Santa Cruz County Cannabis – Is It Legal & Where To Buy 2024

Is Cannabis Cultivation Legal in Santa Cruz County?

Yes. In Santa Cruz County, cannabis cultivation is permitted. Cannabis has been legal in California for medical purposes since 1996 and for recreational purposes since late 2016. The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors passed local legislation to authorize and oversee the cannabis industry in a way that balances the needs of the industry and the public while safeguarding the environment and the health, safety, and welfare of Santa Cruz County residents and businesses.

The Santa Cruz County Code Chapter 7.128 defines "cannabis cultivation" as the planting, developing, growing, propagating, harvesting, processing, curing, drying, trimming, grading, packaging, or storage of one or more cannabis plants in any area, whether indoors or outdoors, including a fully enclosed facility.

There are ten cannabis cultivation license categories in Santa Cruz County, including Class CA license (Commercial Agriculture) and Class RA license (Residential Agriculture).

  • Class CA license - For single licensees on a sole parcel, up to 2.5% of the parcel's size may be used for canopy, immature plant growing sections, and/or nursery operations, with a total area of no more than 22,000 square feet. A total of 1.25% of the parcel's area, up to 11,000 square feet, may be used for nursery activities, immature plant growth regions, or some combination of the two. In the coastal zone, the cultivation area for outdoor cultivation shall not be greater than 22,000 square feet.

  • Class RA license - The cultivation area can take place between five and ten acres in size, up to 1.25% percent of the total area of the land, but not to exceed 5,100 square feet. For lots bigger than 10 acres, cultivation can take place in up to 1.25% of the total area but no more than 10,000 square feet.

Cannabis cultivation on a parcel is only permitted if the cultivator or cultivation manager resides there in a permitted dwelling within that parcel. However, Class CA is exempt from this provision. In addition, any parcel with ongoing violations of the Santa Cruz County Code, including but not restricted to those pertaining to grading, building, zoning, environmental, or fire code violations, cannot be granted a license to grow cannabis. Cannabis cultivation is not allowed on land that is publicly owned.

If cannabis is grown outdoors, the growing environment must be completely secure. The Licensing Official will decide whether the area must be surrounded by an opaque fence at least six feet tall with a locked gate to prevent unauthorized entry or whether alternative fencing, including alternative location, height, and material, will be approved on a case-by-case basis. Also, indoor cannabis cultivation is prohibited unless all land use and building code criteria are satisfied. Cannabis may not be grown indoors if growing lights or plants can be seen from a building with habitation, a nearby private right-of-way with public access, or a public right-of-way.

The minimum age requirement for workers in cultivation facilities is 18. Employees under the age of 21 are required to complete specialized training and educational requirements that will be determined by the Licensing Official.

Furthermore, personal cultivation of cannabis for recreational use is allowed in Santa Cruz County in accordance with Chapter 7.134 of the Santa Cruz County Code. Any person who grows cannabis for personal, noncommercial, recreational use is subject to the following limitations:

  • At any given private residence, a maximum of six cannabis plants may be grown.

  • Only a structure or enclosure that is located on the property of a private household may be used for cultivation (the structure includes a prefabricated shed or greenhouse).

  • Cannabis plants must be grown by a person at least 21 years old and resides in the private premises where they are kept.

  • Cannabis plants cannot be seen from a public area with unaided, normal vision.

  • Any building or enclosure used for growing cannabis needs to be kept closed and protected to prevent unwanted access.

A qualified patient or person with a valid medical marijuana ID card, or the person designated as the eligible patient's primary caregiver, may also grow medical cannabis at their residences in a quantity that does not exceed 100 square feet of the total garden canopy.

Is Cannabis Manufacturing Legal in Santa Cruz County?

Marijuana manufacturing is legal in Santa Cruz County. There are three categories of local cannabis manufacturing licenses:

  • Class 1: Manufacturing of infused products without performing any extraction activities.

  • Class 2: Manufacturing, including extraction of cannabis products with or without the use of non-volatile solvents. The term "infusion" may also refer to this licensing type.

