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What Does Recreational Marijuana in California Mean for MMJ Patients?

On January 1, 2018, a new year dawns, and with it, SB 94 goes into effect—making legal recreational marijuana in California a reality. Adults over the age of 21 will be able to cultivate six mature marijuana plants and purchase marijuana from licensed businesses. They will be able to possess up to one ounce of cannabis at a time.

But being able to walk into a place of business and purchase weed in California is not exactly new: medical marijuana has been legal in the Sunshine State since the passing of the Compassionate Use Act in 1996. What will happen to the existing estimated one million medical marijuana patients on New Years Day?

Legalized: How does new legislation affect MMJ patient status?

recreational marijuana in california

The short answer: it doesn’t. Medical marijuana recommendations from doctors will remain in effect until (and if) they require renewal. Furthermore, not all medical marijuana dispensaries will opt to offer recreational—aka adult-use—marijuana. Licensing and operating standards differ between recreational and adult-use facilities.

According to Lori Ajax, Chief of the Bureau of Cannabis Control, not all dispensaries that are currently open will qualify for a recreational license. Licenses are issued by the BCC, which first looks for a permit from local governments before giving their bureaucratic bud blessing.

“They have to have that local approval,” Ajax told the Associated Press.

Some areas like Bakersfield and the surrounding Kern County have put a kibosh on recreational weed in their corner of the state. Other municipalities like San Jose and Sacramento have been slow on the uptake of recreational weed in California: they only approved adult-use facilities in November, and recreational dispensaries there will probably not be fully operational by January 1 due to the required paperwork.

Stash It or Trash It: Is it worth keeping an MMJ card?

recreational marijuana in california

The short answer: yes. Recreational and medical marijuana facilities will operate differently, and recreational marijuana will be subjected to higher taxes across the board. Medical card holders will be exempt from California sales tax (but will still need to pay the 15% marijuana tax, not to mention any additional local taxes), and they will also have access to medical-grade cannabis, too. If someone has been medicating with cannabis, it may be well worth maintaining a doctor’s recommendation simply for the access to a different (and more affordable) stash of marijuana.

Just because recreational marijuana in California will be legal on January 1 does not mean there will be a place nearby to buy pot on that day. There has been a lag in getting some dispensaries the necessary legal documents to operate as adult-use facilities. Los Angeles will not begin accepting applications for recreational dispensary licenses until January 3 so it could be weeks before those businesses can legally operate. In San Francisco, delays in issuing licenses will put recreational sales on pause until at least later that week. Established medical cannabis retailers, however, will not see this latency period when the calendar rolls over to 2018. Recreational marijuana in California will have some catching up to do with the medical marijuana industry.

Patient or Pothead: What are the pros and cons of being a patient vs buying recreationally?

There are some key differences between medical and adult-use marijuana in California.

Medical Marijuana Patients in California

  • Legal for adults 18 years and older
  • Entitled to whatever amount of marijuana necessary for personal use
  • Can cultivate up to 100 square feet of marijuana plants
  • Customers are allowed to smell product before buying
  • Medical-grade cannabis available, which will be differentiated from adult-use weed
  • Smoking in public allowed as long as it is legal to smoke tobacco there, too.

Recreational Marijuana Purchasers in California

  • Legal for adults 21 years or older
  • Possession limited to one ounce
  • Can cultivate six mature marijuana plants
  • Customers must purchase pre-packaged and regulated product (no smelling exact product before purchase)
  • Access only to adult-use cannabis only, not medical grade marijuana
  • Smoking in public is illegal even if it is legal to smoke tobacco

One unilaterally awesome and often overlooked aspect of SB 94 is the lessening of marijuana-related crimes as well as the removal, reversal, and dismissal of past offenses. Starting January 1, 2018, people with non-violent marijuana-related charges on their record will be able to appeal for their removal. This gives citizens greater access to gainful employment and lessens the burden on law enforcement for prosecuting would-be offenders.

Smoking weed in California will become easier and more legal than ever in 2018. For the most part, however, consumers won’t notice any drastic changes in how businesses operate. If you already have your medical marijuana card, hang onto it. Medical dispensaries have been in operation in California for years, but there will surely be some bumps in the road as recreational marijuana in California becomes standardized.

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