Santa Cruz County Cannabis Overview

  1. California Cannabis
  2. Santa Cruz County Cannabis

Is Cannabis Cultivation Legal in Santa Cruz County?

Santa Cruz County allows qualified persons to cultivate cannabis for medical and recreational use in accordance with Chapter 7.124 of the Santa Cruz County Code (SCCC). Qualified consumers of cannabis include persons 21 years old or over, qualified patients with medical marijuana ID cards, or designated primary caregivers of qualified patients. Adults aged 21 years or over are allowed to grow no more than six cannabis plants for recreational use. On the other hand, qualified patients and designated primary caregivers may cultivate cannabis not exceeding 100 square feet of total garden canopy, consistent with measurement by the combined vegetative growth area.

California allows medical and recreational cannabis cultivation under the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA), signed on June 27, 2017. The MAUCRSA formed a single regulatory structure that is relevant across the state. It combined the medical and adult-use regulatory schemes. MAUCRSA authorizes counties to grant or withhold local permits for cannabis commercial activities.

Personal-use cultivation in Santa Cruz County may only take place inside an ancillary structure, such as a prefabricated shed or greenhouse or enclosed area existing on the grounds of a private residence. A cannabis cultivation site must be locked and secured to prevent unauthorized entry. Cannabis plants must not be visible with an unaided vision from a public place.

Santa Cruz permits the cultivation of cannabis for commercial purposes. However, a commercial cannabis cultivator must hold a current and valid local license, Use Permit from the Santa Cruz Planning Department, and a valid State license required under California law. The local commercial cultivation license is issued by Santa Cruz's Cannabis Licensing Office under the Non-Retail Commercial Cannabis Business Licensing Program. Applicants who want to make inquiries or book appointments can email cannabisinfo@santacruzcounty.us or call (831) 454-3426 for time-sensitive requests. The Santa Cruz's Cannabis Licensing Office is located at:

701 Ocean Street, Room 520,

Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Phone: (831) 454-3833 (Individuals can leave messages after hours)

Drop-in hours are 9:00 am to noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Individuals visiting at other times will be required to schedule an appointment.

Some of the information and documentation required when applying for a local cultivation license are:

  • The names of the applicant(s) and the owner(s) of the proposed non-retail commercial cannabis business
  • Background details required by the Licensing Official, such as a statement that the applicant and owner(s) have been subject to a Live Scan background check no more than 30 days before the date the application is submitted
  • The applicant and owners' waiver and release of Santa Cruz County from any liability for monetary damages pertaining to or arising from license application, license issuance, license denial, or the enforcement of the provisions of the license, including a detailed defense and indemnification of the county from any third-party action on license issuance
  • Information concerning submittal of applications for required land use and building permits
  • The exact location, including street address and Assessor's Parcel Number(s) where the non-retail commercial cannabis business activity will take place;
  • A copy of all applications the applicant submitted for State licensure of cannabis business operations
  • Tax identification information
  • Security plans
  • A map containing the exact location of the cultivation site (It is required that cultivation takes place in a single growing area where total canopy may be easily measured, or within as few areas as reasonably possible, instead of being spread throughout the parcel)
  • Identification of previous law enforcement and code enforcement activity at the cannabis site
  • A completed Best Management and Operational Practices Plan in line with the provisions of SCCC 13.10.650(B)(3)

An applicant must also provide any other information required by the Licensing Official for the County's thorough application review. Note that cultivation is not yet permitted on properties in the Coastal Commission.

Local cannabis cultivation licenses in Santa Cruz County include:

  • Class CA licenses for cultivation on parcels zoned CA (Commercial Agriculture) under SCCC 13.10.311 et seq, Santa Cruz County Zoning Ordinance
  • Class A licenses for cultivation on parcels zoned A (Agriculture) under the Santa Cruz County Zoning Ordinance.
  • Class C-4 licenses for cultivation on parcels zoned C-4 (Commercial Services) under the Santa Cruz County Zoning Ordinance.
  • Class RA licenses for cultivation on parcels zoned RA (Residential Agriculture) under the Santa Cruz County Zoning Ordinance.
  • Class SU licenses for cultivation on parcels zoned SU (Special Use) with a General Plan land use designation of "I" (Heavy Industry), "AG" (Agriculture), "R-R" (Rural Residential), "R-M" (Mountain Residential), per the SCCC Zoning Ordinance.
  • Class M licenses for cultivation on parcels zoned M-1 (Small Light Industrial), M-2 (Light Industrial), or M-3 (Mineral Extraction Industrial) under the Santa Cruz County Zoning Ordinance.
  • Class CG licenses for cottage gardens sited on parcels zoned CA, A, RA, TP, and SU per the Santa Cruz County Zoning Ordinance.
  • Class TP licenses for cultivation on parcels zoned TP (Timber Production) per the Santa Cruz County Zoning Ordinance.
  • Class CG licenses for cottage gardens sited on parcels zoned CA, A, RA, TP, and SU per the Santa Cruz County Zoning Ordinance.
  • Class N licenses for cannabis nursery activity on parcels zoned CA, A, TP, RA, and SU, under the Santa Cruz County Zoning Ordinance.
  • Class P licenses for activities solely pertaining to cannabis processing (no actual cultivation) on parcels zoned CA, C-4, and M, per the Santa Cruz County Zoning Ordinance.

