Is Cannabis Legal in California?
California voters paved the way for cannabis legalization in the U.S. by decriminalizing medicinal use through the Compassionate Use Act in 1996. It was a direct result of the AIDS crisis and passionate activism by members of the LGBTQIA+ movement and its allies.
Twenty years later, in 2016, Californians ushered in the era of adult-use cannabis by approving Proposition 64. As this ever-burgeoning market unfurls its verdant leaves, businesses spot glimmers of golden opportunities.
Not only has the state greenlit the use of medical and recreational cannabis, but it also permits adults to cultivate up to six plants at home. Additionally, Proposition 64 triggered an automatic review and “clean up,” or expungement, of some cannabis offenses. Those who meet certain criteria and do not have automatic expungement can petition for such action.
Is it Legal to Market Cannabis in California?
Absolutely. However, just like many other adult-use states, there are specific—and strict—advertising guidelines to follow.
The California Bureau of Cannabis Control ensures brands don't target the young’uns. That means cartoons and kid-friendly are a big no-no. And if you want to broadcast your cannabis ad on FCC-regulated networks like television or radio, be sure that adults make up at least 71.6% of the audience you’re advertising to (AKA the “70/30 rule”). Advertising in public spaces is off limits if minors might see the ad. So no billboards or public transit ads, for example.
Don’t advertise within 1,000 feet of a school, day-care center, playground or youth center, don’t depict anybody under 21 in your ads, and definitely don’t advertise giveaways or other free weed goodies. Finally, be honest in your marketing.
California also has an interesting rule against giving “the impression that the cannabis originated in a particular place or region, unless the label of the advertised product bears an appellation of origin, and such appellation of origin appears in the advertisement.” This basically means that if you’re claiming your cannabis was grown in a certain region of the state, you need to back that up with a seal of legitimacy.
With legendary cannabis growing regions like Humboldt County, and with its famed and historic wine countries, it’s no wonder that the Golden State would want to protect its regional growers—and has the expertise to do so.
Illicit Market Challenges
The list of things brands can’t do in California is not much different than many other states, but operators in California face the additional challenge of competing with a very strong illicit market. Estimates of illicit retail stores range from 3,000 to nearly 10,000, while fewer than 1,000 licensed stores operate in the state.
To stand out, brands can (within the boundaries of the law) advertise on television and radio or exploit their owned media—think blogs, newsletters, and those “Subscribe Here!” opt-ins like text message lists.
But competing against a huge market that doesn’t pay taxes and doesn’t operate by the rules puts legal Cali dispensaries at a serious disadvantage.
Dispensary Marketing in California
Many retailers in California are getting crafty with their marketing strategies, leaning into affordability, variety, experience and customer service.
Captain Jack’s, for example, touts itself as “The San Bernardino Mega Marijuana Store,” boasting more-than 700 products and “unparalleled customer service.” Blue Mountain Collective says it “strive[s] to provide top quality, affordable product [and] the largest variety of products around for every individual's needs as well as the best deals happening daily.”
And when it comes to events? California knows how to party. Brands have a golden opportunity to leverage event marketing, with April, of course, being the “it” month. After all, 4/20 festivities have their roots in California's soil.
Cannabis Brand Marketing in California
How are California's cannabis brands making their mark? The California brand itself doesn’t hurt with its sun-kissed beaches, laid-back vibes, redwood forests and Hollywood glamor. The state's eclectic mix of nature and culture offers brands a near endless selection of themes to riff on.
In addition to the pricing and availability marketed by the previously mentioned brands, there’s the whole appellation-of-origin thing, with brands like Humboldt Farms leaning into their region of cultivation as a core differentiator.
Meanwhile, Airfield Supply Company goes for a full experiential vibe with an airport-themed retail shop near San Jose International Airport that offers “first-class brands and products” and “Labor Day Lift Off” specials.
And think what you will of MSOs like MedMen, but the California-headquartered company has seriously upped its retail game, providing customers an experience they’ll remember. The Apothecarium, which started in California before being acquired by Florida-based Jushi Holdings, also goes for the experiential vibe, with a serious focus on “education and customer service for seniors, first time … dispensary visitors and patients with serious medical conditions.” The design of their stores is top-notch as well.
And always remember, while the waves of California might be gnarly, staying within the legal tide is the real key to riding high.
10 More Notable Cannabis Brands in California
California has always captured the world’s imagination—from surfing to Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Sonoma County wine and, yes, its weed. Here are some more top cannabis brands in the Golden State.