Cannabis is legal in California, Orange County's home state, for both recreational and medical uses. It was the first state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in the United States when voters passed the Compassionate Use Act (Proposition 215) in 1996. Under this Act, persons 18 years and older and minors in certain conditions are eligible for medical marijuana. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act, commonly known as Proposition 64, legalized recreational marijuana in California for adults 21 years and older. The Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) regulates all cannabis activities in California.
California's general marijuana law, the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA), empowers individual counties and cities to determine whether to permit commercial marijuana operations within their boundaries or not. According to the Orange County Cannabis Ordinance, one of such commercial activities is cannabis cultivation. While cannabis is legal in California, Section 7-9-146.14 of the Orange County Cannabis Ordinance prohibits the commercial cultivation of cannabis within the county and specifies certain limits for personal cultivation. However, the City of Santa Ana permits the establishment of marijuana businesses in the city's industrial zoning districts (M-1, M-2). Such businesses must obtain a Regulatory Safety Permit (RSP) specific to their operations. The city is currently the only one in Orange County that has approved cannabis cultivation and other business activities in a bid to fund various city services. Santa Ana Commercial Cannabis Ordinance covers medical and recreational cannabis cultivation, among other commercial cannabis operations.
Under the Orange County Cannabis Ordinance, commercial cannabis cultivation activities include planting, growing, harvesting, grading, curing, drying, and trimming cannabis for commercial purposes. Personal cannabis cultivation in the county means the cultivation of cannabis for personal use, medicinal use, or other uses in compliance with all applicable California laws. In Orange County, personal cannabis cultivation is restricted exclusively to an enclosed and secured area in a person's private residence. Also, personal cannabis cultivation must comply with the number of live plants allowed by Sections 11362.1 and 11362.2 of the California Health and Safety Code. The county disapproves of personal cultivation of cannabis outdoors in the premises of a private residence or any other outdoor location within the county.
Generally, Orange County considers cannabis business activities within its boundaries, including commercial cultivation, as a public nuisance and misdemeanor punishable under California law. Any individual who violates the provisions of the county's Cannabis Ordinance risks facing civil actions by the County Counsel. A court of competent jurisdiction may mete out civil penalties to erring persons in such civil actions.
The Orange County Cannabis Ordinance prohibits cannabis manufacturing, among other commercial cannabis activities within the county's borders. However, Santa Ana, the only city that permits commercial cannabis activities in the county, also allows cannabis manufacturing within its industrial zoning districts under the city's cannabis ordinance. According to Santa Ana Cannabis Ordinance, cannabis manufacturing involves infusion and extraction processes, including processing, preparing, packaging, storing, and labeling cannabis products.
In Santa Ana, all commercial cannabis manufacturing facilities must comply with California's cannabis manufacturing regulations, including Section 11362.775 of the state's Health and Safety Code. They must also abide by all applicable safety guidelines on cannabis plant processing adopted by California, Santa Ana, and other safety measures ratified by Orange County Fire Authority.
Generally, the sale of cannabis in Orange County is illegal, as stipulated in the county's Cannabis Ordinance. All the cities in Orange County, except Santa Ana, do not have dispensaries or storefront retailers selling cannabis currently despite the 52% support county residents gave in favor of Proposition 64. Consequently, any resident of Orange County who wants to buy legal cannabis within the county must visit Santa Ana.
Adults 21 years and older in Orange County can buy cannabis products at any existing state-approved dispensaries or recreational shops in Santa Ana. Also, in compliance with state law, a medical patient can buy up to 8 ounces of cannabis flower per day. In Santa Ana, recreational cannabis consumers can buy up to 1 ounce (28.5 grams) of cannabis flower and up to 8 grams of cannabis concentrates products such as oils, edibles, and extracts.
According to Section 7-9-146.14 of the Orange County Cannabis Ordinance, a cannabis delivery service must not locate its distribution center within any zoning region within unincorporated areas of Orange County. Consequently, all cities within the county, except Santa Ana, do not have a single marijuana distribution center. The Orange County Cannabis Ordinance describes cannabis delivery as the commercial transfer of cannabis or cannabis products to consumers for either medical or recreational uses. The Ordinance further explains delivery to include the use of a technology (online) platform by a retailer for cannabis delivery services.
While Orange County prohibits the establishment of distribution centers for cannabis delivery, Santa Ana issues cannabis delivery permits to dispensaries in the city. Dispensaries with such permits can deliver cannabis and cannabis products to homes within their jurisdictions. However, they can only deliver their products to persons 21 years and older or medical patients 18 years old and over with medical marijuana cards. Delivery of cannabis products is not allowed in places leased by public agencies, areas designated for minors, or other public spaces. Also, the delivered cannabis products must be packed up so that they are not visible to the public. When delivering any cannabis products, the delivery personnel must confirm the buyer's age and identity by asking to see their valid ID or a medical marijuana card, whichever is applicable.
A medical marijuana card in California is used to identify medical patients who are registered under the state's medical program as being able to possess specified amounts of marijuana legally. The cardholders must have been diagnosed with severe medical conditions and medical marijuana recommended by their physicians.
A qualified individual can get a medical marijuana card in Orange County by applying in person at the county health department at:
Health Care Agency
Office of Vital Records
200W. Santa Ana Boulevard, Suite 100-B
Santa Ana, CA 92701
The health department requires a person to apply for a medical marijuana card in person because of some verifications that must be completed personally and photo capturing, which will appear on the card.
To begin a medical marijuana card application in Orange County, an eligible patient must complete the Medical Marijuana Program Application/Renewal Form. They must also provide the following support documents when applying at the health department:
When submitting the completed application form and supporting documentation at the Orange County Health Care Agency at Santa Ana, an applicant will be required to pay an application fee. The county program is responsible for establishing this fee, and the amount is usually under $100. Typically, it takes up to 35 days for the county health department to review an application for a medical marijuana card and issue it to the applicant where successful.