Is Cannabis Manufacturing Legal in Santa Cruz County?

According to 7.128.130 of the Santa Cruz County Code, cannabis manufacturing is allowed in Santa Cruz County, provided it is carried out within the limits of the law. A cannabis manufacturer is required to obtain any of the following licenses:

  • Class 1: Manufacture of infused products without engaging in any extraction activities.
  • Class 2: Manufacture of cannabis products with extraction using non-volatile solvents or no solvents. This license category may also include infusion.
  • Class 3: Manufacture of cannabis products involving extraction using volatile solvents. This license category may also include extraction and infusion using non-volatile solvents or no solvents.

Santa Cruz's Cannabis Licensing Office will only issue cannabis manufacturing licenses for activities undertaken in the zone districts listed below, per the additional limitations and approvals required by Chapter 7.128.130 and Chapter 13.10 of the SCCC:

  • CA (Commercial Agriculture)
  • A (Agriculture)
  • RA (Residential Agricultural)
  • C-2 (Community Commercial)
  • C-4 (Commercial Services)
  • TP (Timber Production)
  • M-1 (Light Industrial)
  • M-2 (Heavy Industrial)
  • M-3 (Mineral Extraction Industrial)
  • SU (Special Use). Licenses issued on parcels in the SU zone district are further restricted.

Some regulations for commercial cannabis manufacturing in Santa Cruz County are:

  • Cannabis used for commercial manufacturing of cannabis products must be locked and secured at all times to prevent access by persons under age 21 and unauthorized visitors or animals.

  • Licenses for manufacturing activities may only be issued where the manufacturing activities are ancillary to licensed commercial cultivation on the parcel, except for in CA, C-4, and M zone districts.

  • Cannabis manufacturers in all zones where manufacturing is permitted may import cannabis material from licensed California cultivators, manufacturers, or distributors to support manufacturing activity, subject to the limitations outlined in Chapter 13.10 SCCC.

  • Cannabis manufacturers must not source cannabis used in manufacture from an unlicensed cultivator, manufacturer, or distributor. Licensed cannabis manufacturers may only sell their products within the State of California to other licensed cannabis businesses and not directly to consumers.

  • Cannabis manufacturers must maintain at the facility complete and accurate records of all raw and cannabis extract source materials used in manufacturing with all source identification information. This includes origin, operator/supplier name, address, location, State and local license information, and quantity of product in manufacture.

  • County of Santa Cruz Environmental Health Officials may inspect any portion of the commercial cannabis facility during regular business hours to ensure compliance with the law. They may also impose any additional restrictions or requirements to ensure public health.

Manufacture and packaging of cannabis products must be done in accordance with the provisions and requirements set by the MAUCRSA, California Department of Public Health, Office of Manufactured Cannabis Safety (OMCS), and Chapter 7.128.130 of the SCCC. This will also include other applicable local and state laws and administrative rules and regulations promulgated by the Licensing Official. These administrative rules and regulations entail that the licensee complies with all laws and regulations related to:

  • Environmental resources
  • Zoning and land use
  • Natural resource protection
  • Water supply
  • Water quality
  • Hazardous materials
  • Pesticide use
  • Wastewater discharge requirements and any permit or right necessary to divert water

Licensed manufacturers can produce edibles, but the production must occur within an authorized commercial-grade kitchen facility. The kitchen facility must be dedicated to only cannabis; non-cannabis products may not be produced at the same place. The law prohibits the production of edibles in the shape of a human, animal, or fruit.

Is Cannabis Retail Legal in Santa Cruz County?

Santa Cruz allows the retail sale of cannabis in the county. Retail sales of cannabis and cannabis products directly to consumers are guided by the dispensary regulations outlined in SCCC 7.130. Persons qualified to purchase cannabis from county dispensaries in the unincorporated area of Santa Cruz County are adults aged 21 years or over, qualified patients, and their primary caregivers. The types of cannabis products that dispensaries sell in Santa Cruz County include edibles, concentrates, cannabis flowers, prerolls, vaporizers, tinctures, clones, and topicals. The retailer must obtain a license from Santa Cruz County and the state to operate a dispensary. The applicant's live scan and a site inspection will be required for application and renewal. An applicant for a retail/dispensary license will not be issued a license unless the location of the dispensary is in a zone district designated by the Santa Cruz County Zoning Ordinance as:

  • PA (Professional and Administrative Offices);
  • CT (Tourist Commercial);
  • C-1 (Neighborhood Commercial);
  • C-2 (Community Commercial), or
  • C-4 (Commercial Services).

Only 12 licensed dispensaries are permitted to operate in Santa Cruz. No license may be issued to operate a dispensary located within 600 feet from a school, another cannabis dispensary, or an alcohol or drug treatment facility. The distance shall be the horizontal distance measured in a straight line from the school or other dispensary's property to the closest property line of the lot containing the dispensary under review, without regard to intervening structures. The distance requirement does not apply to licensed health care and other facilities identified in California Health and Safety Code Section 11362.7(d)(1) or a dispensary that violates the distance requirement.

