Buyer’s Guide: How To Purchase Recreational Marijuana in California

California Sales Cannabis Now

On Jan. 1, recreational cannabis sales will begin in California. Cannabis Now breaks down what to bring, what you’ll be able to purchase and where you should go.


After over a half-century of prohibition, decades of hard-fought progress and a pinch of campaign money from Napster’s co-founder, the longtime providers of the world’s largest cannabis market prepare to remind everyone that California was always the epicenter of the cannabis universe.

While elections in past years may have claimed to take the flag of the cannabis capital north to Oregon or east to Colorado for a time, the Golden State always had way more pot. And now it’s ready to share it with everyone who previously wasn’t able to take part in the medical marijuana program! Starting on Jan. 1, dispensaries will open across the state for adult-use marijuana sales.

For plenty of first-time cannabis users and longtime black market cannabis experts alike, the experience of going to a retail shop to purchase cannabis is an exciting one. While there are plenty of nuts and bolts to what happens in California on New Year’s Day behind the scenes, for consumers, it will all be pretty straightforward.

You’re going to fall into one of three categories: a someone without a doctor’s recommendation (a new recreational consumer), someone with a doctor’s recommendation (a medical marijuana patient), or a participant in the California Department of Public Health’s Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program (a patient in the program that has the most hoops to jump through but provides the most benefits for patients, especially when it comes to taxes).

While the experience of purchasing cannabis will be slightly different depending on your status, the experience will be somewhat uniform. Here’s what you need to know before the first day of recreational marijuana sales in California.

What if I still want to purchase medical marijuana?

There are plenty of benefits to remaining a medical marijuana patient in California’s recreational market. If you want to go above the limits of what recreational cannabis regulations allow, you will still need to get a California doctor to write you a recommendation.

“Limits?” you say. “But it’s legal now.” Indeed, adult use cannabis is legal, but a big part of what made legalization palatable to the masses who voted no in 2010 on Prop 19 was the depth of regulation presented in 2016. Of course, these regulations have evolved in the 14 months since Election Day, but the emergency regulations released by the state in November do still have limits that must be followed regarding possession limits, growing limits and THC limits.

What amount of money should I expect to pay?

Like any retail outfit, dispensaries offer a wide range of products and allow you to determine how much you want to purchase of cannabis in any form, be it flower, concentrate or edible. Just expect taxes to bring your total to over 20 percent higher than the sticker price.

Under the medical marijuana program that has existed in California for years, when someone purchased a $50 eighth of cannabis, it would end up costing them about $55 out the door. Come Jan. 1, however, new state and municipal taxes will be bumping up prices. For example, in Berkeley — one of the cities that will be among the first to open their doors to adult-use users as they did medical dispensaries nearly 20 years ago — that same $50 eighth will now cost $62.13. In Oakland, where the city council has eyeballed the burgeoning industry as a progressive-friendly cash cow, rates will be even higher and that $50 eighth will now cost you $67.13.

How do I get into a recreational dispensary?

Getting in will be a breeze with a government-issued ID. Your ID will also provide the dispensary with a quick mechanism to add you to their tracking system. While one might hope cannabis could be purchased with the anonymity of booze or tobacco, your spot in the system provides a way to make sure you don’t exceed your daily purchasing limits and get the dispensary in trouble with the state.

What products will be available in the recreational market?

You can expect to see many of the same things in a recreational dispensary as you have seen in medical dispensaries (or read about online): beautiful cannabis flower, vape pens, concentrates, edibles, paraphernalia, clothing and more.

But under California’s new regulations, many products will have to change.

First, edibles will now be capped at 10 mg doses of THC in packages of 100 mg. As a result, patients who are used to higher potency products will now suffer going without the ones they’ve come to know and love.

Second, if you’re looking to purchase sauce, dabs, hash, shatter or anything else in the exciting world of extracts, you’ll only be able to grab a quarter ounce a day. However, a quarter ounce should be more than enough, even for the most advanced dabber.

Third, as an adult user in California, you are only going to be able to purchase one ounce of marijuana a day. If that’s not enough for you, bravo — and you’re going to need to see a doctor, as with a medical marijuana ID, you’ll be able to purchase more.

Where should I go to buy recreational cannabis? What dispensaries are already open for business?

Dispensaries are excited to finally get the chance to share with the broader community and many are planning on opening early in the morning to accommodate the rush. Here is a list from California NORML of folks who will be selling cannabis to the masses over the age of 21 on Jan. 1.

TELL US, are you going to buy marijuana on Jan. 1 in California?

Jimi Devine has been involved in cannabis reform since 2005 and has worked in the Berkeley cannabis industry since 2009 when he moved to California from Lynn, Massachusetts. Currently serving as Staff Writer here at Cannabis Now, you can also find his writings on cannabis products and policy in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, The Hill, The Chronicle of High Education, GreenState.com, Marijuana.com, 7×7 Magazine, and in Ed Rosenthal’s most recent book This Bud’s for You. Jimi has a BA in Journalism and Media Studies from Franklin Pierce University.

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