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How Can I Legally Smoke Marijuana in California?

Residents and tourists must understand the laws to avoid arrest

By Doug Mentes, Esq. on May 28, 2019
Updated on June 11, 2020

As of January 2018, it’s legal to smoke marijuana in the state of California. This is good news for the many residents and potential tourists to the state. However, there are still many laws in place that restrict the use of cannabis in California. Residents and tourists must understand these laws or they put themselves at risk of not only a bad trip, but arrest.

Who can smoke?

Adults ages 21 years and over, whether a California resident or not, can smoke. An individual can purchase, daily, approximately 1 ounce (28.5 grams) of the smokable stuff—as well as small amounts of oils, edibles and similar products. Adults between 18 and 21 years of age can only smoke with a physician’s recommendation, or state of California medical marijuana ID card. To purchase marijuana there are approximately 1,700 marijuana dispensaries located throughout the state; you just have to show a government-approved form of ID, like a driver’s license.

Where can I smoke pot?

Perhaps the biggest concern for pot users is where they can get high. The blunt response is that, while pot is legal, nearly all property in California—public or otherwise—is off-limits to marijuana use. There are a few small pockets of legal use, and the largest of those legal locations for use are private residences.

There is no restriction for Californians or their guests to smoke in their private homes if they are the owner of the residence. However, for those that are renters of their homes, or short-term lodging guests, the property owner or landlord can ban marijuana use on their property. And many do. If you are in the unfortunate position to be living or staying in a property that bans use of marijuana, there are a few options left.

The law legalizing marijuana in California made use within smoking lounges legal. Most lounges are connected to dispensaries. California cities can outlaw smoking lounges within their limits, and many have, but most California smoking lounges are clustered around the largest cities and tourist areas.

More and more, lounges are being planned as cities determine whether to allow them. Further, a growing location for legal use is marijuana-accepted lodging. There are many resorts, Airbnb listings, and events that allow marijuana smoking on their premises. A quick Google search will point out a host of providers marketing themselves to pot smokers.

What else should users know?

Transporting marijuana will be an issue for most users, and the law is strict in this area. Users cannot smoke in their vehicles, or any type of transportation vehicle, for that matter. If someone is going to transport his or her pot or edible, it must be in the unbroken, sealed container it was purchased in—or in an acceptable childproof container. Otherwise, opened containers must be stored in a locked space outside the cab, such as a vehicle’s trunk.

If police suspect use while driving they will treat it, like driving under the influence of alcohol—a very serious offense. There is no developed testing method for determining whether a driver is impaired by marijuana. Police will look for certain signs of marijuana impairment from a driver—signs that, unfortunately, are sometimes present in unimpaired drivers. Anyone using or transporting marijuana should be cautious and consider public transportation or taxis to get themselves around while using. Users leaving a smoking lounge or legal smoking event and getting in their vehicles may be sitting ducks for law enforcement.

There is still the concern with federal law enforcement, as any possession of marijuana is still illegal under federal law. However, at least as of late 2018, there appears to be no efforts by federal law enforcement to step in.

Residents and tourists should ensure they are prepared for any questioning from law enforcement while possessing, transporting, or using marijuana. They should bookmark experienced southern California criminal defense attorneys, or their counterparts in northern California and San Diego, all of whom are ready to step in and protect someone facing trouble.

For more information on this area of law, see our overviews of criminal defense and drug and alcohol violations.

How Can I Legally Smoke Marijuana in California? – an article appearing in Super Lawyers Magazine February 2018

Is There a Safer Way to Smoke Cannabis? How the Methods Stack Up

If you’re looking for the healthiest way to smoke cannabis, keep in mind that there’s no totally safe way to do so — even with the purest, most pesticide-free bud. Cannabis smoke contains most of the same toxins and carcinogens that make tobacco smoke harmful to your health.

There are, however, methods that may be slightly less harmful than others. Here’s a look at how different methods compare, plus some smoke-free alternatives to consider.

The dangers of smoke inhalation are well known, so it’s not surprising that a lot of folks assume vaping is the healthier alternative to smoking. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

There’s mounting evidence that vaping can have serious health effects. Much of the concern comes from inhaling vitamin E acetate, a chemical additive found in many vaping products containing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

However, this risk seems to apply only to vaping concentrates, not flower. A 2006 study suggests that vaping actual cannabis, not concentrate, is less harmful to your respiratory system than smoking. Still, research on vaping cannabis is pretty limited.