The department shall not issue a license to run a dispensary within 300 feet of any parcel zoned as any of the following:

  • RA (Single-Family Residential and Agriculture);
  • R-1 (Single-Family Residential, Urban/Rural);
  • RR (Single-Family Residential, Rural);
  • RM (Multiple-Family Residential); or
  • RB (Single-Family Residential, Oceanfront/Urban).

Is Cannabis Delivery Legal in Santa Cruz County?

Santa Cruz allows licensed dispensaries to deliver cannabis and cannabis products to clients' residential addresses within the unincorporated area of the county. Only locally licensed dispensaries can engage in mobile delivery of cannabis purchased by consumers online or over the telephone. Cannabis delivery is approved for persons with medical marijuana ID cards. Dispensaries engaging in mobile deliveries must keep complete and appropriate financial records to enable audit of all transactions done via mobile delivery. Dispensaries must also account for and distinguish between on-site sales and mobile delivery sales for accounting purposes. Santa Cruz County prohibits all forms of advertisement by dispensaries or their delivery vehicles. Cannabis or cannabis products being delivered must not be visible from the exterior of a dispensary or a cannabis delivery vehicle.

How to Get Medical Marijuana Card in Santa Cruz County

The Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency processes qualified patients' applications for California's Medical Marijuana Identification Cards (MMIC) in Santa Cruz County. An applicant for an MMIC is required to schedule an appointment with the Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program by calling (831) 454-3431 or sending a request. If an applicant calls (831) 454-3431, they are expected to leave a message requesting an appointment, after which a staff member will call back promptly to schedule a half-hour appointment. Note that before the appointment, an applicant must obtain medical documentation or Written Documentation of Patient's Medical Records (CDPH-9044) from their attending physician. The attending physician must also complete the Physician Attestation form. Applicants must have these two documents available when scheduling an appointment.

An applicant for a medical marijuana identification card must provide the following:

  • A completed Medical Marijuana Identification Program Application/Renewal (Spanish form)
  • A valid proof of identity, such as a California ID or California Drivers License, U.S. Passport, or Veteran's Administration Card
  • Proof of Santa Cruz County Residency, such as an unexpired and valid motor vehicle registration, or a recent rent or mortgage receipt or utility bill in the applicant's name and with a current address within the county
  • A Licensed California Doctor's Recommendation (An original copy of a current/valid physician's statement)
  • Applicant's physician's name, contact information, and California medical license number
  • Nonrefundable application fee of $100 for the Medical Marijuana ID Card (Payment by cash or money order only). The fee may be $50 if the applicant is a Medi-Cal beneficiary; in such a case, they must present a current Medi-Cal card.

If an applicant is applying for a Primary Caregiver ID Card, they must present valid proof of their identity as stated above. The Primary Caregiver must accompany the medical cannabis patient when applying for a card. The Primary Caregiver must also complete section 4 of the application.

How Has Cannabis Legalization Impacted the Economy of Santa Cruz County?

The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) publishes a quarterly Cannabis Sales by County report detailing the taxable cannabis sales and per capita sales of cannabis in each county. In 2018, Santa Cruz County recorded $37,644,879 taxable sales, while in 2019, taxable sales increased to $52,285,515. Santa Cruz's County taxable sales further increased to $58,607,207 in 2020. The report shows a consistent increase in taxable sales in Santa Cruz County. With the cannabis business tax rate of 6% of gross receipts imposed on cannabis cultivators that commenced on January 1, 2020, through December 31, 2022, cannabis will generate even more income for the county.

The Effects of Cannabis Legalization on Crime Rates in Santa Cruz County?

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office and other law enforcement agencies in the county yearly submit crime data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). A study on the crime reports for the year before marijuana legalization and the years after marijuana legalization shows how legalizing cannabis has affected the crime rate in the county. In 2016, the year before legalization, Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office reported 12 arrests for marijuana possession and 14 arrests for marijuana sale/manufacturing. In 2017, marijuana-related arrests reduced significantly as the Sheriff's Office recorded only two marijuana possession offenses and three marijuana sales offenses. In 2018, marijuana possession offenses increased to four, but there was no marijuana sale/manufacturing offense. Marijuana-related arrests increased again in 2019 as the County Sheriff recorded six arrests for marijuana drug possession and seven arrests for marijuana sale/manufacturing. However, in 2020, the crime rate dropped; as there were three arrests for marijuana sales but none for marijuana possession.

According to the Santa Cruz County Highway Patrol crime report submitted to the FBI, there were 841 DUI arrests made in 2016. DUIs increased to 1,061 in 2017 and 1,122 in 2018. DUIs further increased in 2019, as 1,192 DUIs were recorded. However, the number of DUI arrests fell to 977 in 2020.

The crime data for marijuana-related arrests indicate that the legalization of marijuana has generally reduced the marijuana-related crimes in Santa Cruz County. On the other hand, DUI crimes have continued to increase yearly since marijuana legalization, until 2020, when the DUI crime rate reduced.

Santa Cruz County Cannabis Overview