California Medical Marijuana Law

California, the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use, has led the way on cannabis legislation in the United States. The state's pioneering actions enabled doctors, researchers, and lawmakers to learn about the positive effects of cannabis for medical use. Despite its legalization and widespread acceptance, though, marijuana remains a tightly regulated substance.

Becoming a medical marijuana patient and using medicinal cannabis can enable you to alleviate the debilitating symptoms of medical conditions such as chronic pain and glaucoma. Understanding relevant laws will help you maximize the drug’s benefits. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) oversees the Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program (MMICP). Each county's health department issues cards to its residents, whether in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or elsewhere.

This article discusses the history of California medical marijuana laws, possession limits, state laws regarding the use of marijuana in public, and DUI laws. Familiarizing yourself with your privileges and obligations as a patient will help you obtain medical cannabis products and adhere to California’s cannabis laws.

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California Medical Marijuana Law History

Californians legalized medical marijuana in 1996 when the senate voted for Proposition 215, passing the Compassionate Use Act. The legislature then passed the Medical Marijuana Program Act in 2003, establishing the medical cannabis card system and allowing patients and their primary caregivers to grow marijuana.

Patients spoke publicly about their positive responses to cannabis and how it improved their lives through the 1990s and 2000s. These reports helped shift public perception of medical marijuana. The success of the program spurred nationwide change as other state legislatures established medical cannabis programs.

California medical marijuana law has constantly evolved to protect patients’ safety and preserve their access. The state revised and strengthened its oversight and regulatory apparatus for dispensaries in 2015. Registered patients can possess up to eight ounces of cannabis and six mature plants.

The state legalized adult-use marijuana in 2016 via Proposition 64. As part of the resulting legislation, the government also expanded its medical program.

This new legislation established parental rights protections, fortified patient privacy policies, and banned localities from restricting at-home cultivation. The law also abolished California's retail sales tax on medical marijuana purchases. Finally, proposition 64 capped the fee for medical marijuana cards at $100, or $50 for Medi-Cal participants.

Marijuana Possession Laws in California

California cannabis regulations dictate that anyone over 21 years old can possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Registered patients can possess up to eight ounces of dried cannabis or concentrates and six mature or 12 immature plants. Exceeding the possession limits, even as a patient, is punishable with misdemeanor fines or incarceration.

California marijuana users cannot transport open containers of cannabis in their cars, even if they’re qualified patients using it for medical purposes. Marijuana must be sealed or placed in a trunk while your vehicle is in motion.

California Public Consumption Laws

California marijuana ordinances state that you can consume marijuana on private property with the permission of the owner. That said, patients cannot smoke anywhere that it is illegal to smoke tobacco or within 1,000 feet of a school, daycare center, or youth center if children are present. Additionally, property owners like landlords can ban the use of cannabis products on their premises, regardless of whether it’s for medical or personal use.

According to federal law (the Controlled Substances Act), it is illegal to use cannabis on federal land like national parks and courthouses.

California Cannabis DUI Laws

California law enforcement officers are allowed to stop drivers suspected of impaired driving. There is no legal limit for cannabis that qualifies as a DUI. Law enforcement only needs to prove that marijuana impaired the driver while they operated the vehicle. The state has implied consent for drug testing.

First-time infractions are subject to 96 hours to six months in jail, a fine of $390 to $1,000, and a six-month suspended license. Minimum punishments increase with subsequent violations. Cardholders are not exempt from California DUI laws.

Applying for A California Medical Marijuana Card?

The Sanctuary Wellness Institute can connect you with a doctor who can issue a physician’s recommendation for an MMJ card. The county health department where you reside is responsible for approving and issuing your card within 35 days of your application submission.

The first step to applying for a medical cannabis card in the state of California is to visit a qualified medical marijuana doctor and obtain a recommendation for cannabis. This brief consultation will cover the benefits and risks of medical marijuana while ruling out potential contraindications.

You can then download and complete the Medical Marijuana Program application. Next, you should compile copies of your supporting documents. Applications require:

  • Your physician’s recommendation
  • Proof of identity, such as a valid California driver's license, non-driver ID card, or other valid government-issued photo ID, like a passport
  • Proof of residency, such as a rental agreement, mortgage document, current utility bill, or California motor vehicle registration

Once your application packet is complete, you can schedule an appointment with your county health department. A representative will accept your application, collect your registration fee, and take a photograph for your medical marijuana card.


Yes—adults over 21 can purchase and possess cannabis for recreational use. Adult-use cannabis is available in lower THC concentrations than medical marijuana. Recreational users can only possess up to one ounce of cannabis. Registered patients are exempt from retail taxes, have access to products with more THC, and can possess up to eight ounces of cannabis.

While you can legally purchase adult-use medical marijuana, attempting to alleviate your symptoms without consulting a doctor is unsafe. Experienced providers can rule out conditions that contraindicate medical marijuana and help you understand potential side effects of the drug. Workers at medical dispensaries can advise you about strains or consumption methods that may offer the best benefits.

You can possess products obtained from dispensaries or marijuana grown in your home. Patients and caregivers can buy flowers, vape cartridges, concentrates, pre-rolls, edibles, topical applications, and tinctures. Not all dispensaries carry medical cannabis. Calling ahead to confirm the dispensary policies will save you time.

You cannot possess more than eight ounces of marijuana, products purchased from private citizens, or another patient's medical marijuana.

You can possess up to eight ounces of dried flower or concentrate as a cardholder. Patients can also grow up to six mature or 12 immature plants in their home. Exceeding these possession limits can jeopardize your patient status.

No—patients cannot use out-of-state medical marijuana cards at California dispensaries. If you are planning to travel, it's critical to remember that transporting cannabis across state lines is illegal due to the ongoing federal ban on marijuana.

Yes. Your application for a medical marijuana card does not include a background check.