Cannabis Packaging Laws in California

Cannabis Packaging Laws in California

California was one of the first states to legalize marijuana for medical use, and the state has long been a leader in cannabis legislation and industry innovation. Now, any medical cannabis business in the Golden State needs to be current on all the laws for their products, down to the cannabis packaging laws. With the US federal government still on the fence about the legality of medical marijuana, it’s essential that all cannabis businesses need to be informed. Let’s take a look at the history of cannabis laws in California, leading up to the current laws, including the laws about the packaging of cannabis products.

Legal History of Cannabis in California

Long a hub for counterculture activity as well as forward-thinking, the Golden State was one of the very first to try and decriminalize cannabis in the 1970s and remained a leader in decriminalization of the herb until today. Let’s take a look at how the view of cannabis has evolved in the state over the years.


Like the rest of the nation, California produced hemp all through the 1800s, though their long growing season meant they were one of the major growers of hemp during that time. The Poison Act made hemp illegal in the early 1900s, with successive laws criminalizing marijuana more through the 1930s. For 40 years, the plant remained illegal for pharmaceutical or recreational purposes.

Early Legalization Efforts

In 1972, the California state legislature put forth Proposition 19 to decriminalize cannabis in the state, and it was defeated by over 60%. In 1975, they succeeded in relaxing the criminal laws surrounding marijuana possession, making the punishment for possessing under one ounce of cannabis a misdemeanor offense. The 1975 law also made cannabis charges a civil instead of a criminal offense. In 2000, another law mandated that people with their second or third drug-related offense receive time in a treatment facility rather than a jail. In 2010, California State Senate Bill 1449 was signed into law, taking the possession of marijuana offense in the state from a misdemeanor to an infraction, just like a speeding ticket. In 2012, both Washington and Colorado joined California in legalizing medical cannabis, with Oregon and Alaska following in 2014.

Medical Cannabis Legalization

California made cannabis history in 1996 by voting in the Compassionate Use Act by a slim 55% majority. Though the wording was criticized for being vague, this act did some very important things for medical marijuana in California.  First, it outlined a set of specific diseases that could be treated by cannabis, including cancer, AIDS/HIV, glaucoma, migraines, arthritis, seizures, and anorexia. It then allowed patients suffering from these diseases to obtain, possess, and grow cannabis under a doctor’s supervision. Doctors and nurses were also protected by the Compassionate Use Act and weren’t subject to any penalty for prescribing cannabis.

Current Laws for Medical Cannabis in CA

Some of the loopholes in the Compassionate Use Act were tied up in 2003 by the Medical Marijuana Program Act, also known by the fitting name Senate Bill 420, which established an identification card system for medical marijuana patients to simplify purchase and distribution. Under the Medical Marijuana Program Act, patients can possess and grow different amounts of cannabis, as determined by their counties. Many counties in California have upped the limits of the amount of plants and cannabis flowers an individual may possess since the passage of the act. Caregivers, patients, and others may form collectives in order to grow cannabis for medical use as well.  

Current Laws for Recreational Cannabis in CA

In November 2016, California also decriminalized cannabis and cannabis products for recreational use in the state under Proposition 64 or the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, though smoking it in public still incurs a $100 fine. Adults, meaning people over 21 years old, can have up to an ounce and up to six plants in their homes. People still can’t drive while under the influence, and unlicensed sale of cannabis still carries jail time, though that was reduced from four years to six months. Cannabis businesses in California can also be banned by local governments. Following cannabis tax models in other states, California imposes a 15% tax at the time of purchase with additional fees per ounce of cannabis flower and a lower fee for a leaf. The Act also replaces the earlier Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation with the Bureau of Marijuana Control, who collects the cannabis taxes for the states as well as oversees other aspects of cannabis businesses. The Bureau of Marijuana Control is also tasked with creating a system which tracks the cannabis and taxes from seeds to purchase. Along with issuing licenses to legal marijuana businesses in California, the Bureau also made packaging laws for cannabis flowers and edibles standard across the state.

Current Packaging Laws for Cannabis in CA

Though the Adult Use of Marijuana Act is the latest cannabis legalization act in the Golden State, it was 2015’s Assembly Bill 266 that established packaging requirements for cannabis flowers and edibles throughout California. The CA Bureau of Marijuana control now enforces these cannabis packaging laws by imposing fines or even revoking the licenses of businesses that sell medical cannabis. According to CA AB 266, all cannabis-related products need to be in packaging that shows tampering, similar to other over the counter drugs. In addition to that, these specifics apply:

  • Packaging must be clearly labeled as a cannabis or marijuana product.
  • The label can’t have any cartoons or other elements that make it attractive to children.
  • Labels also need to list information related to the cultivation of the medical marijuana in the product, including the source and the date.
  • For dried cannabis flowers or leaves, the business needs to list the weight of product in the package.
  • For cannabis edibles, food labeling including whether or not allergens are in the product is required by law.
  • Perhaps most importantly for cannabis businesses in California, the label needs to contain precise information about the active chemicals in marijuana, including THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids. Just like with other over the counter drugs, cannabis product manufacturers need to list the milligrams of each chemical in each serving of the product. The difference with cannabis products is that they also must list the overall milligram content of all the product in the package, with labeling similar to food products. For example, one bar of cannabis-infused chocolate could have 10 mg of THC per serving, 10 servings, and 100 mg THC per bar. The packaging for that cannabis chocolate bar would need to list all that information on the package.

If you’re a grower, distributor, or cannabis edibles chef in California, you need packaging that will follow the local laws but also look great and present your product in the most appealing way. The packaging experts at have worked to create packaging that does both.

More info on California Marijuana Packaging Laws.

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