An Insider’s Guide to California’s Proposed Medical Marijuana Regulations

Published on May 2, 2017 · Last updated September 9, 2022
Los Angeles, California, USA - March 09, 2015: Sign 'The Green Doctors' located on Venice Beach in Southern California with tourists passing by.

The three state agencies that will oversee California’s medical cannabis industry released their proposed rules for the state system late last week. There are a lot of them. Rules, that is. It took us a while to comb through them all, but we managed. The result: Below you will find the single most insightful, comprehensive, legalese-free insider’s guide to California’s proposed regs.

These are medical rules, not recreational. And they're still subject to change. If you want to make them better, speak up by June 13.

Remember, these are proposed regulations for medical marijuana. These aren’t the rules for California’s coming adult-use cannabis market. And this is a draft. These rules aren’t finalized.

These California state agencies will regulate medical marijuana:

“In order to make our program successful, we still need your feedback,” Lori Ajax, head of California’s Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation (BMCR) said last week. So give it. Members of the public have until 5 p.m. on June 13, 2017, to comment, criticize, and suggest changes to these proposed regulations. If you want them revised, speak up now. State bureaucrats actually do hear and read every piece of feedback at You can also speak up at four public hearings in Eureka (June 1), Los Angeles (June 8), Sacramento (June 9), and San Jose (June 13).

Here’s what California’s medical marijuana regulations look like as of today, in draft form.

For Patients:

  1. No more late-night runs to the dispensary. Your preferred dispensary may currently be open 24/7, but once these regulations kick in, the maximum legal hours for all dispensaries, statewide, will be 6 a.m. to 9 p. Local jurisdictions may further limit the allowed hours of operation.
  2. Thou shalt not purchase more than eight ounces per day. Yes, that’s the legal limit: half a pound per patient per day. If a patient’s physician deems that insufficient, the dispensary may sell up to an amount specified by the physician. Let’s put that in perspective. An ounce of flower looks like this (see Leafly’s visual guide below). So: The legal limit is eight times that amount, per day. And the law only says “eight ounces of medical cannabis.” It doesn’t specify flower, concentrate, oil, tincture, or any other form. So presumably a patient could purchase eight ounces of concentrate. Which is a lot of concentrate.
    EU62VjFTWapZnZuj1HOl_A Visual Guide to Cannabis Quantities
  3. Minimum age of a purchasing patient: 21. Wait, what? Clearly, there’s some work to be done on rule 5151, which stipulates that patients must be at least 21 years old to enter a dispensary’s “limited-access areas” (where purchasing is done). If you’re younger than 18, you may enter a licensed dispensary with a medical marijuana recommendation and your parent, legal guardian, or primary caregiver.
  4. What happens if you’re 18 to 20 years old? As the rules currently stand, you’re in a kind of no-man’s-land. The California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation will have to solve this gap in the regulations.
  5. What kind of ID will I need? Pretty much the same as you need now. Two pieces: a physician’s recommendation for medical cannabis, and valid proof of identification.
    How long does weed stay in your system?
  6. Can I smell before I buy? Unlike Washington and Colorado, where every product is sealed up tight, California will allow smelling jars. That is, dispensaries can open a packaged product and put it loose in a container to allow customers to inspect the product. At the end of that product sample’s life, the dispensary can’t sell it as a floor sample, but must destroy it as cannabis waste.
  7. But the days of the dispensing jar are over. No more chopsticks and loose baggies. Medical cannabis products must be sold in sealed, child-resistant packaging.
  8. No free samples. Ever. Period. Which is interesting, because pharmaceutical companies hand out free samples all the time, via physicians. (“Here, try a couple Viagra, see if it works for you.”) But, you know: marijuana. Stigma dies slowly.
  9. But delivery will be allowed! So there’s that. Delivery persons must be at least 21 years old, must be directly employed by the dispensary, must deliver to a physical address, and may not leave the state of California while en route.
  10. “Sign here, please.” Delivered meds can’t be left on the porch or handed over to a spouse or roommate. Deliveries must be received by the patient, in person, and must be signed for at the time of delivery.
  11. No late-night deliveries. Delivery can only occur within the hours of a dispensary’s operation, so the earliest delivery will be 6 a.m., the latest 9 p.m.
  12. No pit stop at In-N-Out for the delivery driver, either. They actually have a rule about this. Well, OK, it doesn’t specifically mention In-N-Out burgers. But it should. Rule 5208: “While making deliveries … a delivery employee shall only travel from the licensed dispensary premises to the delivery address,” thence to other delivery addresses, and then straight back to the dispensary. Don’t be stopping for lunch. Because it’s against the law. (Would stopping for gas be against the law?)
  13. This is going to cost me, isn’t it. The state estimates that a current patient will pay about $500 more per year because of the increased cost of medical cannabis due to state regulations.
  14. What am I getting for my money? Safety and quality assurance, or at least that’s the goal. In the current unregulated MMJ market, patients consume medicine without any assurance of dosage accuracy, potency, safety, or product quality. Remember, California patients with compromised immune systems have died from a rare fungus found in contaminated medical marijuana. And that high-CBD tincture you’re paying $50 for may actually contain no CBD whatsoever. Unless you test it yourself, you have no way of knowing. It may be contaminated with mold, mildew, or pesticides. In the coming regulated market, medicine will cost more but you will be getting what you pay for. It will be dosed correctly, tested, and clean.

