Your Guide to California Medical Marijuana

california marijuana legalization

On November 6, 1996, The California Compassionate Use Act (Prop 215) became the country’s first medical marijuana initiative to be voted into effect. The legislation legalizes the possession, cultivation, and personal medical use of marijuana for medical cardholders and caregivers with a physician’s recommendation.

To supplement Prop 215 and define additional limitations, California Senate Bill Number 420 (SB 420) was adopted. As of January 1, 2004, medical marijuana consumers are permitted to form marijuana cultivation collectives and cooperatives. SB 420 also tasked the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) with creating and regulating the state Medical Marijuana Program (MMP).

As the MMP authorities, CDPH developed the state’s Medical Marijuana Identification Card (MMIC) system. Law enforcement officials and county health departments use the MMIC to easily identify and verify qualified medical consumers.

Medical consumers remain protected from criminal prosecution so long as they abide by the provisions’ guidelines.

Outlined here are some current medical marijuana restrictions and limitations that apply to all California residents.

How do I qualify for a MMIC?

In order to qualify for a MMIC, you must first receive a medical examination from a physician licensed to practice medicine or osteopathy in California. Your physician must then diagnose you with a serious medical condition. Defined in SB 420, qualifying medical conditions can be found here.

Physicians may also consider diagnosing any other condition that significantly hinders your ability to function normally.

Once diagnosed, your physician can recommend medical marijuana as an appropriate option. Both the recommendation and diagnoses must be documented in your medical records.

It’s important to note that the only requirement to become a qualified medical marijuana cardholder is a doctor’s recommendation. You are not required to obtain a MMIC.

Prop 215 protects all qualified consumers to possess, consume, and cultivate marijuana regardless of enrollment in the State’s voluntary identification card program.

California does not recognize out-of-state recommendations.

How and where do I apply for a MMIC?

If you choose to apply for a MMIC, you may do so in person at the local county public health department.

You must provide the following documentation:

  • A copy of your physician’s recommendation
  • A valid government-issued photo ID
  • Proof of residency
    • Rent or mortgage agreement
    • Utility bill
    • California DMV vehicle registration

You will be asked to complete and submit a Written Documentation of Patients Medical Records form. This is so the department can verify your diagnosis.

Lastly, you will pay the application fee, which varies by county program, and have your photo taken. The photo will appear on your MMIC.


After you submit your completed application and documentation, the county program has 30 days to verify your information. Once verified, the county program can take up to 5 days to issue your MMIC. If any information or documents are missing, the county program will notify you within the initial 30 day time period.

If within 35 days you haven’t received your MMIC or received any correspondence, contact your county program.


The same process applies to primary caregivers of qualified consumers. However, as a caregiver you cannot apply for a MMIC. The consumer you care for must apply for you. Though, you must accompany the consumer and be present at the county building during the time of application.


If you are a lawfully emancipated minor, the same application process applies to you. Though, the county program may ask for additional documentation such as proof of emancipation.

If you are a dependent minor, the county program is required to contact your parents or legal guardian for medical verification and consent.

How long is my MMIC valid and how do I renew it?

A MMIC is valid for one year. The renewal process is the same as the original application process. You’ll need to fill out an application at your local county health department and verify all your information and documentation. If approved for renewal, the county program will issue you a new MMIC and a new number.

Where can I get medical marijuana?

Prop 215 does not allow marijuana dispensaries or for-profit storefronts. The sale of marijuana is illegal.

As a qualified consumer or caregiver you may grow your own marijuana. Or, you may join and purchase marijuana from a coop or collective operating in accordance with SB 420 and the Attorney General’s guidelines.

How much marijuana can I possess?

As a qualified consumer, Prop 215 entitles you to possess as much marijuana as is appropriate for your personal medical use. However, SB 420 sets possession guidelines to 8 ounces of dried marijuana and a total of 12 plants, only 6 of which may be mature or flowering.

If these amounts do not meet your medical needs, your physician can issue a recommendation to possess any reasonable amount consistent with your condition.

And though possession is legal for qualified consumers, each city and county is allowed to implement its own possession and consumption laws. You may access the county implementation schedule here.

Where can I use medical marijuana?

In accordance with The California Indoor Clean Air Act, marijuana may not be smoked where smoking of tobacco is prohibited by law.

Marijuana may not be smoked in these additional places:

  • Within 1000 feet of a school
  • At recreation or youth centers
  • On a school bus
  • On any moving motor vehicle or boat

Marijuana use should be reserved for private residences.

Can I still be arrested under Federal law?

Federal law still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I hallucinogenic substance. Qualified consumers may be prosecuted for selling or distributing marijuana to non-medical consumers or for possessing amounts that exceed medical need.

For non-medical consumers, possession of 28.5 grams or less has been decriminalized and is now an infraction punishable by a $100 fine. For those found in possession of more than 28.5 grams or are under 18 years of age possessing any amount, the penalty is a misdemeanor and may result in a fine and possible jail time.

Regardless of medical consumer status, possession of any amount with the intent to distribute is regarded as a felony and can lead to prison incarceration.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has compiled a detailed list of specific California marijuana laws and penalties.

For additional information regarding California’s medical marijuana program, visit the California Department of Public Health.