how do dispensaries work in California

Are There Recreational Dispensaries in California and How Do They Work?

The use, sale, and cultivation of marijuana for recreational purposes was legalized in California in November 2016. Since then, adults have been able to possess and grow marijuana for recreational use with some restrictions. Here is what you need to know about smoking cannabis in California.

Is Marijuana Legal in California?

  • If you are 21 or over, you can buy, possess and share up to an ounce of cannabis, and up to 8 grams of concentrated cannabis.
  • It is only legal to use marijuana in private and out of the public view. This means you cannot consume cannabis on the street, in your car, or in a public building like a bar.
  • You can also grow cannabis if you have the permission of the property owner. You are allowed to grow up to 6 plants. It is illegal to grow cannabis in an area that is viewable to the public.

Where Can I Buy Marijuana in California?

You can buy marijuana from a recreational or medical marijuana dispensary, although you need to have a medical marijuana card to shop at a medical marijuana dispensary. Anyone can shop at a recreational marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles if they are over 21. You will need to show an ID proving your age in order to buy cannabis.
You can search for dispensaries on sites like Leafly or Weedmaps. Stores will usually state whether they sell to medical cardholders only or not, but you can also call ahead to save a wasted trip.

Are There Recreational Dispensaries in California?

There are both recreational and medical dispensaries in California. Most dispensaries that sell cannabis for recreational use also sell higher THC content strains and products that are only available for purchase by medical marijuana cardholders. There are also medical marijuana dispensaries, which only sell to people who have medical marijuana cards.

How to Get Marijuana in California?

where can I buy marijuana in CaliforniaIn California, you will need to check-in with a valid form of ID to enter the dispensary. Most dispensaries serve both recreational and medical customers, although some only serve medical customers.
Due to the complications of federal law surrounding the sale of cannabis, especially for recreational use, medical dispensaries in California do not accept credit card transactions, and most also do not accept debit cards or electronic payments. As a result, most dispensaries have an automated teller machine on the premises for you to withdraw cash to purchase. Since marijuana dispensaries handle a lot of cash, they also have more security than other stores, and you cannot enter the dispensary without checking in.
Once you have checked in, you will wait for your name to be called by a member of staff. There can be long waits for an attendant, especially at weekends, so plan ahead or aim to visit at off-peak hours.
The store attendant will talk to you about what kind of experience you are looking for, and help you pick out the right product. This is an important part of the process as the experience you get from different varieties of cannabis and cannabis products varies a lot. Take as much time as you need to find what you want. If you are visiting the US from another country, be aware that some strains of cannabis sold at dispensaries can have significantly higher THC content than is common in regions outside the US.
It is also legal in California to get marijuana delivered to you from a licensed dispensary by a delivery driver. You can only get cannabis delivered to a valid street address and must show ID. Many dispensaries offer a delivery service, and there are also weed delivery apps like Eaze that work similarly to delivery apps like DoorDash, but for cannabis.
Dispensaries must have a license to sell marijuana, although many do not. Shopping or working at an unlicensed dispensary is still considered illegal and you can be arrested for doing so, although it is often only the staff or owners who are charged.

Do I Need A Medical Marijuana Card To Buy Cannabis In California?

You don’t need a medical marijuana card to use cannabis recreationally. However, if you have a qualifying condition, a medical marijuana card enables you to buy and grow more cannabis at a time, and buy cannabis products with higher THC content than are available to recreational customers.

Places where cannabis is legal

What Places in California Legalized Cannabis?

The following cities/countries have legalized the growing, manufacture, and sale of cannabis and cannabis products under California cannabis laws:

what places in California have legalized cannabis

Some Counties Have Partially Legalized Marijuana

Trinity – You can grow marijuana here and it is produced commercially but is not available for commercial sale
Lassen – Cannabis is available for sale, but you cannot grow it or produce it commercially
Colusa – You can grow marijuana here and it is produced commercially but is not available for commercial sale
Nevada – It is legal to grow cannabis plants
Yolo – You can grow marijuana here and it is produced commercially but is not available for commercial sale
Marin – Cannabis is available for sale, but you cannot grow it or produce it commercially
Calaveras – Cannabis can be grown and sold commercially
San Mateo – It is legal to grow cannabis plants
San Benito – It is legal to manufacture cannabis products
San Diego – It is legal to grow cannabis plants

Marijuana is Still Banned in Some Counties

  • Siskiyou
  • Modoc
  • Shasta
  • Plumas
  • Butte
  • Glenn
  • Sutter
  • Yuba
  • Placer
  • Sacramento
  • Napa
  • Solano
  • Amador
  • Alpine
  • Tuolumne
  • Santa Clara
  • Merced
  • Mariposa
  • Madera
  • Fresno
  • Kings
  • Tulare
  • Kern
  • San Bernardino
  • Orange


Buying and using cannabis legally if you follow a few rules, and do not require any registration for recreational use. If you have any more questions about how dispensaries work in California or need help with the buying process, get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to assist you.

Written By

Ian Baker

Ian Baker does content and customer communications with Happy Leaf Collective through the website and blog. With 5 years of total experience working in cannabis niche, 3 were spent as a budtender in Arizona. 2 years ago, following his passion of writing and educating, Ian made the move into content and communications.