Industry Insights
Jul 9, 2024
Peter Berg

How to Get a Cannabis License in California in 2024

California boasts the highest number of dispensaries in the nation, yet securing a cannabis business license here is tricky. 

The Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) enforces strict regulations, and the process involves numerous forms, documents, and procedures in California.

Read this step-by-step guide to get your cannabis license in California in 2024.

Overview of California Cannabis Laws

California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, and recreational use became legal in 2016. 

Over the years, California has established a variety of laws to ensure that cannabis is used and sold responsibly.

The Department of Cannabis Control (DCC), formed in July 2021, oversees all aspects of cannabis regulation, including,

  • License Applications
  • Business Rules
  • Product Regulations
  • Packaging Requirements
  • Testing Standards
  • Enforcement Actions

Despite the heavy regulations, the cannabis industry is thriving in California. The state has more dispensaries than any other US State. Plus, they have also started social equity programs under Prop 64 to help people affected by past cannabis prohibition enter the legal industry.

Yet, cannabis businesses in California face several challenges, including high local and state excise taxes that affect profitability and a strong illegal market.

Cannabis Business Paths in California

Depending on your business's needs, you can obtain different business licenses for cannabis in California from the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC). 

1) Cultivation

Application Fee: $135 to $8,655 (depending on the license type)

Annual License Fees: $1,205 to $77,905 (depending on the license type) 

Insurance Costs: $680 to $7,700

2) Manufacturing

Application Fee: $500 or $1,000 (depending on the license type)

Annual License Fees: $2,000 to $75,000 (depending on the license type and your business’s revenue)

Insurance Costs: $4,500 to over $10,000

3) Distribution

Application Fee: $1,000

Annual License Fees: $200 to $180,000 (depending on the license type and your business’s revenue)

Insurance Costs: $1,200 to $3,500

4) Testing Laboratory

Application Fee: $1,000

Annual License Fees: $3,000 to $112,000 (depending on your business’s revenue)

Insurance Costs: $5,000 to $12,000

5). Retail

Application Fee: $1,000

Annual License Fees: $2,500 to $96,000 (depending on your business’s revenue)

Insurance Costs: $350 to $7,500

6) Microbusiness

Application Fee: $1,000

Annual License Fees: $5,000 to $300,000 (depending on your business’s revenue)

Insurance Costs: $600 to $1,200

7) Cannabis Event Organizer

Application Fee: $1,000

Annual License Fees: $3,000 to $20,000 (depending on the number of events you organize)

Insurance Costs: $139 to $339 for a one-day event

Note: For temporary cannabis event licenses, the cost is $1,000 per event.

Getting a Cannabis Business License in California 

The first step to starting a cannabis business in California is getting licensed.

While the process can be somewhat complex, we’ve simplified it into simple, easy-to-follow steps to help you navigate it.

Step #1: Check Your Eligibility

To get a cannabis business license in California in 2024, you must meet several rules to show you can work well within the state’s laws. 

Here are the essential requirements:

  • You must be at least 21 to apply for a dispensary license in California. 
  • All applicants must pass extensive background checks ( such as criminal history checks)
  • You must show you have enough financial resources to run a dispensary responsibly.
  • Cannabis businesses should comply with all rules and permits set by cities and counties.
  • You must submit a detailed business plan that shows your operational strategy and compliance with local and state laws. 

Your business plan should include:

  • A detailed description of your company/ brand
  • Operating Agreement
  • Structure of the organization
  • Analysis of the market and competitors
  • Strategies for sales and marketing
  • Financial forecasts
  • Security Protocols 
  • Budget outlines 
  • Team management and organization
  • Compliance strategies
  • Risk management strategies 

If you're new to the industry, we highly recommend getting help from professional legal and business experts to ensure your business plan meets all the specific requirements. 

Comply With State Regulations

The Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) has specific requirements to run a cannabis business. These include setting up standard operating procedures, training your employees, and arranging your facilities. 

Ensure you know and can meet these rules to stay compliant with the regulations. Apart from ensuring you’ve met all the eligibility criteria, we highly recommend getting insurance early. 

Comprehensive cannabis insurance will help you follow all state regulations and avoid delays caused by accidentally missing any requirements when you submit your application. It will also cover legal costs and act as a safety net if you face any compliance issues.  

Step #2: Understand the Application Process

Once you’ve made sure you’re eligible, completed any required permits from your city or county, and developed a thorough business plan, you’re ready to start the application process. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you through this part of the journey.

Assemble the Necessary Documentation

The types of documents you need may vary based on the type of license you are applying for, but here are some general documents you will need for a California Cannabis License Application:

  • Proof of Legal Right: Show that you have the legal right to use the location you’ve chosen for your business as required by section 15007.
  • Financial Documents: Provide evidence of your financial stability and sources of funding.
  • Premises Diagram: Include a diagram of your premises as required by section 15006.
  • Surety Bond: You need to prove you have a surety bond of at least $5,000 per premises, payable to the State of California. 
  • CEQA Compliance: Show evidence of compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as required by section 15010.
  • Local Permits
  • Landowner Approval Consent Form (DCC-9206)
  • Standard Operating Procedures Form (DCC LIC 019
  • Attestation of Compliance: Provide a statement that the premises meet the requirements of the Business and Professions Code.
  • Seller’s Permit
  • Labor Peace Agreement Form (DCC-9205)

To access the full checklist of all required information and documents, you can visit this link.

