Everything to know about California marijuana laws kicking in Jan. 1, 2018

Jan. 1 will be a historic day in the world of cannabis, as California opens the world’s largest legal marijuana market.

Though the state has had a massive medical marijuana industry for more than 20 years — an industry that’s created a de-facto recreational market — the new laws will mean huge changes. Just don’t expect a cannabis free-for-all.

Here’s a look at some of what’s about to be legal, what isn’t and what still needs to be ironed out:

Q: What changes Jan. 1 when it comes to cannabis in California?

A: As of 6 a.m. Jan. 1, California will become the sixth state to allow licensed shops to sell marijuana to anyone with an ID showing they’re 21 and older — just like buying alcohol from a bar or liquor store. That means doctor’s recommendations for medical marijuana will no longer be required to make a purchase in these shops.

Jan. 1 is also the day that new state regulations and temporary licenses kick in for every type of marijuana business. But since many of those new rules are being phased in, most businesses won’t look much different until later in the year.

Q: So, will people be smoking weed on the streets?

A: Not legally. State law says no one can consume marijuana in public, even in areas where it’s legal to smoke cigarettes. That means no smoking on the streets, in bars, in parks, etc. Anyone caught smoking weed in public faces a fine of $100 to $250.

People can already smoke cannabis in their own homes or other private property. And a small number of cities plan to allow cannabis lounges after Jan. 1.

Q: Where will I be able to buy marijuana Jan. 1? Will current medical cannabis dispensaries automatically become open to everyone?

A: Medical dispensaries won’t necessarily make the switch, at least not on Jan. 1. Retailers still need separate licenses to sell medical and recreational cannabis. Cities get first say on issuing those licenses, and most cities in California so far aren’t allowing recreational marijuana sales. That means many medical dispensaries will still only be able to sell marijuana to people who have doctor’s recommendations on New Year’s Day.

That said, in cities where recreational cannabis sales are permitted, existing medical dispensaries often have the OK to sell both as soon as their state licenses come through.

Keep checking The Cannifornian’s map of legal recreational marijuana shops, which is updated frequently as the state issues new licenses.

Q: What will I need to bring to buy marijuana?

A: If you are 21 or older, you’ll only need a valid ID to buy up to an ounce of marijuana from a licensed shop. Out-of-state licenses are OK.

Q: What should I expect from my visit to a marijuana store? And with so many products on the shelves, how will I know what to buy?

A: The days of choosing between a joint or a bong in black-lit head shops are long over.

MedMen, a dispensary in Santa Ana, is one of the largest marijuana shops in the state. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Many legal dispensaries today look more like cafes or Apple stores, with dozens of different product types displayed artfully in glass cases. You can always ask the shop’s budtenders for recommendations. But there’s no guarantee what experience or training that budtender might have, so it’s wise to educate yourself on available strains and methods before you go shopping.

Check out our beginner’s guide to shopping for cannabis to get you started.

We also have primers on smoking, vaping, edibles and tinctures, plus reviews of many products and strains.

Keep in mind that new regulations effective Jan. 1 require that all products sold in California be tested for purity, checking for pesticides, molds and other contaminants. Cannabis products must be tested for potency, too, with labels spelling out the levels of THC, CBD and other active compounds. And the state is setting new limits on how much THC can be in some products.

However, some of those regulations will really kick in later in 2018. The state gave retailers six months to sell inventory that doesn’t comply with the new rules so long as that product has a warning label. That means new cannabis consumers and people with health conditions should be cautious. By summer of 2018, cannabis items sold in California will be required to meet the new safety, testing and purity requirements.

Q: Can I have marijuana in my car while I’m driving?

A: The rules here are pretty much the same as with alcohol.

You can’t consume marijuana while you’re driving. You can’t have an open container that’s accessible, meaning you have to leave anything you’ve bought at the store in its sealed package until you get home.  Better yet, throw your products in the trunk.

And, of course, you can’t be under the influence of marijuana while you’re behind the wheel — though how that’ll be sorted out remains a question.

Experts are still trying to come up with a concrete way to measure current cannabis impairment. In the meantime, if an officer sees signs of impaired driving, and a blood test shows you have cannabis in your system, you can be charged with driving under the influence.

Q: What are the rules about growing marijuana at home?

A: Since Nov. 9, 2016, every Californian 21 and older has been allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants per household so long as those plants are kept out of public view.

