San Diego County Cannabis Overview

  1. California Cannabis
  2. San Diego County Cannabis

Is Cannabis Cultivation Legal in San Diego County?

The cultivation of cannabis for medical and recreational purposes is legal in all of California, including San Diego County. Cannabis in San Diego County is legal following the passage of the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, which came into effect on January 1, 2018. Medical marijuana had been legalized in California in 1996 with the approval of Proposition 215 by 56% of voters. The Compassionate Use Act of 1996, amended in 2003 by Senate Bill 420 (SB420), essentially created the present-day Medical Marijuana Program in California. Recreational marijuana was legalized in 2016 when Proposition 64 was passed with 57% voter approval.

The Control, Regulate, and Tax Adult Use of Cannabis Act legalised the cultivation, sale, and use of cannabis for adults aged 21 years and above in the state. It established the framework for cannabis businesses in the state and the regulation of these businesses. The Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act incorporated both Acts and simplified the rules and requirements for licensing cannabis business operations. It also established the Bureau of Cannabis Control to have oversight over medical and adult-use marijuana in the state. The Act also handed licensing powers for manufacturing and cultivating cannabis to the Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). In 2021, legislators consolidated oversight of all commercial activities related to cannabis in California into the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC).

The Adult Use of Cannabis Act enables private individuals to grow up to six marijuana plants in their private residences for personal consumption. These plants must be cultivated indoors or inside an accessory structure (shed or greenhouse) that is fully enclosed and secured. Following the enactment of the Act, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved regulatory ordinances for the commercial cultivation of marijuana in unincorporated areas of the county. Marijuana cultivation in unincorporated areas must be by licensed medical marijuana collective facilities in the state. Licensing and regulating of the medical marijuana collective facility is by the San Diego Sheriff's Department. Every operational medical marijuana collective facility must receive an operating certificate from the Sheriff's Department to legally grow cannabis in an unincorporated area of the county. There is an annual fee of $49,460 for medical marijuana operating certificates.

Municipalities and other incorporated areas in San Diego County have local control over cannabis cultivation in their jurisdictions, according to the provisions of the Adult Use Act. This means that each municipality's local council will determine if cannabis can be grown within their jurisdictions. Currently, only nine of the eighteen incorporated cities in San Diego County have legalized cannabis commerce in their jurisdictions. These are San Diego City, Chula Vista, Imperial Beach, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, National City, Oceanside, Vista, and Encinitas.

Is Cannabis Manufacturing Legal in San Diego County?

The manufacture of cannabis-infused products became legal in California in 2016; with the enactment of the Control, Regulate, and Tax Adult Use of Cannabis Act. The Act enabled licensed operators to process, extract, and infuse cannabis for commercial purposes. Several municipalities in San Diego County license cannabis manufacturers to operate in their jurisdictions. This permits these businesses to:

  • Label and package cannabis products
  • Infuse cannabis into other products
  • Manufacture cannabis using mechanical processes, non-volatile, and volatile solvents

Licensed cannabis manufacturing business operations are required to maintain all state and local regulations regarding the manufacturing of consumer products. Cannabis manufacturing facilities must adhere to all land use and health regulatory provisions for the manufacture of consumer products. Products such as edibles, medications, and beverages must be manufactured in accordance with state and local regulations and standards.

San Diego County did not originally license cannabis manufacturer business operations in unincorporated areas in the county. However, a recent vote by the County Board of Supervisors seeks to change this policy and authorize the manufacture and retail of cannabis products in unincorporated areas of the county.

Is Cannabis Retail Legal in San Diego County?

Yes, it is possible to purchase cannabis from retail outlets in locations in San Diego County. Municipalities in the county are empowered to regulate cannabis retail sales within their local jurisdictions. Adults and patients in different municipalities in San Diego County can purchase cannabis legally from any of the several licensed cannabis retail outlets in their localities. Municipalities in San Diego county license both recreational and medical marijuana dispensaries to provide cannabis products to both recreational and medical-use consumers. Cannabis-infused products such as edibles, topicals, vapes, and beverages are also legal in municipalities in San Diego County. Cannabis regulations require that cannabis-infused products be properly labeled and packaged before being sold to consumers.

Retail sales of marijuana were previously prohibited in unincorporated areas of San Diego County by the County Board of Supervisors. However, the Board has recently voted to legalize the manufacture and retail of cannabis products in unincorporated areas in San Diego county.

Is Cannabis Delivery Legal in San Diego County?

Yes. California's marijuana laws allow for consumers to receive cannabis deliveries from licensed retail storefronts in the state. California medical marijuana regulations allow valid cardholders to receive deliveries to their residences from licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. Patients will be required to cover the costs of the deliveries in addition to other costs. The Bureau of Cannabis Control's regulations stipulate that recreational marijuana deliveries must originate from licensed brick-and-mortar retail stores. Delivery must be received by the purchaser at the physical location given to the delivery dispatcher when the order was made. Cannabis deliveries can not be redirected to other locations after being dispatched from the retail stores.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a considerable impact on legal cannabis delivery in California. Executive Order N-33-20 was issued by Governor Newsom on March 19, 2020, as a direct effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and its ramifications. The Order essentially categorized the cannabis industry in California as "essential", granting it several special dispensations, including home and curbside deliveries. Delivery of cannabis products is legal in San Diego County, even to areas that prohibit cannabis businesses.

