Imperial County Cannabis Overview

  1. California Cannabis
  2. Imperial County Cannabis

Is Cannabis Cultivation Legal in Imperial County?

Yes, Imperial County allows the cultivation of marijuana in the county. California State voters passed the Compassionate Use Act (Proposition 215) in 1996, legalizing the use of marijuana for the treatment of certain medical conditions. In addition, the state voters passed the Proposition 64: Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) in 2016 to allow for adults (21 years and above) to have access to marijuana for recreational purposes. To harmonize both laws, the senate in 2017 passed the California State Senate Bill 94 called the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA). MAUCRSA authorizes counties, cities, and towns to make laws to regulate the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sales of marijuana within their jurisdiction in conformity with the act. The law also permits medical marijuana patients to cultivate not more than six cannabis plants in their private residence.

The Imperial County incorporated and adopted the state's Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA) and provided additional guidelines through Ordinance 1543 adopted on June 18, 2019. Ordinance 1543 is an amendment of Ordinance 1523, which was passed in November 2017. Ordinance 1543 permits both medical and recreational cannabis use. It also allows both personal and commercial cultivation of cannabis within unincorporated areas (an area not within a city limit) in the county. The personal cultivation of cannabis in the county is subject to the following restrictions:

  1. Personal cultivation must be conducted inside a private residence or a fully enclosed and secured structure located in the rear of a private residence that is not visible from a public place.
  2. Accessory structures must be constructed with all applicable permits in order.

The commercial cultivation of cannabis in the county are subject to the following restrictions:

  1. The commercial cannabis cultivation area must be within an enclosed and secured facility.
  2. Each cultivation operation is limited to 22,000 square feet of total canopy size per premise.
  3. The cultivator must possess a commercial cannabis activity business license.

All commercial cannabis businesses such as cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, testing, and retail must possess the Imperial County Commercial Cannabis Activity (CCA) license to be able to operate within unincorporated areas. The Imperial Planning and Development Services Department is the commercial cannabis licensing and enforcement agency. The conditions for applying for a CCA license are as follows:

  1. Possession of licenses and permits required by the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing, Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch, and Imperial county ordinances.
  2. The operation must be located within the allocated zoning areas as stated below:
  3. Permitted use with a commercial cannabis activity license:
    1. Gateway Industrial (GI) of the Gateway of America's Specific plan area.
    2. Light Industrial (MLI1) of the Mesquite Lake Specific Plan Area.
    3. Medium Industrial (MLI2) of the Mesquite Lake Specific Plan Area.
    4. Heavy Industrial (MLI3) of the Mesquite Lake Specific Plan Area.
    5. Gateway commercial (GC) of the Gateway of America's Specific plan area (Retail only).
    6. Imperial Center Commercial Zone (ICCZ) of the Imperial Center Specific Plan (Retail only).
  4. Permitted use with a Conditional Use permit:
    1. Light Industrial (M-1).
    2. Medium Industrial (M-2).
    3. Agricultural Related Light Industrial (AM-1). (Manufacturing only).
    4. Agricultural Related Medium Industrial (AM-2). (Manufacturing only).
    5. General Commercial (C-2). (Retail only).
    6. Heavy Commercial (C-2). (Retail only).
  5. A cannabis operation can engage in multiple commercial cannabis activities provided they do not conflict with the licensing provisions in MAUCRSA.
  6. A cannabis operation will be subject to rules that may be promulgated from time to time by the enforcement agency.
  7. Payment of CCA licensing fee as stated below:
  8. First application - $4,000
  9. Each additional application - $1,000
  10. Security plan review - $1,000
  11. Annual license renewal - $1,500
  12. The license is valid for one year and must be renewed.

The Cities of Imperial, Calexico, and El Centro permit cannabis cultivation, while cannabis cultivation is banned in the Cities of Brawley, Calipatria, Holtville, Westmorland.

Is Cannabis Manufacturing Legal in Imperial County?

Per Ordinance 1543 and according to the provisions of MAUCRSA, manufacturing cannabis and cannabis products is legal within the unincorporated areas of Imperial County. The following restrictions apply to all cannabis manufacturing operations in the county:

  1. All manufacturing of cannabis may be done with non-volatile solvents or volatile solvents.
  2. Volatile solvents for cannabis will be approved provided that the operation goes through a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review process and gets a Conditional Use Permit (CUP).
  3. Manufacturing operations that utilize volatile solvents in any part of their processes must be located more than 1,000 feet from residential areas and places where sensitive receptors are present.
  4. All manufacturers must possess the Commercial Cannabis Activity license.

Imperial City, Calexico City, and El Centro City permit the manufacture of cannabis and cannabis products. On the other hand, Brawley City, Calipatria City, Westmorland prohibit the manufacture of cannabis and cannabis products.

Is Cannabis Retail Legal in Imperial County?

Yes. Per Ordinance 1543, cannabis retail is legal within the unincorporated areas of Imperial County. Physical dispensaries are allowed to engage in retail sale of cannabis and cannabis products for both recreational and medicinal uses. On-site consumption of cannabis within the dispensary must be limited to a private smoking room or cannabis lounge and must not be visible from any public place. Sales and consumption of alcohol and tobacco are prohibited within the cannabis lounge. There is no limit to the type or form of cannabis product that can be sold in the dispensaries. Any adult, 21 years of age and older, can purchase cannabis from the dispensary.

