San Diego has been at the forefront of California’s legalization of cannabis since the very beginning. The city was among the first to approve the sale of recreational cannabis, and California’s very first adult-use cannabis license was issued to a San Diego dispensary in 2017. Since then, the number of San Diego cannabis businesses (and consumers) has grown exponentially. This increase in marijuana use and commerce has brought about the need for criminal and business attorneys with dedicated marijuana expertise. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about cannabis lawyers in San Diego, and how to find the right one for your unique needs.
Cannabis Laws in San Diego
California’s state laws regarding cannabis apply to all residents of and visitors to San Diego and its surrounding cities. Despite its legal status in California, the US government still classifies marijuana as a schedule 1 drug – making the possession, consumption, cultivation, and sale of cannabis illegal at the federal level. However, it is very rare for federal agents to prosecute cannabis users or legal businesses in the San Diego area. However, illegal sale, transport, and driving under the influence of marijuana are taken seriously and should be avoided.
- Recreational and medical cannabis use is legal for all adults aged 21 and older in San Diego, and may only be consumed on private property.
- With a doctor’s recommendation, patients aged 18-20 may also use and grow marijuana for the treatment of certain health conditions.
- Cannabis products may only be purchased at licensed dispensaries. Home delivery of products from legal dispensaries is allowed in most parts of California, but some jurisdictions have prohibited this practice.
- Home cultivation of personal-use recreational or medicinal marijuana is allowed in San Diego. All steps of the cultivation process must take place indoors (or in a shed or other accessory structure) and completely out of public view.
How to Find a Cannabis Lawyer in San Diego
If you require legal representation by a marijuana attorney in San Diego, whether for criminal charges or cannabusiness consultation, here are the essential qualities to look for.
- Cannabis Industry Expertise – Given the intensely complex and nuanced nature of California’s cannabis laws and regulations, a law firm with a dedicated cannabis practice is highly recommended.
- Local Expertise – Beyond California’s state-level cannabis laws, the city of San Diego has its own highly-specific regulations to comply with, making the expertise of a localized San Diego cannabis attorney indispensable. Local cannabis attorneys bring an in-depth understanding of local cannabis ordinances and how they are applied.
- Experience and Relationships WIth Regulators (business law) – A San Diego cannabis lawyer that has extensive experience and established positive relationships with state and local regulators can help your business avoid detrimental consequences and get back on track quickly should compliance roadblocks arise.
- Criminal Justice Background (criminal cases) – The best criminal defense lawyers are those with experience on the other side of the courtroom. For your best odds of beating marijuana-related criminal charges, look for an attorney with a former career as a district attorney or on the local police force. Not only will they possess an in-depth understanding of the prosecution’s strategies and tactics, but they will also have established relationships within the court that can work to your advantage.
- Accessibility – To ensure the cannabis attorney you retain is a good fit for your needs, inquire about their contact protocols. Does your lawyer personally attend to all calls or are they screened by an assistant? Are they available to answer questions around the clock or only within dedicated hours? Does this attorney prefer communication via telephone, text message, or email? For business owners, how often will your attorney be available for routine legal checkups?
- Reputation and Track Record – Always go with a San Diego marijuana lawyer who has an excellent reputation and solid track record of working with cannabusinesses or winning cannabis criminal cases. Don’t be afraid to interview multiple San Diego cannabis attorneys before signing on the dotted line. Your lawyer holds your safety and well-being (or that of your business) in their hands, and it’s not a decision to take lightly. To help you start your search, see our list below of the top marijuana lawyers in San Diego. You can also visit our list of the best cannabis attorneys serving the entire state of California.
The Best San Diego Cannabis Attorneys
Who Should Hire a San Diego Cannabis Attorney?
Cannabis and Ancillary Business Owners
Legal counsel is a must for all new and existing San Diego cannabis businesses (including cultivators, retailers, distributors, manufacturers, and testing labs). Ancillary businesses working adjacent to the legal cannabis industry (including commercial landlords) face their own unique legal concerns and also require the advice of a San Diego marijuana business attorney.
Anyone facing marijuana-related charges in the San Diego courts should retain a lawyer with cannabis-specific expertise. Even in the absence of criminal charges, medical marijuana patients are advised to consult a San Diego marijuana lawyer before starting a cannabis garden, as well as for the prevention of possible negative ramifications on their housing, employment, or other crucial aspects of life. San Deigo cannabis attorneys can also help individuals petition the court for the expungement of prior marijuana convictions or to apply for a presidential pardon.
Legal Consulting for San Diego Cannabis Businesses
In addition to all required state licensing, cannabis businesses in San Diego must obtain a Cannabis Business Tax certificate and either a Cannabis Outlet (dispensary) or Cannabis Production Facility permit from the city. The counsel of a San Diego cannabis business attorney is essential through every step of the complex (and expensive) licensing and application process.
