The licensed cultivation of medical and adult-use cannabis in unincorporated areas of Imperial County is legal by virtue of the State of California’s Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA) and Title 14 of the Imperial County Code of Ordinances.
The cultivation of medical and adult-use cannabis for personal use is allowed in unincorporated areas of Imperial County provided this is done indoors in a private residence or in an accessory structure that is fully enclosed, secure, and located in the backyard of a private residence. All personal cannabis cultivation must not be seen from any public location such as a street. If an accessory structure is used, it must comply with all relevant county permits.
All cannabis businesses in unincorporated areas of Imperial County, including a cannabis cultivation company, are required to go through the commercial cannabis licensing process and apply for a commercial cannabis activity (CCA) license from the Imperial County Planning and Development Services Department. This is in addition to the relevant commercial cannabis business license granted by the State of California’s Department of Cannabis Control. A company may be issued multiple CCA licenses provided these are not in conflict with the MAUCRSA licensing provisions. The CCA also includes a microbusiness license that authorizes cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, and retail selling.
The applicant must pay a CCA license application fee of $4,000 for the first application and $1,000 for every additional application plus $1,000 for the security plan review. The license has an annual fee of $1,500. A bond must be paid according to the requirements of the state or the county, whichever is higher. The applying company owners, managers, and employees must undergo fingerprinting for a criminal background check.
All licensed cannabis businesses in unincorporated areas of Imperial County must comply with the following regulations:
All relevant state and county regulations must be met.
All licensed cannabis business owners, operators, and employees must be aged 21 or older.
The licensed cannabis facility must be located in a zoning district approved by the county for such use. The licensed cannabis facility must have legal access to the property to be used.
The licensed cannabis facility must be more than 600 feet away from any daycare facility, school from kindergarten to Grade 12, or youth center.
If the approved zonal district abuts a residential district, the licensed cannabis facility must be at least 25 feet from an existing residence.
If the approved zonal district abuts a residential zone and the licensed cannabis facility is adjacent to a vacant lot in the residential zone, a solid stucco or masonry wall six feet high must be built between them. The wall must have a permit from the Imperial County Planning and Development Services Department.
All licensed commercial cannabis activities, such as cultivation, manufacturing, and retail selling, must be done indoors in a fully enclosed building and must not be visible to the public.
To protect against unauthorized access and theft, the licensed cannabis facility must have perimeter fencing, adequate interior and exterior lighting, a county-approved 24-hour security system with video surveillance, alarms, and trained security personnel.
An odor control system must be approved by the Imperial County Air Pollution Control District (APCD).
The State of California’s unique identifier and track and trace system for cannabis must be complied with by all licensed cannabis facilities.
Licensed cannabis facilities must register all scales with the Imperial County Department of Agriculture Weights and Measures.
All cannabis businesses must have the commercial general liability insurance required by the state or the county, whichever is higher.
Cleanliness and sanitation must be maintained in a licensed cannabis facility.
The CCA license and all permits required by the county and the state must always be displayed conspicuously on the premises of the licensed cannabis facility.
The licensed cannabis facility must always be available for inspection by the authorities during business hours.
The licensed cannabis cultivation premises are restricted to a total canopy of 22,000 square feet. The licensed cannabis cultivator must specify its water source, water treatment, and water discharge.
The licensed manufacturing of medical and adult-use cannabis products in unincorporated areas of Imperial County is legal as mandated by the State of California’s MAUCRSA and the Imperial County Code of Ordinances Title 14.
A cannabis manufacturing company in unincorporated areas of Imperial County must comply with all the requirements and regulations for licensing and operations that apply to all cannabis businesses in the county, as previously discussed.
The use of non-volatile solvents is allowed in licensed cannabis manufacturing. Licensed cannabis manufacturers may use volatile solvents limited to those that are acceptable to Imperial County under a conditional use permit (CUP) and after passing a CEQA review. Licensed cannabis manufacturing facilities that use volatile solvents must be more than 1,000 feet from any residence or place where there may be people who are sensitive to such substances.
The licensed cannabis manufacturer must also indicate how it will source, treat, and discharge water.
The licensed retail selling of medical and adult-use cannabis and cannabis products in unincorporated areas of Imperial County is legal as stipulated by the MAUCRSA of the State of California and Title 14 of the Imperial County Code of Ordinances. Medical and adult-use cannabis and cannabis products are only allowed to be sold to medical cannabis cardholders and persons aged 21 and above.