How to Get Medical Marijuana Identification Card in San Diego County

The Medical Marijuana Program in California was established in 1996 when the Compassionate Use Act was approved by California voters. The state's medical marijuana program enables patients with qualifying debilitating medical conditions to register to receive medical marijuana identification cards. Medical marijuana identification cards (MMIC) are available to San Diego County residents with any of the qualifying medical conditions, upon application. To qualify for a medical marijuana ID card, the patient must be diagnosed with any of:

  • AIDS
  • Anorexia
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Chronic Pain
  • Glaucoma
  • Cachexia
  • Acute migraine
  • Seizures
  • Severe nausea
  • Muscle spasms
  • Any chronic debilitating medical condition that may either:
  • restricts their ability to perform any major life activity as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; or
  • may cause harm if not treated.

A patient must obtain a written recommendation from a state-licensed physician verifying that the use of marijuana as a treatment would be beneficial to their condition. To obtain an MMIC, patients must complete and submit a Medical Marijuana Identification Card Application form (english|spanish), along with their supporting documents and the application fees. Applicants for MMICs are required to provide the following supporting documents:

  • A copy of a valid government-issued photo ID, such as driver's license, passport, or Veteran's Administration card.
  • Proof of San Diego residency, such as a utility bill or a current receipt for rent or mortgage.
  • Physician's name, California medical license number, and contact information.
  • A current Benefits ID card or Medi-Cal card (if applicable)

Applications for medical marijuana ID cards must be submitted in person to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) local health service office. In San Diego, applications can be submitted from Mondays to Fridays, between 8.00 a.m and 4.00 p.m, at:

Public Health Services Complex - Rosecrans

3851 Rosecrans Street

Suite 802

San Diego, CA 92110

MMIC application submissions will only be accepted on appointment. Patients must ensure they have appointments before attempting to submit their applications in person. Call (619) 692-5723 to schedule an appointment.

Patients who require primary caregivers must ensure their caregivers complete the Caregiver Section of the form, provide their supporting documents, and pay the required fees. Primary caregivers must be at least 18 years and are required to provide:

  • A copy of a valid government-issued photo ID
  • Proof of California residency

The cost of a medical marijuana ID card for a patient or primary caregiver is $44. MMIC cards are valid for one year from the date of issuance and must be renewed annually for patients to retain their statutory rights. MMIC renewals for patients and their primary caregivers follow the same procedures as the initial applications and cost $44. Patients that are eligible as beneficiaries of Medi-Cal receive a 50% discount on MMIC application fees for themselves and their primary caregivers. Patients that can not return to the Office to receive their MMIC can include a pre-addressed prepaid FedEx envelope with their submissions.

Applicants who are denied MMICs can appeal the decisions to the State Program. To appeal an MMIC denial, complete the Denial Appeals form (english|spanish) and mail, along with a copy of the denied application, to:

California Department of Public Health

Office of County Health Services

Appeals Desk - Medical Marijuana Program

MS 5203

P.O.Box 9977377

Sacramento, CA 95899-7377

Denial appeals must be submitted within 30 days of the applicant receiving the denial notification from the County.

How Has Cannabis Legalization Impacted the Economy of San Diego County?

San Diego County is one of the more conservative counties in California with regards to the regulation of cannabis commerce. Most commercial cannabis activities were prohibited in unincorporated areas until recently, and only eight cities allow cannabis business operations. However, cannabis legalization has generally had a positive impact on the San Diego County economy. Several municipalities in the county have reported vast sums as revenue from taxes on legalized cannabis operations in their jurisdictions. There has been no legal cannabis commerce in unincorporated areas of the county as the County Board of Supervisors has only recently voted to allow this.

The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) reported that San Diego County cannabis sales have consistently increased since the legalization of cannabis commerce. Cannabis sales figures for the county have risen from $140 million in 2018 to $222 million in 2019 and over $350 million in 2020. The CDTFA has released cannabis sales numbers for three quarters in 2021 and San Diego County figures stand at $324,263,213. The different municipalities in the county that allow cannabis commerce are also empowered to impose local taxes on these business operations generating revenue for the respective municipality. An economic impact report (EIR) on the San Diego cannabis industry showed cannabis tax revenues for 2019 in excess of $12 million. The report, compiled by the California State University in San Marcos, reviewed public records from three of the nine cities in the county that permit cannabis commerce.

Cannabis legalization has also created numerous new jobs across the state. The EIR estimates that there are over 67,000 indirect or direct jobs attributed to the cannabis industry in California, with over 39,000 full-time employees.

The Effects of Cannabis Legalization on Crime Rates in San Diego County?

The legalization of cannabis in California has resulted in a drop in marijuana-related crimes across the state, including in San Diego County. Marijuana-related arrest figures are compiled by the California Department of Justice yearly for the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Marijuana possession by adults became legal in 2016 when recreational marijuana was legalized. Prior to that only persons with valid medical marijuana identification cards could legally possess cannabis in San Diego.

A 5-year (2016 - 2020) analysis of marijuana-related arrests by the Sheriff's Department in San Diego County indicates a mostly downward trend in marijuana-related crimes. There were 9 total marijuana-related arrests in 2020, indicating a 28.6% increase from 2019. This was the only increase in the last five years as marijuana-related arrests had decreased steadily from 2016 when recreational marijuana was legalized in California. Marijuana-related arrests in San Diego County dropped by 91% between 2016 and 2017 and again by 61.1% between 2017 and 2018. Total marijuana arrests dropped from 201 in 2016 to 9 in 2020, representing a 95.5% decrease over the 5-year period.

San Diego County Cannabis Overview