For Cannabis Business Owners:

  1. Three state agencies will issue six types of licenses. Nothing’s simple about California’s proposed medical marijuana rules, starting with who actually oversees them. Are you growing medical cannabis? You’ll be licensed and regulated by the Department of Food and Agriculture. Manufacturing concentrates and/or edibles? The Department of Public Health will be issuing your license. Distributing, transporting, retailing, or testing cannabis products? The Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation (BMCR) will be issuing your license. The BMCR has a pretty clear overview here.
  1. There is no cap on the number of cannabis-related licenses issued by the state. Which means we’ll be spared the kind of cutthroat competition for licenses that we saw in Washington state.
  2. Thank you for your service. Military veterans will have their license applications expedited, which means the state will skip veterans to the front of the line.
  3. A criminal record will not necessarily disqualify an applicant. Applicants with a conviction for a violent felony; or a felony involving fraud, deceit, or embezzlement; or a felony involving drugs and minors, will likely be denied a license. But the BMCR will also consider those felony convictions on a case-by-case basis, and consider mitigating circumstances and the applicant’s rehabilitation record.
  4. Dispensaries must be at least 600 feet from the nearest school. This is much more lenient than states like Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, which have generally adopted a 1,000-foot rule that applies to schools, playgrounds, preschools, and places of worship. That 1,000-foot rule has resulted in negative unintended consequences, such as the clustering of cannabis businesses in some of the few neighborhoods that meet the requirement.
  5. Police officers need not apply. California has mandated that active duty law enforcement officers may not hold licenses for any cannabis-related business—unless that business is located in a county different than the one in which they serve as an officer of the law.
  6. Hiding a cannabis business from your landlord is not allowed. If you don’t own the building or property that houses your cannabis business, you’ll have to show the state proof that the owner has given you permission to use the property for a cannabis activity.
  7. “Application Pending” status will be allowed. If your cannabis business was in operation prior to Jan. 2, 2018, you may continue to operate while your license application is pending—as long as you submit the application to the BMCR by July 2, 2018. So really: You could start your business on Jan. 1, 2018, and not apply for a license until July 2, 2018, and you’d still be within the legal letter of the law.
  8. Established businesses will be given priority. If your cannabis business was operating “and in good standing with the local jurisdiction” prior to Jan. 1, 2016—and you haven’t moved the business since then—your application will go to the head of the processing queue.
  9. Invest in cloud storage and bank boxes. All licensees must keep and maintain financial, personnel, training, and contracting records for at least seven years.
  10. Get into a scrape with the law? Better report it. Any licensee who is convicted of a crime, received a civil penalty or judgment, or had their local license or permit revoked, must notify the BMCR within 48 hours.
  11. You got robbed? Report that, too. Licensees must notify the BMCR and law enforcement authorities within 24 hours of the discovery of theft or loss of medical marijuana products.
  12. You will be wearing badges. Anybody employed by, or acting for, a BMCR licensee must display a laminated ID badge issued by the licensee. The badge must include the employee’s full name, the licensee’s name (business name), and the employee’s passport-size photograph. You’ll be wanting lanyards for those badges. May we suggest these handsome options?
