In 1996, California became the first state to legalize medical cannabis; in 2016 it legalized recreational use as well. While the state took a slightly different approach than Massachusetts in some of its regulations, it’s moved faster on some fronts, and so is an interesting bellwether for where we may be in a few years.

The bottom line: high taxes and local bans on dispensaries have retarded the move from black market to legal consumption; home delivery is beginning to redress that, with no apparent problems. More adults and fewer teens are consuming, and the profile of cannabis consumers is becoming more diverse. Entrepreneurs are taking advantage of legalization to launch a host of new products and services aimed at both businesses and consumers.

From a revenue standpoint, California is not achieving its goals from taxing cannabis—original forecasts of $355mm for 2019 and $514mm for 2020 have been revised downwards to $288mm and $359mm respectively. Much of this drop is attributed to the high rate of taxes levied by state, county and municipal governments (20-40%), and local opposition to the opening of recreational dispensaries, which has greatly restricted availability (2/3 of municipalities have banned cannabis dispensaries).

High cost and a limited number of dispensaries has meant a majority (74%) of California cannabis is still purchased on the black market. Continued high dispensary costs should drive more California consumers towards home cultivation. There is no data yet on the number of residents growing organic cannabis.

Consumption of cannabis is slightly lower in California (12.9%) than Massachusetts (14.6%).

A bill under consideration in the California legislature would require municipalities where a majority of voters had approved proposition 64 (which legalized recreational cannabis) to open one dispensary for every 10,000 residences, or one for every four bars and restaurants with a liquor license. If approved, this could almost triple the number of dispensaries in the state, from 873 currently to more than 2,200 in the next 1-2 years.

A new law passed in January of 2019 legalizes home delivery everywhere in the state, regardless of local legislation.

Public consumption is permitted in some municipalities in cannabis social lounges. Their number is estimated at more than 400 and is growing fast.

As expected, California entrepreneurs are jumping on the bandwagon, developing cannabis and CBD infused products, opening cannabis lounges and cafes, hosting cannabis events, and offering cannabis spa treatments and ganja yoga classes.

Cannabis Laws CA vs. MA

Laws governing home cultivation and personal possession in California and Massachusetts are very similar:

In-Home cannabis cultivation 6 plants 6-12 plants*
In-Home cannabis possession Produce of plants 10 oz.
Personal cannabis possession outside the home 1 oz. 1 oz.
Personal hash possession outside the home 8 g. 5 g.

*Each 21 year-old in a household, up to two may have 6 plants

California is less generous towards home grow cultivation—allowing residents to grow only six plants, regardless of the number of adults in the household; laws governing home grow cultivation in Massachusetts allow up to twelve plants.

Home Delivery

According to Wikileaf, new regulations permit home delivery throughout the state, “even in towns that have opted to ban cannabis-related businesses. This makes California the first (and only) state to legalize home delivery across all municipalities.”

There are currently 100 state-licensed home deliver companies. Delivery services can sell up to 1 oz. of bud, or 8 grams of concentrate. Purchasers must be 21 or older, and present identification to the delivery person.

Public Consumption

Some municipalities permit cannabis social lounges, where consumption is legal. Most of these are dispensaries with a lounge added for the benefit of patrons. At last count, there were more than 420 in the state, most of them in the Bay Area and LA. The number is expected to grow rapidly as more cities, like San Diego, consider legalizing them.

The City of West Hollywood recently made it OK for restaurants and cafes to permit cannabis consumption. The first of these is Lowell Farms, a farm-to-table restaurant.

California also allows cannabis festivals. Festival promoters must apply for and receive both state and local permits. San Francisco hosted the Outside Lands Music and Arts festival, where adults 21+ could purchase and consume cannabis. More than $1mm of cannabis was sold at the event.


Legal sales of cannabis in California dropped in 2018, but are expected to recover this year, reaching $3.1b. Legal sales are estimated to be approximately 26% of total cannabis sales. Projections for the next five years show legal cannabis growing to $7.2b in 2024, with black market sales declining from $8.7b to $6.4b. The legal % will be 53% by 2024.

A study by Eaze, a cannabis company reports that cannabis consumption is diversifying by age and gender:

“First-time cannabis consumers grew by 140% thanks to adult use legalization in California. Baby Boomers were one of the fastest growing segments, increasing by 25% over the past year.

With female consumers nearly doubling, the growth of women entering the market outpaced men and continued the trend of increasing female participation, with women now 38% of cannabis consumers.”

Innovative Business

California has always been a hotbed of innovation, and the cannabis market, as expected, is no exception. From the country’s first legal cannabis restaurant (with its own bud sommelier), to high-end, small batch weed, to CBD infused jeans, to cannabis sodas, it seems like there’s a new weed or CBD based venture starting every day.

Day spas across the state are offering CBD massages, CBD manicures, and CBD hair treatments. Yoga instructors and yoga centers are taking advantage of legalization as well, offering ganja classes and ganja-enhanced retreats

Lagunitas released “Super Critical” a hoppy, hempy beer brewed with cannabis terpenes.

Built in Los Angeles, a hub for start-ups in LA, lists dozens of cannabis start-ups, from e-commerce platforms, to cannabis marketing agencies, to cannabis supply chain management.


Mass Live: “What Massachusetts should learn from California’s Marijuana policy struggles”

NORML: “State Laws”

NPR: “California says its cannabis revenue has fallen short of estimates, despite gains.”

Insurance Journal: “California Cannabis Market on Track to Hit $3.1b”

NY Times: “What can California expect after five years of legal marijuana?”

Washington Post: “Cannabis restaurants are coming to California…”

Wikileaf: “Everything you need to know about deliveries in California”

Hollywood Reporter: “Hollyweed: new CBD perfumes, massages, cosmetics and a birthday cake form Jay-Z brand”

Business Wire: “Eaze Releases 2018 Data Report on California Cannabis Trends”

Built in Los Angeles: “Cannabis Start-ups in LA”

Frequently Asked Questions

Are cannabis laws different in California from those in Massachusetts?

Regulations around personal home grow and possession are similar in both states. California permits home delivery, and allows dispensaries to set up social lounges where patrons can consume cannabis.

Is it easier or harder to purchase cannabis in California?

It’s almost the opposite of the situation here in Massachusetts, where there are no dispensaries in Boston and few in the immediately surrounding towns and cities, but a fair number in outlying areas. In California, big cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles have many dispensaries, outer suburbs and rural areas do not. With the legalization of home delivery, that’s changing fast, so the answer is, for most people, it’s easier to purchase cannabis in California than Massachusetts.

Has legalization changed cannabis consumption in California?

Consumption by teens continues to decline, while consumption by adults has grown. More Baby Boomers and women are consuming cannabis than before legalization. These trends are correlated with cannabis legalization, but legalization may not have caused them.

What new ideas are coming out of California that we can expect here in the future?

Home delivery and social lounges are working to give more people access to cannabis.

Alternative health practitioners, such as massage therapists and yoga instructors, are starting to embrace cannabis, and use it in their practices.

New cannabis and CBD-infused edibles and drinks are being introduced almost weekly.