Lung health aside, there’s also a matter of potency. People who vape cannabis report experiencing stronger effects — regardless of the amount of THC in the product — than they do when smoking. This means a higher chance of overdoing it, or greening out, when vaping.

Maybe a teeny, tiny bit, but nowhere near enough to make a difference.

Bongs offer a smoother toke because you don’t get the dry heat from smoking cannabis rolled in paper. Though it feels less harsh when you inhale, your lungs don’t know the difference.

Well, both still involve inhaling smoke, so there’s that. But if you had to choose the lesser of two evils, joints are probably the better option. This is because blunts are made with hollowed-out cigars, and cigars and their wrappers are highly toxic.

Even after removing all the tobacco from a cigar, cancer-causing toxins, such as nitrosamines, can remain. Plus, cigar wrappers are more porous than rolling papers, so the burning is less complete. This results in smoke with high concentrations of toxins.

Then there’s the matter of size. Blunts are a lot bigger than joints, and they hold way more pot. Smoking an entire blunt is like smoking roughly six joints.

Dabbing is supposed to give you a “cleaner” high, but what does that actually mean? Not much.

Budder — another name for dabs or marijuana concentrate — delivers a lot more THC than other weed products, often as much as 80 percent more.

Dabbing is still pretty new, so experts still don’t know the full impact.

There’s evidence that exposure to high THC may lead to long-term mental health effects, like psychosis. The risk of misuse and addiction is also higher when using high-THC products, especially for young people.

Plus, unless you have high-tech lab equipment and are trained in extraction, your dabs may be far from pure. Research shows that dabs can contain contaminants and residual solvents that can to neurotoxicity and cardiotoxicity.

Dabbing also has respiratory effects, even though you’re not technically “smoking.” There have been cases of people developing lung damage from dabbing.

The bad news? There’s no safe way to smoke cannabis. The good news? There are plenty of other ways to consume it.

Here are your main options:

  • Edibles. Unlike smoking and vaping, ingesting cannabis won’t harm your lung health. The downside for some is that edibles take longer to kick in because they need to clear your digestive system before getting into your bloodstream. The upside is that the effects also hang around longer. You also have an endless variety to choose from, with everything from gummies to baked goods to cannabutter.
  • Sublinguals. These are usually lumped together with edibles, but they’re not quite the same. Unlike edibles, you don’t actually swallow sublingual forms of cannabis, which include things like tinctures, films, and dissolvable tablets. Sublingual cannabis is placed under the tongue for absorption, and is absorbed through your mouth’s mucus membranes, so the effects are felt faster.
  • Tinctures. Tinctures are made of alcohol-based cannabis extracts that come in bottles with droppers. You can add tinctures to drinks, but you can also get the effects faster by placing a few drops — depending on your desired dose — under your tongue.
  • Topicals. Cannabis topicals are for people looking for the therapeutic benefits of cannabis without the cerebral effects. Creams, balms, and patches can be applied to the skin to relieve inflammation and pain. There’s also cannabis lubricant made for, well, sexy time.
  • Suppositories. The idea of shoving cannabis up your butt (or vagina, depending on the product) may make you clench, but it’s definitely a thing. Most of the suppositories on the market are CBD-infused and used for therapeutic reasons, like pain or nausea relief, but some brands have upped their THC content for added effects.

If you’d still rather smoke your weed despite the risks, consider these harm-reduction tips to help make it a little safer:

  • Don’t hold the inhale. Inhaling deeply and holding it in exposes your lungs to more tar per breath. Don’t be greedy; exhaling faster is better for you.
  • Use rolling papers approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Rolling papers may seem like NBD, but some contain chemicals and flavorings that can be toxic.
  • Stick to glass bongs and pipes. Plastic bongs can contain chemicals like BPA and phthalates, which have been linked to serious health effects, including cancer.
  • Keep your stuff clean. Keep your bongs and pipes clean, and don’t roll your weed on dirty surfaces.
  • Don’t share mouthpieces or pass joints. Sharing your stash is fine, but not your pipes, bongs, or joints. When you share these, you’re basically swapping spit with that person and putting yourself at risk for infections.

No matter how you dice it, there’s really no safe way to smoke cannabis, whether you prefer to roll one up or are partial to bongs. As cannabis becomes more popular, so do products that allow you to indulge without the smoke.

That said, if you’re partial to puffing and passing, a vaporizer that allows you to use flower, not concentrates, may be a less harmful option.

Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddleboard.

You can smoke cannabis in a variety of ways, but is one safer or healthier than others?