Marijuana Licensing

Staff held a study session with City Council on March 7, 2017. The staff report and video of the meeting can be found here.

At the March 7th Study Session, City Council directed staff to:

  1. Establish a selection process for the two Medical Cannabis dispensaries authorized by the Zoning Ordinance.
  2. Take any actions necessary to delay implementation of any recreational cannabis business regulations, including sales, until after the two Medical Cannabis dispensaries are operating and there is more clarity at the Federal level regarding cannabis regulations and enforcement.
  3. Review options for allowing manufacturing of cannabis products that do not use volatile solvents. 

City staff anticipates bringing an ordinance to City Council in September 2017, relating to medical cannabis regulations. It is currently anticipated that shortly after adoption, the City will begin the selection process to select two medical cannabis operators to operate in the City.

Please note individuals interested in participating on the evaluation advisory committee can send an email expressing interest to Salvador Valles at No decisions will be made regarding the size or the composition of the committee until after the September Council meeting.

Medical Marijuana

The sales of medical marijuana in California have been going on since the voters adopted the Compassionate Use Act (i.e. Proposition 215) in 1996. Although the law did not formally legalize marijuana use in all circumstances, it (along with other laws such as SB 420’s Medical Marijuana Program) provided protection against prosecution for marijuana possession and cultivation for personal medical use in certain instances. In many cities in California today, including Los Angeles, medical marijuana distribution commonly occur in what are referred to as Medical Marijuana Dispensaries. A person must demonstrate that they have a physician recommendation (not a prescription) to use marijuana due to a medical condition.

In June 2015 the Santa Monica City Council adopted an updated Zoning Ordinance which contemplates authorizing two medical marijuana dispensaries with onsite cultivation. The law defines Medical Marijuana Dispensary as:

Any facility, building, structure, or fixed location where one or more qualified patients and/or persons with identification cards and/or primary caregivers cultivate, distribute, sell, dispense, transmit, process, exchange, give away, or otherwise make available marijuana for medical purposes. The terms “primary caregiver”, “qualified patient”, and “person with an identification card” shall be as defined in California Health and Safety Code Section 11362.5 et seq.

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries are limited to the following locations:

  • MUB District along Wilshire Boulevard between Lincoln Boulevard and Centinela Avenue;
  • GC District along Santa Monica Boulevard between Lincoln Boulevard and 20th Street; and
  • MUBL District along Santa Monica Boulevard between 23rd Street and Centinela Avenue.MCRSA establishes a new statewide regulatory framework for the cultivation, distribution, and sales of marijuana, and requires the City to both consider additional local safety regulations regarding marijuana handling and to re-evaluate the licensing process established by the Zoning Ordinance. Therefore, no applications are currently being accepted for Medical Marijuana Dispensaries.
  • In October 2015, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed into law three bills (Assembly Bills 243 and 266, and Senate Bill 643) that create a licensing and regulatory framework for medical cannabis.   These bills combined created what is now referred to as Medical Cannabis Regulation & Safety Act (MCRSA).  

Commercial “Recreational” Marijuana

On November 8, 2016, California voters passed Proposition 64 the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) which took effect November 9, 2016, the day after the election. Under AUMA a person 21 years of age or older may now possess, process, transport, purchase or give away (to persons 21 years of age or older) not more than 28.5 grams of marijuana in the non-concentrated form and not more than 8 grams of marijuana in a concentrated form including marijuana products (like edibles and extracts).   However, AUMA does not allow for commercial sales without both a state and local permit, and clearly provides that local jurisdictions continue to have full authority to regulate or prohibit any business establishment dispensing recreational marijuana.

Although AUMA authorizes adults in California to legally possess, use, and transport recreational cannabis, however, there is currently no place in the state to purchase recreational cannabis, since licensed medical dispensaries are not allowed to sell recreational cannabis (i.e. to adults over 21 who do not have the required physician’s recommendation to purchase medical marijuana). Though out-of-state residents can legally purchase recreational cannabis under AUMA, they too may not do so until state and local licensing begins, as currently licensed medical dispensaries may only dispense medical cannabis to California residents for medical use.

The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) is in the process of establishing the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation ( which will regulate various aspects of the cannabis market for both medical and recreational marijuana businesses, including:

  • Cultivation
  • Distribution
  • Manufacturing
  • Testing
  • Retail Sales
  • State licensing authorities are not issuing licenses currently, but are required to begin issuing licenses by January 1, 2018 and the City anticipates the issuance of licenses, if any, will not occur much in advance of this date. Both medical and recreational marijuana business activities will require permitting and licensing by both the relevant state authorities and the local jurisdiction.   Cannabis businesses will be required to be dually licensed by both the State and the local jurisdiction.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I apply to operate a marijuana business in Santa Monica?

No. Cannabis related businesses may not operate legally in Santa Monica without approval from both the Finance Department and the Planning & Community Development Department. Applications for cannabis related businesses are not currently being accepted until further notice.

Now that Proposition 64 passed, can I sell non-medical marijuana in Santa Monica?

No. Although Proposition 64 did take effect November 9, 2016, the day after the election, please note, it requires a state license to engage in commercial nonmedical marijuana activity (i.e. recreational). Meaning any recreational marijuana establishment must receive state and local permits before operating; however, neither the State nor the City of Santa Monica are ready to issue such permits. State agencies will begin issuing licenses by January 1, 2018, the City will likely be ready around the same time.

Is marijuana legal in California?

Under AUMA a person 21 years of age or older may now possess, process, transport, purchase or give away to persons 21 years of age or older not more than 28.5 grams of marijuana in the non-concentrated form and not more than 8 grams of marijuana in a concentrated form including marijuana products (like edibles and extracts).  

A person 21 years and older may cultivate nonmedical marijuana within a private residence for personal use. The AUMA provides that local governments can reasonably regulate, but cannot ban the personal indoor cultivation of up to six nonmedical marijuana plants per private residence. A “residence” is defined as a house, an apartment unit, a mobile home, or other similar residential dwelling. No matter how many persons over 21 years of age are living in a “residence,” only six living plants may be cultivated at one time.

This includes cultivation in a greenhouse that is on the property of the residence but not physically part of the home, as long as it is fully enclosed, secure, and not visible from a public space. Because this activity is not subject to state licensing requirements, individuals may engage in personal indoor cultivation beginning November 9, 2016, unless a city enacts an ordinance imposing a reasonable regulatory scheme that would preclude them from doing so before complying with the city’s regulatory requirements. At this time, Santa Monica has not imposed any regulations on personal cultivation.

When will Santa Monica begin accepting applications for cannabis related businesses?

No timelines will be available until after September 2017, however, staff anticipates initiating a selection process for two medical cannabis dispensaries in early 2018.

Additional Resources

Department of Consumer Affairs
Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation (BMCR)
To License transporters, distributors, dispensaries, and testing laboratories. 


Department of Food and Agriculture
Medical Cannabis Cultivation Program (MCCP)
To license cultivators and will also be responsible for implementing the track and trace program for plants from cultivation to sale.


Department of Public Health
Office of Medical Cannabis Safety (OMCS)
To license manufacturers of cannabis.