Local governments do get to put some restrictions on those homegrows, though. Many have banned outdoor gardens completely, while others are require pricey permits to grow plants indoors.

Q: Can jobs still test for marijuana now that it’s legal?

A: Yes, they still can. Prop. 64 clearly stated that employers can test workers for marijuana and choose to not hire new workers — or fire existing workers — for any positive test. And some employers, such as federal agencies or transportation workers, are required to test for cannabis.

There’s anecdotal evidence that some companies aren’t testing for marijuana anymore. But that’s up to each employer, and they’re free to change that policy at any time.

Q: Isn’t marijuana still federally illegal?

A: It is indeed. And Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made no secret of the fact that he dislikes marijuana.

But an amendment to the federal budget currently blocks any federal resources from being used to go after individuals or businesses that are acting in compliance with their state’s marijuana programs. That amendment was continued along with the funding plan through Jan. 19. So long as Congress extends the amendment again when it approves the full 2018 budget, Californians following state cannabis laws shouldn’t have to worry.

Q: How do I know if a marijuana business is legit?

A: Licensed marijuana businesses that are open to the public must post a copy of their permits in public view.

You can also check with the state agency responsible for overseeing that type of business.

If it’s a store, testing lab, distributor or microbusiness, search the Bureau of Cannabis Control’s online database. You can also check out our evolving map of licensed recreational marijuana shops.

If it’s a cultivator, search the Department of Food and Agriculture’s CalCannabis division portal.

If it’s a manufacturer, check the Department of Public Health’s Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branchthough it hasn’t yet produced its online database, so licenses will still need to be verified directly through the agency.

Q: Will you still be able to buy marijuana on the black market as easily as you can now?

A: Californian’s black and gray markets for marijuana have been massive for decades, and no one expects those illicit businesses to disappear overnight.

But as legalization nears, some cities have cracked down on unlicensed marijuana businesses. And more of that is expected over the coming year, with a portion of tax revenue from legal sales earmarked to help law enforcement to shut down illegal operators.

Q: Is there any reason to still have a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana?

A: Californians with medical marijuana cards will have some advantages after Jan. 1.

They won’t have to pay state sales tax on any purchases, which means they’ll generally save around 8 percent.

They will have access to more potent products, such as topicals and concentrates with up to 2,000 milligrams of THC, rather than the 1,000-milligram limit on recreational products.

Patients also will be able to grow more than six plants at home and possess more than an ounce if needed for their condition.

It will be up to each person to decide if those advantages outweigh the cost and time it takes to get a doctor’s recommendation.

Q: What’s going to happen to prices?

A: Expect a bit of a roller coaster, at least for awhile.

After-tax prices for recreational cannabis in Washington state after legalization show the cost to consumers was nearly cut in half. (Graphic by Kurt Snibbe, The Cannifornian)

Initially, most experts say prices will go up. Businesses will face costs to comply with new state regulations and new taxes, and some of those expenses will be passed on to customers.

All cannabis sold legally in California from Jan. 1 will include a special 15 percent tax. And recreational cannabis will also be subject to state sales tax, which is around 8 percent. Local governments that allow businesses also can tack on their own taxes, which are expected to be around 5 to 10 percent.

But the price jump — if it happens — might not be permanent.

In other states that legalized cannabis, prices tended to drop significantly after the market adjusted to new taxes and other rules. In Colorado, for example, market reports show the wholesale price of marijuana fell 40 percent from the first half of 2016 to the first half of this year.

Q: What can I do if my neighbor’s marijuana smoke is stinking up my house?

A: People are generally allowed to consume cannabis inside their homes or on private property out of public view.

If drifting marijuana smoke is bothering you, you can try calling police at their non-emergency number or your local code enforcement office to report a nuisance. But since it’s not illegal, that might not get you very far.

If you live in an apartment or under a homeowner’s association, or if your neighbor is a renter, you might have better luck contacting those entities. Housing complexes and landlords can ban smoking in their units.

Q: I want to know more about getting into the industry. Where do I start?

A: We recently published this checklist of 10 steps to starting a marijuana business in California. As you can see, the process to get licensed isn’t simple or cheap. But there are resources to help, including the California Cannabis Industry Association and a growing list of industry consultants.

To subscribe to The Cannifornian’s email newsletter, click here.