The incorporated cities have the following rules as regards cannabis retail:

  1. Imperial City - Per Ordinance No. 795, cannabis retail is legal in Imperial City, but only one dispensary is permitted per time.
  2. Brawley - Ordinance 2015-09 prohibits retail of cannabis and cannabis products within the city.
  3. El Centro - Ordinance No 20-03 permits a maximum of two cannabis dispensaries in the city at any given time.
  4. Calipatria - Cannabis retail sales remain illegal in the city.
  5. Holtville - Cannabis retail is not allowed within the city.
  6. Calexico - Ordinance No. 1206 permits a maximum of 12 cannabis retail businesses within the city limits.
  7. Westmorland - Cannabis retail is prohibited in the city.

Is Cannabis Delivery Legal in Imperial County?

Yes. Ordinance 1543 permits virtual dispensaries to deliver cannabis for both medicinal and recreational purposes in the county. A virtual dispensary is a dispensary without a storefront engaged in the retail sale of cannabis and cannabis products through Internet or telephone orders to be delivered directly to consumers. Deliveries must be made to legitimate residential addresses that are not located on publicly owned lands or in buildings leased by a public agency. The virtual dispensary must be licensed by the state. Medical marijuana patients with valid medical marijuana ID cards can have cannabis delivered to their residences.

Per Proposition 64 and the California Board of Cannabis Control (BCC) regulation (BCC Regulation 5416(d)), cannabis delivery is legal across the state, regardless of city regulations or restrictions. The Cities of Imperial, Calexico, and El Centro expressly permit home delivery of cannabis and cannabis products.

How to Get Medical Marijuana Card in Imperial County

The Medical Marijuana Program MMP in the county is administered by the Imperial County Public Health Department (ICPHD). ICPHD issues the Medical Marijuana Identification Card MMIC on behalf of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) as stipulated in the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA). The MMIC is a voluntary identification card issued to eligible patients and their primary caregivers. A patient with any of the medical conditions below can be recommended by a physician to be issued the MMIC:

  • Anorexia
  • AIDS
  • Cachexia
  • Persistent multiple spasms
  • Seizures
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • Migraine
  • Chronic pain
  • Cancer
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Severe nausea
  • Any other chronic or persistent medical condition for which marijuana provides relief

An interested applicant can pick up an application packet in person from the program office on Monday - Friday, 8:00 am -12:00 pm and 1:00 pm-5:00 pm. The office is located at:

Department of Public health

935 Broadway

El Centro, CA 92243

(442) 265-1444

Completed applications can only be submitted on Wednesdays by appointment. An appointment can be scheduled by calling (442) 265-1444. The applicant must provide the following documents during the appointment:

  1. Original written recommendation from the physician or Written Documentation of Patient's Medical Records form
  2. Completed Application/Renewal (CDPH-9042) form
  3. Government-issued photo identification; any one of the following will suffice:
  4. California's State Driver's License
  5. California State ID Card
  6. United States Passport
  7. Proof of Imperial County residency, which can be any one of the following:
  8. Current rent or mortgage receipt
  9. Recent utility bill
  10. California motor vehicle registration bill with current address in the county
  11. Medi-Cal card if applicable
  12. Non-refundable Application/Annual fee: a sum of $62 for non-Medi-Cal participants or $31 for Medi-Cal participants

Lawfully emancipated minors (under 18 years of age) or minors that have declared self-sufficiency status may apply for themselves. Otherwise, a parent or legal guardian must be involved. A conservator, surrogate decision-maker, attorney-in-fact, or any other person authorized by law to make medical decisions can apply for a qualified patient who cannot make medical decisions.

The application will be verified and approved or denied within 35 days. An applicant can appeal a denial of application or renewal by filling the Denial Appeals Application form. The Medical Marijuana Identification Card is valid for one year.

How Has Cannabis Legalization Impacted the Economy of Imperial County?

The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) provides data on Cannabis Sales by County for all counties in the state. The report indicates that Imperial County had a total taxable sales of $2,176,386 in the fourth quarter of 2019. The taxable sales more than quadrupled a year after, with $8,969,780 cannabis taxable sales recorded in the 4th quarter of 2020. Taxable sales in the first quarter of 2021 was $5,649,937, and in the second quarter, it was $5,606,937. Taxable sales in the third quarter was $4,832,173. The total taxable sales of cannabis in the first three quarters of 2021 was $16,089,047. The Marijuana Business Tax (Measure I) passed by the Imperial County voters in November 2018 imposed a tax of $10 per square foot for marijuana cultivation, 6% of gross receipts for marijuana retail businesses, and 4% of gross receipts for other marijuana businesses in the county. The legalization of cannabis has improved the economy of Imperial county.

The Effects of Cannabis Legalization on Crime Rates in Imperial County?

Crime data provided to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) by the Imperial County Sheriff's office reveals that in 2016, before marijuana legalization, there were 24 marijuana sales arrests and 12 marijuana possession arrests. The 2017 report showed a 30% reduction in marijuana sales arrests as 17 persons were arrested and marijuana possession arrests reduced by 50% to six persons. In 2018, the number of marijuana sales arrests reduced to two and only one person was arrested for marijuana possession. In 2019, marijuana sales arrests further reduced to one and marijuana possession arrests increased to three. In 2020, there were two marijuana sales arrests and no marijuana possession arrest.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) arrests data showed that there were 80 DUI arrests in 2016 and the number of arrests decreased to 76 in 2017. In 2018, the number of DUI arrests increased to 82 and in 2019, it decreased to 72. In 2020, there was a drastic decrease in DUI arrests to 29 persons. The crime data show that the legalization of recreational marijuana has drastically reduced the number of marijuana-related arrests, but it has had no significant effects on DUI arrests.

Imperial County Cannabis Overview