  13. Get it all on video. All licensed dispensaries must be covered in video surveillance, and many operations required by law, such as the destruction of returned cannabis products, must take place in clear view of the video cameras.
  14. Hire a security director and install an alarm system. This is required by law. “A licensee shall hire or contract for security personnel to provide security services for the licensed premises.” Same goes for an alarm system.
  15. Returned medical cannabis must be destroyed. Any returned cannabis products will be considered cannabis waste, and must be destroyed in a way that meets state law. There are specifics here. You have to hold the returned goods in quarantine for at least 72 hours. Then you must render it unusable and unrecognizable by grinding it into a mixture of other ground material (at least 50% of the mixture must be non-cannabis material by volume). This grinding and rendering must take place within view of the video surveillance system. The waste must then be disposed at a manned and fully permitted solid waste landfill or compost handling facility.
  16. Distributors must be licensed by the BMCR. A “distributor” is a business that takes possession of cannabis after harvest but prior to manufacturing and/or packaging.
  17. Keep that product cool and dry. The proposed regulations require distributors to store harvest batches, and cannabis edibles that require refrigeration, at 35 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit. Harvest batches must be stored in a darkened area with less than 60% humidity.
  18. Packaging rules remain murky. It’s unclear exactly what the regs are regarding packaging; the draft rules only run to half a page, and they’re vague at best.
  19. Medical cannabis products must be lab-tested. 5102: Samples must meet lab testing specifications in “Chapter 5.” But the pages we have only run through Chapter 4. Where is Chapter 5? Is it still to come from the BMCR?
  20. But don’t panic. You’ve got plenty of time to test. License holders aren’t required to have their medical cannabis products tested until 3 months after they receive their license, or 31, 2018, whichever is sooner.
  21. “Transporter” is a real job title, and Jason Statham fans are psyched. The BMCR has invented a new job category: transporter. These are the people who transport medical cannabis products between licensees—like between a manufacturer or distributor and a retail dispensary—in specially equipped vans or trucks.
  1. Sorry, Amazon, drones are not legal Transporters. Nor is an airplane, boat, jet ski, railroad freight, motorcycle, or bicycle. No “human powered vehicles” of any kind. Only enclosed vehicles are allowed.
  2. No, Google, no self-driven vehicles, either. “Transportation by means of…unmanned vehicles is prohibited.”
  3. The Transporter’s van must be properly tricked out. Medical marijuana products must be locked in a box that’s secured to the inside of the commercial vehicle or trailer.
  4. No ride-alongs with The Transporter. Rule 5218(b): “Only a licensed transporter or an employee of the licensee shall be in a vehicle while transporting medical cannabis goods.”
  5. How much is the application fee? It’s unclear what the BMCR will charge; they haven’t released that information yet. Medical cannabis growers, who will be licensed by the state Department of Food and Agriculture, will face fees that are pretty minimal, especially when you consider that states like Massachusetts and Texas are charging fees in the $10k-$50k range. Here’s the proposed fee schedule for MMJ growers:
    Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 8.21.57 AM

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Bruce Barcott
Bruce Barcott
Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
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