products? Legally? Are there pot-friendly hotels? Do you need any kind of special equipment to smoke, and if so, will you ever use it again? If you don’t know where to start and don’t have anyone to show you the ropes, the west side of Los Angeles will welcome you with open arms. Here’s where to buy, where to use, what to do during your buzz, and where to eat when the munchies strike.

Where can I buy cannabis in Los Angeles?

West Hollywood and West L.A. are home to a rapidly increasing number of dispensaries where adults 21 and older can buy marijuana for recreational use. Many—such as MedMen, the Apple Store of dispensaries, or Eaze—will even deliver to hotels and homeshares.

But if it’s your first time trying pot, go to a shop in person. The Pottery, off South La Brea and Venice, is a particularly beautiful place to start. An Instagrammable array of black and white tangram tiles patterns half the store, while a pale palette and soft lighting on the other half invite customers to relax as they peruse candles, CBD lotions, oversized jars of THC-infused sweet treats, and designer matches. With glass cases around the perimeter full of dried cannabis flowers and vape cartridges, the dispensary resembles something closer to a jewelry shop.

A “budtender”—someone well versed in the various cannabis options—will happily walk you through the different strains, how much product makes sense for your planned consumption, which vape pens to buy for one-time use, and which products (whether smokable or edible) are tastiest.

What kind of pot should I try?

If you’re nervous about your first marijuana experience, you might want to stay away from pure sativa strains as the energizing “head high” they induce can sometimes backfire and highlight anxiety. Pure indica strains can mellow you so much that you fall asleep, but if that’s not what you’re going for, try a hybrid.

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The terminology can get sticky, but if you have a favorite drinking profile, that may be helpful to share with your budtender. Someone who enjoys a glass of rosé with lunch after a Saturday morning hike would probably like a citrusy sativa-dominant strain, whereas someone who sips port while listening to old vinyl records after dinner may prefer an indica-dominant purple strain with a darker grape or punch flavor.

A lot of newbies are intimidated by smoking and vaping, especially when presented with bongs and pipes. The instinct for many is to try an edible. But while edibles are the most discreet and least complicated, they’re also the riskiest in terms of results. If you smoke or vape, you’ll notice the effects of THC in as little as 15 minutes (depending on the potency and how quickly you’re ingesting), so you can ease up as needed. Edibles, on the other hand, can take one to two hours to kick in, and there’s no way to slow down once the effects become apparent. Inexperienced users will often take the recommended dose of an edible, wait an hour, and then consume more, thinking the original dose was a dud. This is a surefire way to have a bad time. Be brave. Be smart. Don’t start with edibles.

Where can I legally use the marijuana I buy?

In California, it’s legal to consume cannabis on private property where tobacco smoking is also allowed. Some homeshare services even advertise “420-friendly” properties, but always check with the host before sparking up. It isn’t legal to smoke, vape, or eat pot in public or in a car.

The best place to try pot in L.A., whether it’s your first or 50th time, is Original Cannabis Cafe (OCC). The restaurant is the United States’ first (and currently only) place where patrons can “toke” throughout. Legal restrictions mandate certain quirks, like separate menus and bills for cannabis purchases and food purchases, and no alcohol. THC-infused items aren’t on the food menu, but all the munchables are meant to pair with the vast selection of smokables on the marijuana menu. (There’s a $30 per person “tokage fee” if you opt to bring your own.)

OCC serves lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. Go for a conventionally Californian meal (such as a breakfast burger with white cheddar and smashed avocado) or a stonerific creation such as Fruity Pebbles bread pudding. The outdoor patio is a dreamy place to spend a long Sunday morning, and the pub vibe inside has people clinking glasses of orange-turmeric juice between puffs of prerolled joints.

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The bud menu rotates weekly, so ask a “flower host” (the person taking your weed order) for food pairing suggestions. The flower host can also help suggest equipment rentals—a ceramic pipe, for instance—based on your purchase and experience level. Original Cannabis Cafe is understandably popular, so if you’re not able to snag a reservation, try stopping by Monday through Thursday before 7 p.m., when the café is most walk-in friendly. Keep an eye out for Aeon Botanika, a new social consumption lounge, and Budberry, the first edibles-only café, both due to open in West Hollywood in the coming months.

What else can I do in West L.A. and West Hollywood?

Time to explore the 420-friendly city (you’re here on a trip, after all). Don’t forget to enlist a designated driver or rideshare—you may not be drunk, but you’ll still be under the influence. Romp around the Urban Light installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), or ponder existence and extinction at the La Brea Tar Pits next door. Cinephiles should catch a classic flick at the New Beverly Cinema, where owner and Oscar-winner Quentin Tarantino curates the theater’s 35mm programming. Or spend way too long in Book Soup, an independent bookstore with stellar staff recommendations and frequent events. If you have energy to burn, head up to Runyon Canyon for a hike and endless people watching.

Where should I eat, now that I have the munchies?

Depending on your hunger levels, you may want to swing by Fōnuts, a doughnut purveyor where the carbs are always baked instead of fried and always gluten free. Many of the flavors are also vegan, including vanilla latte, raspberry, and peanut butter–chocolate. If you’re hankering for a full meal, the Bazaar by José Andrés in Beverly Hills will satisfy both your hunger and your current sense of playfulness—be wowed by the margarita with salt foam in place of a salted rim, or the bursting mozzarella spherifications in a caprese salad. For something with a little less molecular gastronomy but an equally elegant and delicious meal, look to Nobu. The sashimi-grade fish and elevated classics (wagyu gyoza, anyone?) are not to be missed. Keep in mind that this is a fine dining experience, so it’s better suited for a pleasant comedown from your high, not a place to ride out the peak of your first weed experience.

Can I fly with weed?

It depends. If you are traveling to a destination where marijuana is not legal, you can’t bring it with you. Inside the airport, LAX’s marijuana policy allows individuals 21 and older to possess the same amount of cannabis that is legal anywhere else in California. But TSA is still federally operated, so it may not allow your ganja through security, even if you are traveling within the state or to another state where pot is legal.

West Hollywood and West L.A. are home to a rapidly increasing number of dispensaries and social consumption lounges. Here's where to go and what to do with your high.