The Health Care Agency opens for business Mondays through Fridays, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Interested persons can contact the Orange County Health Care Agency at (714) 480-6717 for further inquiries on getting a medical marijuana card in Orange County.
In 2018, Orange County recorded about $47.4m as cannabis taxable sales, and in 2019, it was $120.4m. This figure increased significantly to $212.6m by the end of 2020, a cannabis total taxable sales amount that almost doubled the previous year. In the first quarter of 2021, the county also recorded almost twice as much ($63.8m) as the cannabis taxable sales figure reported for the same period in 2020. The cannabis sales trajectory between 2018 and the first quarter of 2021 indicates a positive impact of cannabis on Orange County's economy.
Currently, the only city in Orange County with established cannabis businesses within the county's boundaries is Santa Ana. Hence, the majority of the county's cannabis economic activities take place in this city. Santa Ana residents approved Measure Y, a tax on recreational (adult-use) cannabis businesses established in the city, by an overwhelming 71% votes in November 2018. The City Council adopted Ordinance NS-2959 in December 2018 to establish a Cannabis Public Benefit Fund, which gets most of its money from Measure Y. Ordinance NS-2959 requires Santa Ana to allocate all money generated from the sale of recreational cannabis in the following manner:
For the fiscal years (FY) 2018 to 2019, 2019 to 2020, and 2020 to 2021, Orange County, through Santa Ana, generated the following revenues on cannabis licenses/permits:
|Revenue Source||FY 2018-2019 (Actual) ($)||FY 2019-2020 (Actual) ($)||FY 2020-2021 (Revised) ($)|
|Registration application for commercial cannabis testing, phase 1||2,133||-||3,380|
|Regulatory safety permit for adult-use cannabis retail, phase 2||-||223,591||100,236|
|Regulatory safety permits for commercial cannabis testing, phase 2||12,086||12,086||24,170|
|Commercial cannabis operating agreement reimbursement fees||35,000||27,500||30,000|
|Registration application for commercial cannabis cultivation, phase 1||13,362||7,323||16,900|
|Registration application for commercial cannabis manufacturing, phase 1||15,931||11,548||16,900|
|Registration application for commercial cannabis distribution, phase 1||28,871||21,688||16,900|
|Regulatory safety permit for commercial cannabis cultivation, phase 2||135,645||34,405||120,860|
|Regulatory safety permit for commercial cannabis manufacturing, phase 2||124,607||58,335||120,860|
|Regulatory safety permit for commercial cannabis distribution, phase 2||259,446||106,679||215,279|
Similarly, Orange County, through Santa Ana, made the following tax revenues from adult-use retail cannabis and commercial cannabis for FYs 2018 to 2019, 2019 to 2020, and 2020 to 2021:
|Revenue Source||FY 2018-2019 (Actual) ($)||FY 2019-2020 (Actual) ($)||FY 2020-2021 (Revised) ($)|
|Adult-use retail cannabis operations||2,679,374||-||-|
|Cannabis cultivation tax||2,000||87,727||200,000|
|Cannabis distribution tax||41,238||444,825||800,000|
|Cannabis manufacturing tax||7,000||102,329||100,000|
|Cannabis testing facility tax||168,107||119,837||100,000|
|Adult-use retail business cannabis tax||4,397,319||10,947,403||16,900,000|
These figures show that between 2018 and 2021, cannabis legalization has favorably impacted the economy of Santa Ana and added significant revenue to the city. The revenue generated by the retail adult-use cannabis business between these years is well over $20m and has helped the city in enhancing police services and code enforcement efforts. The city allocates the portion of cannabis revenue that goes into General Funds to projects or programs in any of the city departments. The Code Enforcement Division of the Police Department relies on the money deposited in the Cannabis Public Benefit Fund to staff some positions within the department. Also, the Cannabis Public Benefit Fund funds some youth services-related expenditures for programs and projects such as:
The California Department of Justice's (DOJ) report for Orange County revealed a declining number of arrests for drug-related offenses between 2015 and 2018. In 2015, the county recorded 2,179 drug-related arrests, a significant decrease from the previous year (2014) that had 9,458 arrests. In 2016, 2,115 drug-related arrests were made in Orange County, a slight drop compared to the county's drug-related arrests figure in 2015. This figure further declined to 1,914 in 2017.
In 2018, when cannabis became legal in the City of Santa Ana, the number of drug-related arrests made by law enforcement in Orange County was 1,855, yet another decline. The number of drug-related arrests made in Orange County in 2019 and 2020 was 1,767 and 1,853, respectively. While other cities in the county have yet to legalize cannabis, the legalization of marijuana in Santa Ana does not seem to have a notable effect on the county's drug-related arrest figures. The numbers had been declining over the years, even before 2018.
As reported by the California DUI Management Information System in 2019, there were 11,467 DUI arrests in Orange County in 2015. In 2016, the number of DUI arrests was 10,824, while it was 10,009 in 2017, a 7.5% decline compared to 2016. According to a 2020 report published by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), in 2018, when Santa Ana legalized marijuana, law enforcement made 10,934 DUI arrests in Orange County. The 2018 DUI arrest figure was a 9.2% increase compared to 2017.
The DMV has not published a report of the number of DUI arrests made in California in 2019 and 2020 as of November 2021. However, it is evident that the number of DUI arrests declined during the years before Santa Ana legalized cannabis and went up the year the city permitted cannabis establishments. It can be assumed that cannabis legalization in Santa Ana contributed to the sudden increase in DUI arrests rates in Orange County in 2018.