Yes, Marijuana Is Now Legal — Within Limits

Where can you buy and legally use marijuana in California? While pot is legal, significant restrictions remain in place.

Although marijuana has been legal for recreational use in California for nearly a year now, many people are still confused about how to obtain pot and where they can legally smoke it.  The fact is, while California's laws governing private marijuana use are now far more liberal than they've been since the early 20th Century, significant legal restrictions remain in place; violations can carry significant criminal penalties.

In many ways, the laws governing the purchase and use of recreational marijuana mirror rules governing the sale and consumption of two other familiar vices, tobacco and alcohol.

In California, marijuana for both medical and recreational use can be legally purchased only at state-licensed dispensaries. Each municipality determines whether or not such dispensaries are even allowed within their jurisdictions. As a result, there are many California communities where marijuana cannot yet be purchased legally, and buyers must travel many miles if they wish to obtain legally sanctioned products. And just because you see signs along the freeway advertising dispensaries, does not mean it’s legal to use where you live.

Marijuana delivery services are legal, but using the federal postal service is not. While it is now legal for recreational and/or medical use in 31 states and the District of Columbia, marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug, possession or sale of which remains a federal crime.

As with alcohol, buyers must be 21 years or older — and have a state-issued ID to prove it — when buying marijuana in California. And because federal banking laws make it difficult -- if not impossible -- for even state-licensed dispensaries to open bank accounts, virtually all transactions must be done using cash. Although cannabis-banking rules are slowly evolving, expect cash to be king for the near future.

So where can you legally smoke pot? Each county has its own rules, but most have established the same laws they have for tobacco use. In most California counties, you can't smoke cigarettes or cigars in public spaces like restaurants, bars, or stores, or even in outdoor venues like parks or at sporting events. The same is true for smoking marijuana. And, if you're a renter, be it in an apartment, townhouse, or single-family home, your landlord may be able to ban the use of marijuana, just as they can ban the use of tobacco products.

A few cities, most notably San Francisco, Oakland, and West Hollywood, now permit licensed marijuana smoking lounges. Other cities are considering issuing similar licenses. Driving under the influence of pot is just as big a no-no as driving drunk, and a conviction carries similarly harsh criminal penalties. Marijuana and alcohol though have significantly different effects on the body, and much different absorption and elimination rates. The catch is, unlike blood alcohol level measurements which are based on years of sound, provable science, there are only evolving scientifically valid standards for determining THC intoxication; whether or not you are a DUID “Driving Under the Influence of Drugs” depends on the arresting officer's evaluation of your demeanor, behavior, physical condition, and driving.

The bottom line: If you're going to get high, do not get behind the wheel. If you're feeling even the slightest bit high and need to go somewhere, call an Uber.

Have more legal questions? Feel free to contact my office for help. I am also more than happy to answer your questions by cell at 714-381-1366 or @

Chase Geiser