San Mateo County Cannabis – Is It Legal & Where To Buy 2024

Is Cannabis Cultivation Legal in San Mateo County?

Pursuant to Section 5.148.030 of the San Mateo Code of Ordinances, commercial cannabis cultivation is permitted in the unincorporated areas county by entities or persons who have obtained valid licenses to conduct cannabis cultivation. However, the provisions in that section of the code of ordinances do not provide any immunity or protection for any person from federal or state laws or prosecution under any applicable federal or state laws.

Although California voters approved medicinal cannabis use through Proposition 215 and recreational cannabis use through Proposition 64, California law permits cities and counties to restrict cannabis activities within their jurisdictions as they deem fit.

According to Section 5.148.040 of the San Mateo Code of Ordinances, the following persons may conduct non-commercial cannabis cultivation:

  • As defined in California Health and Safety Code Section 11362.7, a qualified patient who cultivates cannabis for personal medicinal use alone and does not offer, donate, sell, or distribute cannabis to any other person.
  • A primary caregiver, as defined in California Health and Safety Code Section 11362.7, who cultivates cannabis solely for the personal medical purposes of no more than five specified qualified patients for whom the cultivator is the primary caregiver, but who does not receive compensation for these activities except as required by California Health and Safety Code Section 11362.765(c)
  • A person aged 21 or older who cultivates cannabis solely for personal non-medical use inside a private residence or an supplementary structure to a private residence located on the grounds of a private residence that is completely enclosed and secure as authorized by California Health and Safety Code Section 11362.

According to Section 5.148.050 of the San Mateo Code of Ordinances, only licenses for mixed-light nursery cultivation and mixed-light cultivation of cannabis are issued in the county. That is, cannabis cultivation license applicants can only obtain the following licenses in San Mateo County:

  • Type 1B - Cultivation, Specialty Mixed-Light, Small
  • Type 2B - Cultivation, Specialty Mixed-Light, Small
  • Type 3B - Cultivation, Mixed-Light, Medium
  • Type 4 - Cultivation, Nursery

These licenses are only issued for:

  • Land parcels designated "Agriculture" by the County General Plan Land Use Map; and
  • Other lands on which commercial agricultural use has been carried out for three years prior to the effective date of the San Mateo Code of Ordinance (2017), as certified by the Agriculture Commissioner.

Other than the stated exemptions, San Mateo County does not permit the commercial outdoor and indoor cultivation of cannabis either for medical or non-medical purposes in the county's unincorporated areas. Additionally, no personal non-medical outdoor cultivation of cannabis is allowed in the unincorporated areas of San Mateo County.

According to the San Mateo Planning and Building Department, the Department will not limit the total number of licenses that an owner may hold at any point, as long as the licensee's total approved canopy, as indicated on the licenses, is under 66,000 square feet on a single parcel or across several parcels. The Department permits licensees to locate multiple cannabis cultivation licenses on the same parcel, provided each cultivation premises has a unique entrance and immovable physical barriers separating the uniquely licensed premises. Per county law, licensees are not allowed to commingle cannabis from other premises.

All structures connected with cultivation must be situated back a minimum of 300 feet from adjacent residential and commercial structures. This setback applies only to residential and commercial buildings that exist at the moment a license is initially granted for the subject property unless the subject property is without a valid license for 18 months or longer after the first license issuance.

In the latter situation, residential and commercial buildings added to neighboring properties are presumed to have existed at the time the license was initially granted, and the 300-foot setback requirement applies to such structures. The 300-foot buffer does not apply to residential or commercial buildings located on the same property as the cannabis cultivation site.

Per Section 5.148.160 of the San Mateo Code of Ordinance, all cannabis cultivation premises must have a minimum setback of 500 feet from any school offering education to K-12 grades, youth centers or playgrounds defined under Section 11353.1 of the California Health and Safety Code, licensed daycare center, and alcohol or drug treatment facility defined under Section 11834.02 of the California Health and Safety Code.

Also, all premises other than those operating only under a Type 4 nursery license must be setback at least 600 feet from any properties designated for residential use by the San Mateo County General Plan or any local general plan.

In San Mateo County, cannabis cultivators must not displace any non-cannabis commercial production with their cultivation activities. However, a licensee may offset a proposed cultivation site by relocating existing agricultural production to a separate area of the property where the cultivation premises are located on a 1:1 ratio. In such instances, a relocation must not conflict with any applicable regulation or policy. If the proposed cultivation site is located on a parcel subject to the Land Conservation Act contract, the licensee must comply with the Uniform Rules and Procedures of the Land Use Conservation Act prior to conducting cannabis cultivation activities.

Is Cannabis Manufacturing Legal in San Mateo County?

Pursuant to Section 5.148.050 of the San Mateo Code of Ordinances, cannabis manufacturing is illegal in unincorporated parts of the county. However, some cities in the county have approved cannabis manufacturing within their borders. For instance, Brisbane city and South San Francisco city permit cannabis manufacturing within their borders.

Is Cannabis Retail Legal in San Mateo County?

