Can I get a Permit to grow Medical Marijuana commercially in California?

Michael J. Shambrook Profile Image

Michael J. Shambrook

Ukiah, CA

Practice Areas


Medical Marijuana

Can I get a Permit to grow Medical Marijuana commercially in California? A general introduction.

Do I need a Permit? No, not if you are only growing it for yourself and/or up to 5 patients for whom you are the primary caregiver. Check with your city or county to see if there are local restrictions on how much and where you can cultivate. You will normally need a Permit if you are growing cannabis to sell after 2018, or to give to patients other than those for whom you are the primary caregiver. (See California Assembly Bill 266 and Assembly Bill 243*).

Can I get a Permit today? Maybe. You can apply for a Permit to grow Medical Marijuana commercially, if your city or county has a Permitting process. Some California cities and counties have passed "Permit Ordinances" and some are still debating whether to do so, and if so what exactly to include in the Permitting process. Counties like Humboldt County have "Permit Ordinances" in place, and many others, including Mendocino County are working on them.

Where should I start? Ask your County Agricultural Commissioner's office if they have a Permit process and if so what it is. Unfortunately, it is more complicated than obtaining a dog's license, where you simply send in the dog's name, breed, age and $20. If Humboldt County is any guide to what will be the norm for other counties, then a Cannabis grower is going to have to look at many aspects of his/her business such as:

1. Permits to divert water

2. Water storage

3. Regulations of the State Water Board

4. Compliance with California Medical Marijuana law

5. Local "Best Practices" for cultivation

6. Pesticide and herbicide regulations

7. The Franchise Tax Board

8. Local requirements for zoning, size, and type of cultivation allowed.

9. Local "track and trace" rules

10. Establishing a legal business (partnership, corporation?)

11. Determining who is an employee and what is required of an employer

12. Financial record keeping, payroll taxes, Federal ID number

13. Security of property and security and privacy of records

Can I do it alone? The list above is purely illustrative of some of the hurdles needed to be checked off before a Permit is obtainable. There are specific laws to follow and codes to comply with in those cities and counties which issue Cannabis Permits, and licenses and Permits need to be obtained from different agencies. Some items of the list above probably cannot be handled alone by a grower nor by one single provider. Most growers will need expert help when dealing with the water board, bookkeeping for state and federal taxes (for the Federal Tax Return you are dealing in a controlled substance), complying with HIPPA and the tracking of plants from seed to sale etc. Therefore, you are well advised to delegate to someone in your organization, or work with someone, like a coach, who will keep you on track navigating the different agencies and the different agencies' rules and regulations, because it is so complicated to keep track of all that need doing.

How do I answer incriminating questions? Many growers – small or large - may feel overwhelmed by this daunting new process and certainly will not feel happy and confident about answering such questions as "What was grown last year on this plot?" Again, they would be well advised to discuss an appropriate answer with someone, maybe another Grower who has been through the process, as one does not want to say something that could be used criminally against you.

Will each county have its own unique Permits? In cities or counties that have no specific Permit process yet, one can be reasonably sure that most Boards of Supervisors for each county will instigate policies similar to Humboldt, and be advised by their Agricultural Commissioners in a similar fashion. Moreover, because of the taxing and fee-charging opportunities for the different agencies there will be similar hurdles to navigate, to successfully acquire a Marijuana Grower's Permit, a necessary prerequisite for a Cannabis Grower's License from the State of California.

Will it be financially worth it to navigate these hurdles? A difficult question, and one for another article in Nolo. However, there are things you can do NOW, in every city or county, to start the process and get ahead of the pack. It is important to remember that Local Permits are necessary to qualify for State Licenses in 2018, and those who are recognized by the city or county this year will be on the inside track for State Licensing. Potential marijuana growers considering applying for a Permit are well advised to consult other growers in a grower's club to discover what it would cost to be compliant.

What will be the consequences of not getting a Cannabis Growers Permit? If you are already cultivating today (2016) - whether or not you acquire a Permit - you risk having your crop seized, and being charged with multiple Felonies and Misdemeanors, e.g. Felony Possession for Sale and Cultivation, Misdemeanor violations of local ordinances, together with other charges. In some counties, where there is no Permitting process, you can simply stay within the state limits and grow for those for whom you have recommendations. However, Law Enforcement and District Attorneys are usually not part of the Permitting process, so there are no guarantees that even with today's Permits you will not be raided - and left to prove your innocence later. In 2018, if you have a State License, you will have better protection. However if you do not, by then, have a State License you will be increasingly exposed to a possible sentence of over 6 years in prison.

Can I start the process now? Yes, you are well advised to become Permitted – start the process now - by becoming compliant with the codes, ordinances and laws, or end up at the back of the line. This does not mean invite a government code enforcement officer on to your land! Rather, get advice from other growers who can direct you to someone who knows enforcement polices and codes, in the area you are looking at, and who can advise you what to do now. Many want an amnesty – and some are betting on it. But frankly, I do not see it being discussed anywhere, except perhaps Mendocino County.

How visible am I to law enforcement? I suggest you look at "Google Earth", to appreciate just how visible your property is, and to then discuss with your family and colleagues the downside of not getting your property up to code and getting your business dealings appropriate under the circumstances.

What is my personal liability? If you are applying for, and working proactively to eventually acquire a County Cannabis Growers Cultivation Permit and then a California State Cultivation License, you can at least stand up in front of a jury and take the moral high ground, and you can say you did everything you could to be compliant. On the other hand, non-compliance and especially no attempt to comply will most likely be extremely costly: fines, long prison time and family disintegration.

Final Recommendation and Caveat. As a final encouragement I recommend you becoming compliant with every ordinance, code and regulation possible, and document it, even if not applying officially for a Permit at this exact time. No one, regardless, should be surprised by a visit from Law Enforcement with a Search Warrant. Be prepared, and do everything you can in the meantime to be as compliant as possible.

*California Assembly Bill 266 can be found at:

and California Assembly Bill 243

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