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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.
Can 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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
>>Next: How to Buy Legal Weed in Canada
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