Step #3: Submit the Application

Now, you’re ready to submit your application, and here’s everything you need to know about it. 

1. Create Your Licensing System Account

Create an account on the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) website. 

The DCC has two different licensing systems, so make sure you choose the one that fits the type of license you’re applying for. 

2. Complete and Submit Your Application

You must provide details about your cannabis business, such as the business name, owner’s name, license type, and business location. 

The application is quite detailed and covers many aspects of your business, so carefully complete each section. 

Ensure you save your progress as you go, so you won’t need to start filling it out from the beginning every time!

After you have filled out the application and uploaded all the required documents, you must pay the application fee before submitting it. 

Notable Regulatory Bodies & Compliance Requirements

Once you’ve submitted your application, the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) will review it thoroughly before granting your license. 

This process usually takes a few months, so be prepared for a bit of a wait.

What to Expect During the Review Process

During the review, the DCC might ask you for more documents or information to complete your application. 

After your application is approved, you will receive a provisional license. This provisional license lets you start your business operations while you wait for your final license.

Compliance Inspections

You will also go through compliance inspections to check if your business meets state regulations and safety standards, covering security, inventory management, and cleanliness.

To pass these inspections, closely follow all state and local cannabis regulations and conduct regular internal audits to find and fix any issues before the DCC visits.

Receiving the Final License

After the application is reviewed and you’ve passed the compliance inspections, the DCC will move forward with approving your cannabis business license.

At this stage, you must pay the annual license fee to receive your final license and officially start operating your cannabis business.

Importance of Insurance for Cannabis Business in California

Running a cannabis business in California comes with unique risks, including strict legal regulations and high product liability concerns. If not managed properly, these challenges can lead to fines, legal claims, or financial losses.

That’s why having the right cannabis insurance is crucial. It protects your business from these risks and ensures you meet all state requirements.

Here are the types of cannabis insurance necessary for running a cannabis business in California and tips on how to choose the right coverage. 

Types of Insurance Necessary for Your Cannabis Business

1. General Liability Insurance

This type of insurance protects your business from claims of property damage, bodily injury, or personal injury. 

2. Property Insurance

Property insurance covers damage to your business property, including your building, equipment, and inventory, due to events like fire, theft, or vandalism.

3. Product Liability Insurance

Product liability insurance protects you from claims related to the safety and quality of your products. If a customer claims your product caused harm or did not meet safety standards, this insurance covers legal costs and damages.

4. Workers’ Compensation Insurance

If you have employees, workers’ compensation insurance is required by law. It benefits workers who get injured or sick by covering their medical expenses and lost wages.

5. Commercial Auto Insurance

Commercial auto insurance is necessary if your business uses vehicles for deliveries or transportation. It covers accidents, damages, and liability related to business vehicles.

If you require help with crafting holistic cannabis business insurance, get in touch with us. At Frontier Risk, our experts are dedicated to providing tailored insurance solutions to meet the unique needs of your cannabis business.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them When Getting a Cannabis Business License

Getting a cannabis business license can be challenging. Here are some common mistakes people make and tips on how to avoid them.

1) Failing To Understand All The Regulating Agencies

In California, multiple state and local agencies are involved in regulating cannabis cultivation, like the city council, fire department, and police.

To avoid overlooking any of their regulations, start by listing all local and state agencies that regulate your business and keep their contact details readily available. 

Having the right cannabis insurance can help you be proactive in this regard as well. Our risk management experts stay abreast with all regulatory advancements, helping entrepreneurs stay compliant at all times! 

2) Submitting Incomplete Applications

Avoid incomplete or inaccurately filled applications by double-checking all documents and forms and having a professional review your application.

While insurance policies don’t fix application errors, we can help cover legal fees if problems arise during the review process. 

3) Tuning Out After the Initial Setup 

After you complete the initial steps to get your cannabis business license, it’s easy to think your work is done. However, regulations for your business can change over time, so ensure staying updated by signing up for email alerts, tracking important meetings, and checking agency websites.

4) Underestimating the Costs

When applying for a cannabis business license, you might overlook expenses like application fees, annual fees, and insurance, leading to financial issues.

To avoid this, review all the costs associated with your license and create a detailed budget that covers everything.

5) Not Investing in Quality Insurance

As an entrepreneur, we understand your struggle with finance can often lead you to opt for the cheapest insurance instead of getting the best coverage for your needs. 

However, doing this can expose your business to various risks. Therefore, it’s important to select a policy that provides comprehensive coverage tailored to your business’s needs. 

High-quality insurance can protect you from various risks like property damage, employee injuries, and legal risks. 

At Frontier Risk, we offer straightforward, high-quality insurance solutions made specifically for cannabis businesses like yours. Our risk management experts understand the critical role of insurance making or breaking a cannabis business in California.

Get a quote today and elevate your business with our customized insurance options!

Peter Berg
Chief Development Officer
Chief Development Officer at Frontier Risk, seasoned cannabis industry executive, with extensive corporate development, M&A, operational & regulatory experience.

Cannabis Insurance Made Simple

We understand your operations, pain points and risks – because we’ve lived them firsthand as former operators at leading cannabis companies.