  • Class 3: Manufacturing, including extraction of cannabis utilizing volatile solvents. This license type may also involve infusion as well as extraction with or without non-volatile solvents

Class 2 and Class 3 license holders are required to get a “hazardous materials permit” from the county before storing any hazardous materials that are equal to or greater than the State reporting criteria. No cannabis utilized in manufacturing may come from an unlicensed grower, manufacturer, or distributor. Licensed manufacturers are prohibited from selling directly to consumers and are only permitted to sell to other licensed cannabis businesses within the State of California. This is according to Section 7.128.130.

The licensee is also required to keep detailed records of all raw materials and/or cannabis extracts used in manufacturing and processing, including information on the operator or supplier, location, address, State and local license information, and volume of products being manufactured.

Additionally, an authorized commercial-grade kitchen facility is required for the manufacture of edible cannabis products. It is prohibited to manufacture non-cannabis items in the same kitchen facilities used to manufacture cannabis products. It is also against the law to produce edibles in the form of an animal, human, or fruit.

No one below 21 years old is permitted on the grounds of a cannabis manufacturing facility. Cannabis manufacturing facilities must be unavailable to the general public and, if possible, entirely enclosed.

Environmental health officials from Santa Cruz County have the authority to impose any additional limitations or requirements necessary to protect the public's health and to inspect any area of the facility used for the production of commercial cannabis at any time during regular business hours to verify compliance.

Is Cannabis Retail Legal in Santa Cruz County?

Yes, retail sales of cannabis are permitted in Santa Cruz County. According to Chapter 7.130 of the Santa Cruz County Code, anyone who owns, establishes, uses, or permits the establishment or operation of a dispensary without first obtaining the valid local license and the valid State license required by California law is prohibited from operating and shall be considered a public nuisance.

No license may be granted to run a cannabis dispensary that is less than 600 feet from any of the following: a school, another cannabis dispensary, an alcohol or drug treatment center, or a school. In addition, a dispensary cannot be run legally within 300 feet of a residentially zoned parcel. If it is determined that the general public benefit would outweigh issues concerning land use compatibility, the intensity of use, and public health and safety, the Licensing Official may decide to waive this requirement. If this restriction is waived, the public shall be informed and given a chance to contest the decision.

Furthermore, Section G of Chapter 7.130 specifies the following grounds for revocation of a dispensary license:

  • Dispensaries functioning between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m.

  • Allowing customers to consume alcohol or marijuana on a dispensary's property (the term "premises" covers any space utilized to park cars)

  • Allowing a minor to access a dispensary without their parents or guardians

  • Allowing a person under the age of 21 to transport, deliver, dispense, or give away cannabis on the dispensary's behalf

  • Allowing marijuana to be visible outside of a dispensary or a vehicle that delivers marijuana

  • Except for illumination that is properly used for security, lighting any area of a dispensary between 10:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m.

  • Failure of a dispensary owner or applicant to pass the background investigation mandated by the licensing official

  • Supplying a space on-site where doctors or other medical personnel can draft recommendations for medicinal marijuana

  • Failure to take sufficient security measures at all times, including but not limited to having a dedicated security team on duty during a dispensary's operating hours

The allowed forms of cannabis for sale in Santa Cruz County are topical salves, lotions, beverages, edibles, and tinctures.

In Santa Cruz County, adults aged 21 and older are allowed to have 8 grams of concentrated cannabis and 28.5 grams of cannabis plant material (around an ounce). It is unlawful to open a cannabis package or any cannabis product in a public place. Cannabis consumption is allowed on private property, although landlords and property owners have the right to prohibit cannabis consumption and possession on their properties. Cannabis use is prohibited in public and other places where smoking is prohibited, such as on the beach, in bars, restaurants, public buildings, workplaces, and spaces within 15 feet of doors and ventilation openings.

Carrying cannabis across state lines is unlawful, even if you are going or traveling to another state where cannabis is permitted. Cannabis use while driving is also prohibited by law.

Is Cannabis Delivery Legal in Santa Cruz County?