According to Section 5.148.050 of the San Mateo Code of Ordinance, cannabis retail activities are prohibited in unincorporated parts of the county. Still, with Proposition 64 permitting cities to set their cannabis activity rules, many cities allow cannabis dispensaries to operate in their jurisdictions. Burlingame City, Redwood City, Brisbane City, and South San Francisco are all San Mateo County cities permitting cannabis retail.

Is Cannabis Delivery Legal in San Mateo County?

Per Section 5.148.050 of the San Mateo code of ordinance, delivery of cannabis to consumers is lawful in the county. In accordance with the provisions of this section, no physical locations for delivery services are permitted within the unincorporated parts of the county.

However, Burlingame City Council has approved non-storefront cannabis delivery businesses to operate in certain parts of the city's industrial districts. While Burlingame City prohibits cannabis businesses from selling cannabis on-site, these businesses are also not permitted to display any exterior signs on their premises or delivery cars, as well as publicizing their business location.

Burlingame City requires all prospective cannabis delivery businesses to obtain conditional use permits from the county Planning Commission to operate. Brisbane City permits cannabis delivery establishments, Redwood City permits delivery and up to six storefront retail businesses, while South San Francisco also permits delivery, depending on the zoning district.

How to Get Medical Marijuana Card in San Mateo County

Per SB 420, California's Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program (MMICP) advises counties in the state to administer a voluntary card registration program that permits eligible patients and their primary caregivers to apply for and obtain identification cards through the county of residence. In order to obtain a medical marijuana identification card (MMIC), you need to get certified for medical marijuana. A doctor or physician licensed as an MD or DO must certify in writing that medical cannabis is an appropriate treatment for the condition suffered. The condition must be listed as one of the qualifying medical conditions for medical cannabis use in California.

Applications for MMICs in San Mateo County are required to be completed in person at:

San Mateo County Health

225 37th Avenue, Room 11

San Mateo, CA 94403

Phone: (650) 573-2395

The county health department is open for applications Monday through Friday between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., except for holidays.

To complete an application, take along:

  • Completed Patient Application Form
  • Written documentation of patient's medical record (Form CDPH 9044) or physician recommendation on letterhead.
  • Proof of identity, such as a drivers' license, passport, or other government-issued photo ID card.
  • Proof of San Mateo County residency, such as a recent utility bill, rent or mortgage receipt with your name on it
  • The application fee. The fee is $100 for non-Medi-Cal beneficiaries or $50 for Medi-Cal beneficiaries. Applicants who intend to receive the Medi-Cal discount must take along their Medi-Cal cards. To designate a primary caregiver, the applicant must complete the Primary Caregiver Application Form.

The designated caregiver is also required to accompany the applicant during the application. Note that the fee for a primary caregiver is the same as the patient's fee. You may make payment by cash, check, or credit card. For credit card payments, only Visa and Mastercard credit cards are accepted.

The County of San Mateo Health has 30 days to validate your application once you submit your full application form together with the required papers. The county's MMIC Program has 5 days after the application is confirmed to make the MMIC available to you. That is, if your application is complete and the county MMIC program finds no cause to decline your application, it may take up to 35 days to obtain your MMIC.

If any information or required documentation is missing, your application may be delayed. Then, the county MMIC Program will contact you within 30 days of your application submission. If you have not received your MMIC within 35 days, contact the County of San Mateo Health MMIC program.

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

Following the start of recreational cannabis sales in early 2018, San Mateo County recorded per capita sales of $1.51 and total taxable sales of $1,171,831 between the second and the fourth quarter of 2018. In the following year, data could only be obtained for the revenue generated in the fourth quarter of the year. In that period, San Mateo County generated $10.45 in per capita sales and $8,059,257 in total taxable sales. In 2020, cumulative per capita sales reached $35.03, while the total taxable sales was $27,025,496.

Data for the revenue generated in 2021 are currently available for only the first three quarters of the year. In that period, San Mateo County generated $26.57 in per capita sales and $20,342,187 in total taxable sales. Hence, the revenue generated from the cannabis industry in San Mateo County has served as a boost to the county's economy.

The Effects of Cannabis Legalization on Crime Rates in San Mateo County

San Mateo County has witnessed a dwindling crime rate since the sales of cannabis for recreational use began in 2018. With adult-use cannabis approved in January 2018, San Mateo County recorded 256 arrests for DUI offenses, 8 arrests for marijuana possession, and only 1 arrest for marijuana sale. In 2019, the record was 237 arrests for DUI offenses, 4 arrests for marijuana possession, and 3 arrests for marijuana sales. In 2020, the county recorded 156 DUI arrests, 1 marijuana possession arrest, and 21 marijuana sale arrests.

Note that in the years preceding adult-use cannabis sales, the record was 266 DUI arrests, 21 marijuana possession arrests, and 36 marijuana sales arrests in 2016. In 2017, San Mateo County recorded 266 DUI arrests, 20 marijuana possession arrests, and 14 marijuana sales arrests.

In this section:
San Mateo County Cannabis Overview