Traveling to California for Legal Cannabis? Here’s What to Know

Unfortunately, Los Angeles wasn't one of the cities where stores opened when the state-regulated market launched on New Year's Day. (TriggerPhoto/iStock)

2017 was a strange year. You’re forgiven if you don’t feel quite ready for 2018. But if you’re traveling to California in January for the state’s launch of adult-use cannabis sales, take heart! We’re here for you.

Sales Didn’t Begin Everywhere on Jan. 1

If you’re counting on cannabis stores to be open near you right away, don’t. Many parts of the state, including major cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, won’t see legal sales begin until days or weeks after New Year’s Day. Others have decided to ban retail sales entirely. To help you plan, we’ve put together a list of cities where dispensaries are up and running.

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Why the uneven rollout? In the months leading up to Jan. 1, state and local officials scrambled to put rules in place. Not everybody finished in time for sales to start on Day One.

When Do Stores Open? When Do They Close?

Under current state regulations, retail stores can legally operate between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. That’s not to say they will keep those hours. Local jurisdictions can set more restrictive limits, so if you have a particular store in mind, you might want to call in advance or check its Leafly page.

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Bring Your ID

State-legal cannabis stores card customers more regularly than any bar I’ve been to, so don’t count on your gray hair to get you in the door. Be sure to bring a government-issued ID, like a state driver’s license, military ID, or passport.

The state’s adult-use stores are open to anyone 21 and over—you don’t need to be a California resident.

If you’re under 21, you’ll need a doctor’s recommendation to obtain medical cannabis products.

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Come With Cash

Cannabis is still an overwhelmingly cash-only industry. While many retailers have ATMs on site—and some have arranged workarounds that allow patrons to pay with plastic—it’s easier (and usually cheaper, given ATM fees) to show up with greenbacks.

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Purchasing Limits

California imposes limits on how much a consumer or medical patient can purchase from a single retailer on a single day.

On the adult-use side, customers can buy up to 28.5 grams (one ounce) of non-concentrated cannabis, eight grams of concentrate, and six immature plants. Medical patients will have a higher leaf limit: eight ounces of cannabis. If a doctor’s recommendation contains a different amount, the patient can purchase an amount consistent with the doctor’s recommendation.

For certain other non-edible cannabis products, such as tinctures, concentrates, and topicals, the state is setting separate limits for medical and adult-use markets. Adult-use products can contain up to 1,000 mg of THC per package. Medical products can contain twice as much (2,000 mg).

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What About Edibles?

If you’re a regular consumer in California, you might notice some changes to available edibles. For both medical patients and consumers, the state will limit the serving size of edibles to 10 milligrams of THC, with no more than 100 mg allowed in a single product package. The limits are in line with those in other adult-use states, but they mean that a lot of edibles popular in California’s current medical market will be outlawed.

In an effort prevent products from being appealing to children, edibles will also be limited by shape—no human beings, animals, insects, or fruit. (Sorry, Conan O’Brien, no more infused Sour Patch Kids for you.)

One caveat: The state is allowing a phasing-out period for higher-dose edibles for medical patients with proper ID. So some of those edibles dosed above 100 mg per package will be available for a limited time on the medical market.

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If you do opt for edibles, start with a low dose and, for the love of all that is holy, be patient. Deciding to devour a second brownie while waiting for the first one to kick in could easily ruin your night.

What Should I Buy?

Don’t ask me, I’m just a news guy who puts tobacco in his joints. Luckily, folks here at Leafly have been hard at work pulling together some of the state’s best dispensaries and products. The picks come from the state’s existing medical market, but many of the same companies are gearing up to serve both medical and adult-use consumers in 2018.

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Be sure to check out the Leafly List for a selection of top NorCal and SoCal dispensaries.

Are Products Being Tested for Contaminants?

Yes and no. California’s new cannabis regulations include rigorous testing standards, but they aren’t all in place already. During the first six months of legal sales, retailers are able to sell products harvested or manufactured before Jan. 1 regardless of whether they’ve been tested by a lab. That’s nothing new for medical patients—the state’s 20-year-old medical cannabis program has never required tested at all—but it means cannabis could contain pesticides, molds, and other contaminants.

Any product that hasn’t been tested must be labeled as such.

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Cannabis products harvested or manufactured after Jan. 1 are subject to testing that, over the course of the year, will gradually become more and more restrictive. Initially, samples will be tested only for potency and contaminants that pose a “high public health risk,” state rules say. By the end of the year, testing for contaminants that pose even “minor relative health risks” will kick in.

Consume Responsibly

Like most adult-use states, there aren’t many places you can light up legally in California. Consuming in public is illegal throughout the state. Wherever you choose to consume, please try to be respectful. The whole world will be watching California’s experiment with legalization. Lead by example.

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Keep It in California

California cannabis is legal—in California. It’s illegal to bring cannabis out of (or into) the state.

Can you get away with it? Probably. But avoiding what’s known as diversion out of legal markets is a key piece of protecting states from federal interference. Every person caught bringing products across state lines is an excuse for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to make a fuss.

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Have Fun

You’re about to participate in what’s expected to be the largest legal cannabis market in the world. Enjoy yourself. Be safe. Be good to each other. This is a milestone the world’s cannabis community won’t soon forget.

This story was updated on Jan. 5