In Santa Cruz County, delivery of marijuana from dispensaries to patients with medical marijuana ID cards is allowed. Section F of Chapter 7.130 states that cannabis can be delivered to customers through mobile delivery to their homes by dispensary license holders. Cannabis delivery can only be made by locally licensed dispensaries.

For the purpose of accounting, licensees using mobile deliveries must be able to distinguish between sales made on-site and those made via mobile delivery and be able to account for both. Licensees using mobile deliveries must maintain complete and appropriate financial records that enable audit of all transactions made via mobile delivery.

It is forbidden for licensees to advertise their companies or services on their delivery vehicles if they use mobile delivery services.

How to Get Medical Marijuana Card in Santa Cruz County

The Medical Marijuana Identification Card (MMIC) Program is administered by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). Applications for State Medical Marijuana Identification Cards for Santa Cruz County residents are handled by the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency.

In order to obtain a medical marijuana card in California, you must complete an application or renewal form. You must be a resident of the California county where the application is being submitted. The following paperwork must be submitted with your application:

  • A copy of your medical referral

  • Proof of identification. This can be a valid driver's license issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or another valid government-issued photo ID card.

  • Proof of residency, including a utility bill, a lease or mortgage contract, or a California DMV vehicle registration.

You must visit the Santa Cruz County program in person to apply. You will be required to: \

  • Pay the fee that your county program requires (not to exceed $100). The application fee for Medi-Cal recipients will be reduced by 50% (up to a maximum of $50), and the price for indigent patients who qualify for and participate in the County Medical Services Program will be abolished.

  • At the county's program office, have your picture taken. Your MMIC will display this image.

The county has 30 days to validate your application after you submit it, along with the necessary documents to your county program. The county program has five days to provide you with the MMIC after it has verified your application.

A serious medical condition that qualifies for MMIC is any of the following:

  • AIDS

  • Anorexia

  • Arthritis

  • Cachexia (wasting syndrome)

  • Cancer

  • Chronic pain

  • Glaucoma

  • Migraine

  • Persistent muscle spasms (such as those caused by multiple sclerosis)

  • Seizures (such as epileptic seizures)

  • Severe nausea

  • Any other chronic or persistent medical symptom that significantly restricts a person's ability to engage in one or more major life activities, or that, if not relieved, may have a major negative impact on a person's safety, physical, or mental well-being

A qualified patient with a valid identification card or the primary caregiver designated for that eligible patient may possess up to three pounds of dried medical cannabis bud or conversion per year.

To learn more about MMIC, you may contact:

Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency

Medical Marijuana Program

1060 Emeline Ave

Santa Cruz, CA 95060

(831) 454-3431

Business Hours:

By Appointment Only

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

The cannabis business tax in Santa Cruz County is set at 7% of gross receipts. However, the exception currently applies to cannabis cultivation and manufacturing businesses. Every person involved in the cannabis cultivation and manufacturing business must pay a cannabis business tax at a rate of 6% of gross earnings on January 1, 2020, until December 31, 2022. Beginning January 1, 2023, and continuing thereafter, anyone engaged in the cannabis cultivation and manufacturing business must pay a cannabis business tax of 7% of gross receipts.

Since January 2018, cannabis taxes in California have generated a total of $4.4 billion in income, which includes $1.7 billion in sales taxes, $500.3 million in cultivation taxes, and $2.2 billion in excise taxes. At the end of the third quarter on November 16, 2022, there were $242 million in cannabis tax revenues.

The state budget for the fiscal year 2021–2022 allocates approximately $400 million in cannabis tax income to child care and prevention services for thousands of children in poverty.

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

The State of California approved recreational marijuana in late 2016. Data gathered from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office in the FBI crime report showed a varying number of DUI cases from 2015, 2016, to 2017— from 1 to 2 and 1 arrests, respectively. Whereas marijuana arrests in Santa Cruz County also varied in 2015, 2016, and 2017— from 7 arrests to 12 and 2, respectively.

In this section:
Santa Cruz County Cannabis Overview