Post-approval, a marijuana business attorney can provide continuous advice regarding business operations, taxation, employment law, and many more essential aspects of running a cannabusiness. Failure to comply with even seemingly small regulations can result in hefty fines or even the suspension of your business license – making a San Diego cannabis business lawyer a crucial investment.
The advice of a San Diego marijuana business attorney is critically important in all of the following categories:
- Application – The licensure application process at both the city and state levels is complex, involves hefty non-refundable fees, and requires perfect execution. Don’t try to go it alone. A San Diego cannabis business lawyer will know the application paperwork inside and out, helping you catch any fatal mistakes and upping your odds of approval.
- Compliance – Once your business is operational, a San Deigo cannabis lawyer can provide ongoing advice on how to keep compliant with strict local, state, and federal laws – ensuring your business license is never put at risk. Should an error or oversight inadvertently arise, a marijuana business attorney can help you fix the issue and handle any legal repercussions.
- Environmental and Consumer Protection – When it comes to commercial cultivation, California has some of the nation’s most stringent growing and testing requirements. A knowledgeable attorney can help San Diego cannabis cultivators comply with these requirements and stay abreast of any changes or updates to these important safety regulations.
- Criminal Activity – Should your business ever experience an incident of theft, assault, vandalism, or any other crime on its premises (or in cyberspace – such as hacking or theft of your intellectual property), you’ll want the help of a cannabis business lawyer to resolve the issue in court.
- Employment Law – Its strict rules surrounding employment make California one of the most employee-friendly states in the US. However, this makes it critically important for all business owners to understand these laws inside and out and apply them correctly.
- Taxation Law – The federally-illegal status of marijuana in the US doesn’t stop the government from collecting taxes on it. In addition to California state tax, San Diego requires all cannabis businesses to submit a Cannabis Tax Remittance Form and make monthly tax payments to the city, based on the previous month’s revenue. Given the complexity of US tax code and the serious repercussions that errors can carry, every cannabusiness must invest in cannabis tax law consulting.
- Record Keeping – All plant-touching businesses in California are required to comply with mandatory seed-to-sale tracking programs. This is another complex, essential area with no room for error – making the advice of a San Diego marijuana attorney all the more crucial.
Protection for Ancillary Businesses
All businesses that work even slightly adjacent to the cannabis industry sit in a delicately risky position. With marijuana still classified as an illegal controlled substance, ancillary businesses could find themselves in serious hot water for aiding and abetting the sale of it. Protective legal counsel is an absolute necessity for ancillary businesses, even if they never actually touch cannabis plant material (including but not limited to banks, insurers, payroll processors, HR and marketing firms, packaging producers, web designers, and security providers). This necessity extends to commercial landlords leasing space to San Diego cannabusinesses and to doctors who provide medical marijuana referrals.
Cannabis Criminal Charges in San Diego
As cannabis use has become more popular and widely accepted in San Diego, the city has also seen a rise in marijuana-related criminal charges. The consequences of a conviction can be life-changing and serious, including exorbitant fines, a tarnished criminal record, and even time in jail. A dedicated San Diego marijuana attorney will give you the best chance of beating these charges in court, keeping your freedom intact and your record clean. Here are the most common types of criminal cases handled by marijuana lawyers in San Diego:
- Marijuana DUI
- Unlawful sale or distribution
- Unlawful transport
- Unlawful possession
- Unlawful cultivation
- Cannabis use by minors under 21 years of age
Medical Marijuana Patients
Despite the legal status of medical marijuana in California, patients are still at risk of legal issues thanks to THC’s long-lasting presence in the bloodstream. Testing positive for THC can put employment, housing, government assistance, child custody, and the right to operate a motor vehicle at risk – even for approved medical marijuana cardholders. The counsel of a San Diego medical marijuana attorney is crucial to ensure that your medicine does not end up compromising your safety, rights, and well-being.
Currently, there is no reliable way to test one’s “highness level,” nor is there a defined limit beyond which one would be considered unsafe to drive. Therefore, the current law includes a blanket statement making it illegal to drive with any amount of THC in your system. The consequences of a marijuana DUI conviction can include driver’s license suspension, jail time, mandatory safety classes, and fines exceeding $15,000. You’ll want a San Diego marijuana attorney with a track record of beating DUI charges on your side, should you end up facing these charges.
Expungement of Criminal Cannabis Charges
A provision within California’s Proposition 64 (the passing of which made recreational cannabis use legal in the state) allows individuals with non-violent cannabis-related convictions to request a downgrade of status (felony to misdemeanor, misdemeanor to infraction) or complete expungement of the charges on their record. Petitioning the court for such an expungement can be a confusing process, but a San Diego cannabis lawyer will walk you through every step, increasing your odds of success.
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