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How Tourists Can Buy Marijuana in California

If you're old enough to buy a beer in California, you're old enough to buy recreational cannabis products. But that doesn't mean it's a free-for-all. Here are the rules for buying pot legally. 

Search online for a "recreational cannabis dispensary."

Some California dispensaries only serve medical clients with local addresses, but retail dispensaries are open to the public. Use PotGuide or Weedmaps to locate a facility and call ahead or check the website of the business to verify that it is open to public sales.

Almost all dispensaries post their menus online so you can browse before you visit.

Bring I.D. and cash.

The federal government and states have bickered over legalization for years, which makes credit card companies leery of running afoul of federal law by facilitating sales. Because of this, nearly all dispensaries have an ATM on the premises. Debit card usage may also be permitted.

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In general, dispensaries take their licenses seriously and are extraordinarily careful about adhering to state standards. So expect for your identification to be checked by a security guard before you are admitted into the main sales area. 

How much can I buy?

A gram of "bud" or "flower," the terms for smokeable leaf, will average between $10 and $15. Dispensaries may sell a maximum of 28.5 grams to each customer, but that's a lot more than a casual tourist would need. Remember that marijuana leaf is light and a little goes a long way.

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Dispensaries may sell you up to 8 grams of concentrates (including edibles, which contain concentrates).

California's full list of regulations can be found in this document.

You don't need to know exactly what you want.

After your I.D. passes muster, you'll be shown to the sales floor, where a "budtender" stands behind a glass case full of the dispensary's products. Staff members may handle the product, but you can't.

A binder or a menu that explains the various strains and blends might be on hand. The names tend to sound like ice cream flavors or groovy racehorses—Wedding Cake, Moonstone Kush, Cherry Bomb, Happy Pineapple, Pink Glue, and so on. 

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You will probably find those monikers more entertaining than useful. That's why every dispensary worth its salt employs staff that can tell you exactly what each strain will do to you.

Keep in mind, however, that this isn't a winery—you cannot sample the goods.

Some basic cannabis knowledge helps.

Familiarizing yourself with the main varieties helps you know what to buy. Sativa (for cerebrally focused effects), indica (body-focused effects), and a hybrid of the two are the three main schools.

Your clerk will tell you how strong each strain is. If you're a novice, don't jump into the deep end—if you don't know what wax, shatter, dabbing, or other cannabis terms are, then they're not for you. Stick to low dosages, too (measured in milligrams), unless you want to spend your entire visit to California in a useless haze.

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Once you pick what you want, the clerk might relay that information to another staffer, who fills your order in a separate area and gives you the product right before you leave. 

Keep a lid on it.

Clerks will give you the product in sealed, carefully marked containers. Think of the contents like booze: You're not allowed to have an open container in the car with you. Keep everything wrapped until you are able to use it in a private place. That should be the easiest part: You might feel like you need a special doctorate degree to open the child-proof packaging that California requires on cannabis products.

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Know the difference between THC and CBD.

THC is the compound that makes you high, and it's what the government is most interested in controlling. CBD, another chemical found in cannabis products, does not provide a high so it's often considered harmless. This article will help you navigate the differences.

Can I get it delivered?

California allows for delivery of cannabis products, but only as far as the curb (i.e., delivery drivers can't go to a customer's door). You'll need to meet the driver—bring your I.D. and payment—who will remain behind the wheel.

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If you're paying by credit card, the driver might carry a terminal for wireless payment processing, but some businesses offer delivery on a strictly cash-only basis. Double-check that when you place your order.

Delivery apps such as Eaze can streamline the process.

There are still rules about where you can use it.

No giving your purchase to minors—minors can't even accompany you when you buy. 

No driving under the influence, either. That means you shouldn't partake of the dispensaries' infused candies and brownies (otherwise known as edibles, which generally require a few hours to take effect and have longer-lasting results for some people) unless you have no intention of going anywhere for a day.

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The same issues with federal cannabis laws that affect paying with credit cards have also made it hard to develop a reliable roadside test for THC. Consequently, it's possible to get hauled in for not much more than suspicion. It's best not to partake at all before driving.

Don't let them smell you.

Don't display your purchase or use it in public unless you want to risk a citation—although Californians are a laid-back folk and you will often catch whiffs of people breaking the letter of the law. Some locals might argue that the rules are theoretical and that officers ignore pot use all the time, but the fact is that you can be penalized. 

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Some businesses, particularly in cities, have special permits that allow designated areas for pot smoking; this cafe in West Hollywood, for instance, was established expressly to provide a classy environment for a toke.

But don't dare try bringing your stash onto federal lands. Those include military bases and national parks, so don't plan a Joshua Tree bacchanal unless you're okay with being convicted of a federal crime.

Don't take it out of state.

Even though adjoining states such as Nevada have also legalized recreational cannabis, the federal government still objects to transporting the stuff across state lines.

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At airports, the TSA is busy maintaining security, not enforcing cannabis possession laws, but if they feel like it, agents do have the freedom to report you to police. This is mostly unheard-of in California, but it's another good reason not to be a jerk when you're going through airport security.

Be careful if you smoke in a hotel.

If your hotel room has a no-smoking policy and you light a joint, you'll face a fine from the owners. If you go on your balcony and light up, you theoretically face a fine for public use. But the hubbub is mostly about the mess and stink of smoking—to get around that, many people turn to edibles or vaporizers, which are mostly odorless. Dispensaries usually sell those, too.

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Just how normal is this in California?

So normal there are even companies, such as West Coast Cannabis Tours, that combine dispensary shopping trips with activities such as yoga, painting, and beer tasting.

For our guide to buying recreational cannabis in Colorado, click here.

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