California and Marijuana Tourism: What You Need to Know


Arizona residents Laura Torgerson and Ryan Sheehan smell cannabis buds at the Green Pearl Organics dispensary on Jan. 1, 2018, the first day of legal recreational marijuana sales in California. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

First, it became legal — on Jan. 1, 2018 — for adults to enjoy recreational marijuana, and for shops (as well as medical dispensaries) to sell cannabis in California, thanks to the November 2016 passing of Proposition 64 by voters. Among other things, this new day had weed fans imagining a time in the near future when marijuana tours were just as popular as the state's emblematic wine-country tours.

Then, three days later, on Jan. 4, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he was rescinding a trio of memos from the Obama administration that left marijuana-friendly states alone, calling it "a return to the rule of law."

Essentially, Sessions ruled, states like California can approve marijuana sales, but the federal government has ultimate say in prosecution. And right now, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. So where does that leave marijuana advocates, sellers and tour operators in California? And what about people who want to travel there — like, soon?

Chris Conrad, an East Bay, California resident who, among other things, has been working to legalize marijuana in the state for more than 30 years, told HowStuffWorks Sessions' ruling is just the latest in a long series of challenges toward full legalization of cannabis in California. Conrad should know. He's testified as a marijuana expert more than 400 times; runs Cannabis Consumers Campaign and co-founded (with his wife, Mikki Norris) Friends of Prop 64, and in 2016 published the book "The Newbies Guide to Cannabis & The Industry."

"The natural trajectory is, over the next five years we're going to see a huge change in California," Conrad says. "People should come out and see it now to get a sense of what this really means over time."

With that in mind, we asked Conrad to give us the lowdown on everything an out-of-state tourist might need to know when planning a weed-centric visit to the Golden State.

First, the nitty-gritty on the new laws in California, which took effect on Jan. 1: The Adult Use of Marijuana Act allows recreational use of marijuana for any adults older than 21 (along with those who are state residents, aged 18-20, and have a medical marijuana card), and for recreational shops to sell the stuff. But there are specific limitations — i.e., ways to still get arrested or fined.

What You Can Do If You're of Age

It's legal for you to buy, carry and share (but not sell unless you're licensed by the state) up to 1 ounce (28 grams) of marijuana and up to 8 ounces (226 grams) of concentrate cannabis oil a day.

The new law also allows residents to grow up to six marijuana plants at home. But Conrad cautions this is also subject to local ordinances and landlord rules, which can vary.

Smoking weed, eating edibles or taking a "dab" is legal in private residences — yours, your pal's, your pal's pal's. Key word is "private."

A marijuana dab, like this one at a dispensary in Denver, is 65 percent to 95 percent THC, and about four or five times stronger than your average marijuana joint.
Vince Chandler/The Denver Post/Getty Images

What You Can't Do

The new law doesn't allow people to smoke or vape weed in any public place. This comes with a caveat: Many people still do, as a form of civil disobedience. But to be clear, if you see someone smoking a joint or using a marijuana vape pen on the street, don't get confused: California is not a law-free zone. That person is merely ignoring the law the same way a person speeding in a car ignores the speed limit.

You can't carry marijuana in an open container. When you buy it from a store, it will come in a sealable bag. If the seal is broken, and you're caught by the cops with it in public, you could face charges.

It's also not legal to transport marijuana, or other marijuana products, in the cab of a car. Put it in the trunk when you leave the dispensary, and take it out only when you get to a private residence.

You can't smoke marijuana in cars, either. Seems pretty straightforward, but Conrad says people still don't seem to understand that. People also cannot (legally, anyway) get high and then drive, just like it's illegal to get drunk and drive.

At the end of a weekend legally enjoying recreational marijuana in California, if you have some left over, can you take it home with you, to another state? California state law, Conrad says, allows it. But federal law says it's illegal. "My advice is, don't get arrested, follow the rules," Conrad says.

And for any would-be marijuana dealers out there looking to score in California and take it back home for sale, Conrad says forget about it. "This is not an opportunity to start your own business by flying back and forth to California to buy marijuana," he says.

Other Things to Know About Pot in Cali

What types of marijuana do the stores sell? All kinds. Depends on the dispensary. But California has a wide range of strains, and expert sellers with the knowledge to guide purchases.

What about edibles? There is genuine concern about people overdosing on marijuana edibles. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd reported on her 2014 marijuana-themed trip to Colorado, in which she ate way too much of a marijuana chocolate bar and suffered the consequences. Conrad says California requires that edibles for sale must be divided into "10 milligrams of THC per dose in edibles. But you can buy a bar that has 10 of those, and if you eat the whole bar you're going to get 10 times the standard dose," Conrad says. So, don't do that.

What is a dab? A dab is a "concentrated dose of cannabis that is made by extracting THC and other cannabinoids." It's powerful, and Conrad cautions first-time users. "One inhalation of a dab is equivalent to a whole joint," he says. "The oils they use for the dabs are 65 percent to 95 percent THC. The marijuana we're smoking is 10 percent to 17 percent THC. A dab is like four or five times as strong." As they say, "A little dab will do ya."

Cathedral City Collective Care in Riverside County got permission to begin selling pot at midnight on New Year's Eve.
Maria Alejandra Cardona/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Where's the Best Weed?

California marijuana travel industry is still very much in its infancy. While there are tour groups, easily found through a Google search, you should first rely on some of your own research. Conrad says start by downloading the app Weedmaps, which was critical in helping get Prop 64 passed. "Plus," Conrad says, "Weedmaps provides a really good service of showing locations [where weed is sold] and explaining things, and you can access weed shop menus on what they have for marijuana supply."

Second, Conrad recommends organizing tours around specific weed-friendly locations. While he believes Los Angeles is going to soon be a "haven" for marijuana culture, he leans toward travel in the northern part of the state, specifically San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco, and of course the Emerald Triangle.

This part of California also includes Santa Rosa, which each December hosts the Emerald Cup. There's also Humboldt County, which is one of the most pro-pot places on the planet and includes the Redwood National and State Parks. Flow Kana, a former family winery that is now transforming an 80-acre property to be a premiere pot center, also has farms in Mendocino and Humboldt counties.

For those interested in all-inclusive, guided tours through the California marijuana experience, there are many choices. But a note of caution: Call the guides, and ask lots of questions about specifics of tours offered. Do they tour live growing operations? Do they visit medical dispensaries, recreational stores or historical points of interest? Will they stop at vape lounges? Do tourists travel on a "smoke bus"?

Of course, one of the best times for marijuana advocates to visit California, and San Francisco, is on April 20. Along with countless numbers of festivals — some official, some not — weed smokers will find a 420-friendly environment full of, shall we say, networking opportunities. "I will guarantee there's going to be people out on Hippie Hill, smoking marijuana," Conrad says.

Still, he notes that for him and advocates like him, there is still work to do. He says he won't stop until it is legal to smoke weed anywhere in California. And once that happens, people can appreciate California's place in marijuana history. "We have a culture of use of cannabis," he says, "which I think exceeds almost anyplace else in the world."



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