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Figuring out if a marijuana business is operating with a current state license can be incredibly confusing and frustrating. On one hand, it’s easy–just look up the license. On the other hand, if it WERE that easy, we wouldn’t find it so confusing and frustrating.
Whether you’re a business owner, cannabis consumer, or purely an involved citizen, we want you to be able to find the answers you need about specific cannabis businesses in the state of California.
Forget about tracking down the license status for a grower or CBD brand. Maybe you can do it with a 30-second Google search, and maybe 2 hours of digging will leave you still scratching your head (like I was earlier this week while trying to hunt down the license status of a cultivator in northern California).
Let’s start local. That cannabis dispensary in your neighborhood–is it legal or illegal? Finding the answer should be easy, but it can actually be very tough.
Dispensaries Formerly Operating in the “Gray Area” Between State and Federal Law
In California, where medical marijuana has been legal since 1996, many consumers are unaware that many medical dispensaries that had been operating within a gray area of the law, such as collectives and “cannabis churches,” may still be open but are doing business without legal approval of any kind.
When the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (Proposition 64) passed in November 2016 and lawful sales of recreational pot began in January 2018, a lot of old terminology and assumptions (and pot shops) stuck around, adding to the confusion for California residents.
If a Medical Marijuana Card Is Required to Make a Purchase, Does That Prove the Dispensary Is Licensed?
I’ve often heard people say, “They ask for my medical card when I go there, so I assume it’s a legal shop.” Contrary to this popular belief, being asked for your medical card and/or your driver’s license before entering any of your local cannabis dispensaries is NOT an accurate way of judging whether you’re patronizing a licensed or unlicensed business.
If a Dispensary Is Part of an Online Directory, Does That Prove It’s Licensed?
“I found it on Weedmaps. They’re a huge directory, so if I found it there, it must be a legal shop, right?” Maybe, maybe not. Weedmaps is a pay-to-play directory of dispensaries and delivery services, and they don’t discriminate against the unlicensed folks, so you’ll find both legal and illegal business listed there.
“Okay, what if I find it on Leafly?” Unlike Weedmaps, when pressured by state regulators, Leafly committed early in 2018 to stop listing unlicensed cannabusinesses. So YES, if it’s on Leafly, it’s legal (though there does seem to be outdated information about some products and brands) . But Leafly, too, is a pay-to-play directory, and not everyone wants to pay the hefty fee to be included, which means there may be licensed dispensaries in your area who just aren’t listed on either of these sites.
There are literally dozens of online dispensary directories. As of this writing, we’re unaware here at Trailblazers Connect of any that provides a comprehensive and updated list of licensed dispensaries in California.
The Changing Marijuana Laws and Regulations Are Too Much for Even Law Enforcement to Stay On Top Of Completely
At a recent panel discussion in my city of Fullerton, where ordinances explicitly prohibit any and all commercial cannabis activity, the chief of police made a distinction between the way law enforcement deals with an illegal dispensary versus a “legal medical dispensary” in our city. He’s obviously talking about pot shops that were established years ago and aren’t a nuisance to neighboring residents and businesses.
But there’s no such thing as a “legal medical dispensary” in Fullerton–in fact there is no such thing as ANY kind of “legal dispensary” in 33 of the 34 cities in Orange County (Santa Ana is the only city with legal cannabis retail storefronts as of this writing).
To his credit, our chief freely admitted that when it comes to cannabiz licensing, “I’m not familiar with the current status of things here as it relates to how things are being rolled out.” (It was an interesting panel, and far more pro-cannabis than I had expected. You can watch a video of the entire event here.)
Look, I am a HUGE supporter of our police force, and I’m not being nit-picky about word choice or making fun of the man. His brain is full of tons of information, and his focus is on public safety. I get it and I’m grateful. I’m simply illustrating a point:
If our police officers aren’t clear on whether a neighborhood pot shop is a legal, licensed business, how can a typical resident be expected to know any better than they do?
There’s just too much changing information housed in too many different places for most of us to navigate. Even if it weren’t SO difficult to keep up with the changes, who’s got that kind of time, right?