Section 11018.1 of the State of California's Health and Safety Code defines cannabis products as cannabis concentrates and products that contain cannabis, including edible and topical products, among others. In compliance with the MAUCRSA, edible cannabis products must have a maximum content of 10 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in every serving.
A cannabis retail company in unincorporated areas of Imperial County must comply with all the licensure and operational requirements and regulations that are applicable to all cannabis businesses in the county, as mentioned earlier.
The following types of cannabis retail services are allowed to sell medical and adult-use cannabis and cannabis products exclusively to medical cannabis cardholders and persons aged 21 and above in unincorporated areas of Imperial County:
A licensed cannabis virtual dispensary sells only by delivery to a legal physical address.
A licensed cannabis physical dispensary has a physical store and is allowed to sell on-site and by delivery to a legal physical address. It is permitted to have a private room where cannabis may be smoked or consumed. Depending on the CCA license, a licensed physical dispensary may conduct limited promotional events with food, live music, games, and poetry reading.
A licensed cannabis microbusiness must have a wall that separates its retail area from its cultivation and manufacturing areas. Any connecting door must be closed when not used. The licensed cannabis microbusiness is also authorized to deliver and to have the same type of private cannabis consumption room as a licensed cannabis physical dispensary, with the same limited promotional privileges.
A temporary special cannabis event must be licensed by the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) and the Imperial Valley 45th District Agricultural Association Expo, complying with all county and state regulations. The event has a maximum of four succeeding days with more than 100 people gathering and may include the sale and consumption of cannabis and cannabis products along with food, live music, presentations, exhibits, and other activities acceptable under the license. The selling of tobacco and alcohol is not allowed in such events.
The licensed delivery of medical and adult-use cannabis and cannabis products purchased from licensed cannabis retailers to medical cannabis cardholders and individuals aged 21 and older in unincorporated areas of Imperial County is allowed in accordance with the State of California’s MAUCRSA and the Imperial County Code of Ordinances Title 14.
To apply for a medical marijuana identification card (MMIC) of the State of California’s Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program (MMICP) under the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), Imperial County residents must set an appointment with the Imperial County Public Health Department at:
El Centro, CA 92243
Monday to Friday: 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Before doing so, the applicant must have the Written Documentation of Patient’s Medical Records Form completed and signed by the applicant’s attending physician, certifying the diagnosis of one of the following serious ailments that would benefit from medical cannabis treatment:
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)
Persistent muscle spasms
Cachexia (wasting syndrome)
Chronic conditions that limit the patient’s life activities or affect the patient’s safety and mental and physical health
The Medical Marijuana Program Application Form must then be completed and signed by the patient. A parent or legal guardian must do so for a patient below 18 years old or a mentally incapacitated adult patient. Adult patients who require a caregiver need the designated caregiver’s information and signature on the form.
Once the appointment with the Health Department has been set, the patient must be accompanied by the caregiver or parent, or legal guardian. Their photos will be taken for the medical cannabis cards. There is a fee that must not exceed $100 and can be discounted by 50% for Medi-Cal beneficiaries. Patients under a county’s Medical Services Program are not charged. The medical cannabis card will be issued after about 35 days and is valid for one year.
The Imperial County Commercial Cannabis Activity Tax Law or Chapter 4.22 of the Imperial County Code of Ordinances states that the following taxes are imposed on all commercial cannabis activities in the county:
Licensed cannabis retailers must pay a general tax with a maximum of 8% of their gross sales of cannabis and cannabis products.
Licensed cannabis manufacturers must pay a general tax with a maximum of 5% of their gross sales of cannabis products.
Licensed cannabis cultivators must pay a general tax with a maximum of $25 for every square foot of cannabis cultivation space used.
Medical cannabis was legalized in 1996 by the Compassionate Use Act and adult-use cannabis was legalized in 2016 by the MAUCRSA in Imperial County.
Data from the Imperial County Sheriff's Office on the FBI’s Crime Explorer page shows that a year before medical cannabis legalization, in 1995, there were 205 marijuana offense arrests, with 24 for possession and 181 for manufacturing or sales.
A year after medical cannabis legislation, in 1997, there were 132 marijuana offense arrests, with 18 for possession and 114 for manufacturing or sales.
A year after adult-use cannabis legislation, in 2017, there were 23 marijuana offense arrests, with six for possession and 17 for manufacturing or sales.
In the latest available data, in 2020, there were two marijuana offense arrests, both for manufacturing or sales.
The following were the DUI arrests in those years:
1995: 35 arrests
1997: 41 arrests
2017: 76 arrests
2020: 29 arrests