When Safety Is Your Number One Concern (click for more)
I have a great deal of respect for our public servants, and I’m grateful they put our safety first. If your job is keeping the public safe, you probably pay attention to every study and story that might warn of a potential threat.
I have no doubt the chief thinks primarily of how to stay in front of possible dangers, based on information from sources like the report from northern California about the home invasions, robberies, and even murders committed by East Coast criminals against California cannabusinesses (a report that was even picked up and examined by a writer for Forbes).
He’s probably following all relevant news, like the studies conducted in Colorado and other states that claim to prove direct causation of first (1) first recreational marijuana is legalized, and then (2) an immediate increase in car accidents involving weed-impaired drivers.
In fact, the Los Angeles Police Department continues to push public awareness of potential DUI dangers, and says in LA along, in the first 6 months after California legalized recreational weed, they saw a 32% increase in DUI-drug arrests.
These are just a few examples, and they are compelling. They’ve also been challenged with data that is equally–but not more–compelling, so we ought not completely disregard them.
You might find this interesting: when Prop 64 passed, the California Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training published a notification on their website that included a link to a guide for law enforcement based on Colorado post-legalization experience.
It’s useful to consider the lens through which others view a complex issue like marijuana legalization!
How and Where to Search the License Status of Different Types of Cannabis Businesses
There is only ONE surefire way to check the current status of a California cannabusiness, and that is to go to the appropriate licensing authority and run an online search.
To look up cannabis cultivators/growers, go to
CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing
To look up manufacturers of cannabis-infused edibles, go to
Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch
To look up all other cannabis business types, including dispensaries, go to
Bureau of Cannabis Control
How to Check a Cannabis Retail License
You can check the license of a dispensary, retail storefront, or whatever else you call a place where you pay to buy marijuana and marijuana-derived products, whether you have a medical MJ card or not.
The place to check is online using the Bureau of Cannabis Control’s License Search.
Let’s assume your mission is to find out if the local dispensary called “ABC Cannabis” is operating legally. While the search screen is pretty self-explanatory, here are a few helpful tips that will likely save you some time and frustration:
1. Select Retail from the License Type drop-down.
2. Select Active from the License Status drop-down.
3. Select the City OR County. (Start by entering LESS information and add more if the list of results is too long.)
4. Before you click Search, check the I am not a robot box just below it, and THEN you can click Search.
5. Wait. Seriously, be patient. If you blink, you may miss that your screen has refreshed. The web architects at the BCC must have a sense of humor, because unless you scroll down below the Search button, you could sit there forever wondering why it’s taking so long to get results (haha, web guys…you got us).
If no businesses match your search criteria, the words No results found will display in teeny tiny letters (also hilarious, guys).
If there ARE matching results, they’ll be shown in table format lower down the screen. You can’t sort the data here, but you can click the CSV button to download a file that can be imported into Excel or another spreadsheet program.
If you see the name and address of the dispensary you’re checking out, then you’re done! Yay!
If the Search Results Are Confusing or Something Doesn’t Seem Quite Right. . .
Keep in mind that every state retail license is directly linked to a specific physical address, so the most important part of verifying that a particular dispensary is licensed is to ensure (1) the license status is “Active” and (2) the address for the license is the exact address of the store.
If you see a business name that’s different from what you know the actual dispensary name to be, and if it’s important to you that you reconcile the information, you can start by calling the dispensary and asking when the license was sold or transferred and getting the name and contact information of the new owner of the license.
Hope this was helpful. There may be a super simple way to make sure the license is being used by the appropriate business if the info doesn’t match up, but no one at Trailblazers Connect has found it yet.
IF YOU KNOW A BETTER WAY TO (1) FIND A COMPLETE AND UPDATED LIST OF DISPENSARIES, OR (2) VERIFY UPDATED INFO WITH THE STATE FOR A LICENSE THAT HAS BEEN TRANSFERRED OR SOLD TO A NEW OWNER, PLEASE LET US KNOW SO WE CAN UPDATE THESE INSTRUCTIONS!