• Jessica Kaiser

California vs Colorado: Cannabis Edition

Often industry veterans find themselves in other legal states, whether it's for fun or for work. On a recent trip to the beachside state, I noticed a wide variety of differences between the cannabis regulations, products and attitudes in both states. Here is a comprehensive list!

Medical Claims

In Colorado it is against the law for budtenders, marketers and manufacturers to make any medical claims such as “this product can help with Arthritis”, or “this product is good for relieving nausea”. However, in California the bud tenders and promotional staff are much more lax with the use of medical claims. Within 5 minutes of my first pop-up experience I was told that a flower company’s full spectrum extract is “great for any family members or friends with Cancer”.

Battery Recycling Programs

Colorado’s seed to sale tracking system, METRC, makes product returns cumbersome and confusing. Any returned or defective product must be completely legally destroyed, which can cost retail shops extra money and time. Because of this most dispensaries do not allow any purchased product back into the store. In California, companies like Dosist have a battery recycling program with their disposable vapes. This program allows customer to take their used or empty vape pens back into the dispensary to be recycled. The customer is even given a coupon for future products in exchange. Such sustainability pushes are not common in other states.

Unmedicated Consumables

Colorado’s cannabis laws clearly state that no consumable can be in any recreational dispensary unless it contains THC and is logged in METRC. This even includes “common courtesy” items such as water bottles and swag items such as lip balm. In California however, it is not uncommon to see unmedicated gummy samples at pop-ups, or complimentary water bottles at the check-in desk.


Anyone in the Colorado cannabis industry who is versed in compliance knows it’s a huge no-no to recommend that any out of state visitors or even locals bring cannabis over state lines. Knowing this, on our last day in town we chose to merely window shop. At a dispensary in Venice Beach I apologized in advance to the budtender, we were getting on a flight in a couple hours and wouldn’t be purchasing anything but were there to learn more about their products. Our helpful budtender assured us that LAX, the local airport “won’t care about anything” in our luggage unless it was over our carrying limit. She explained that we were allowed an ounce, or 8 grams of concentrate on the plane.

Half grams of Shatter

Concentrates are inexpensive in Colorado compared to many other legal recreational markets, it’s not uncommon to find a full gram of shatter for $10-$20, as the highly competitive market demands as much THC for as low a price as possible. In California, many recreational shops have as many options for half grams as they do for full grams. Half grams often retail for $25-$35 while full grams typically retail for $30-$50. The California market has a high demand for smaller amounts of the most potent products, even when the customer can buy twice as much for nearly the same price.

Full Gram Carts

Colorado’s cannabis industry gave 1000mg cartridges a try years ago, but since the product defect rate was high the market for such products slowed down drastically. The most common cartridge potencies range between 250mg and 500mg, In California, 1000mg cartridges are extremely popular, and budtenders refer to them as being the best available products. When using about the defect rate, the staff consistently acknowledged it was still an issue — regardless of the advancements in atomizer and vape technology.


Since the supply of flower has increased drastically over time in Colorado, the prices have decreased in conjunction. Many grows who previously prided themselves on high quality flower have had to change operating procedures to move product as quickly and efficiently as possible and stay above water financially. It’s uncommon to have access to information about your product such as the grow facility it came from, their growing practices, and what makes it unique. It’s difficult to even understand what makes flower “budget”, “middle tier” or “top shelf”.

In the California market, growers take great pride in their product. The shelves are covered with heavily branded flower, and growers are valuing their reputation, packaging and practices. Most of the grams or eighths you’ll find on the shelves are in branded glass jars. Growers send brand reps to dispensaries on the weekends to have pop-ups, whereas in Colorado branded cannabis is more commonly seen in the black market than on store shelves.

Heavily branded preroll packs line the shelves in California as well, appealing to freshly 21-year-old consumers and their grandparents alike. Sometimes packs are single strains, but sometimes they’re more like “party packs” where you can choose from a variety of strains and effects. Customers are just as likely to buy preroll packs as they are a single joint — because it’s more cost conscious but it’s also an experience. In Colorado it’s not uncommon to buy a preroll made from the dispensary’s in-house flower, but in California the joint packs are made by well known brands. California dispensaries showcase the growers with intricate and original branded packaging.

Accessible Live Product

When a customer enters a recreational or medical dispensary in Colorado, the point of sale is always in a specific designated area, and the only people allowed behind the counters are employees of the store. If a customer wants to see, touch or smell a product, a staff member will pull one or two options out from behind the counter and let customers take a closer look. It is never okay to allow a customer to walk around with medicated, live product. In California, dispensaries are often set up just like the grocery store. Medicated product that is available for purchase lines shelves across the entire room. Customers can grab products off the shelves and carry them to the check-out. Rather than being behind a counter, the staff is often walking around the store and can sometimes complete sales on iPads.

Delta 8, THCa and Cannabinoid Variety

Colorado is the leader when it comes to educating cannabis consumers on cannabinoids and their uses. Most shops have a variety of products containing THC, CBD, and both compounds together. Budtenders are aware and educated on terpenes, but very rarely have conversations with customers about them. California has this variety of products as well, but manufacturers take it a step further. Brands such as Pro-Tab create pills with other useful cannabinoids like CBG, Delta 8 THC, THCa, CBN, and more. The California market is heavily invested in cannabis from a holistic approach, opposed to Colorado who mainly values THC percentage. Budtenders are versed in terpene uses, and educational material is very easy to find. Many products’ labels include terpenes found in that particular strain or product.

Purchase Limits

In Colorado we look at purchase limits as slices of a pie - each customer can only buy 1 pie, maximum. 1 gram of concentrate, 3.5 grams of flower, 100mg edible and 1000mg of a vape are one slice, and the pie has 8 slices. California also uses this pie analogy, but their customers can buy both 28.5 grams of flower and 8 grams of concentrate, essentially doubling the purchase capacity of Colorado. We have strict guidelines in place in Colorado that take edibles and vapes into account, but California doesn’t. To attempt to follow the intention of the law, bud tenders use milligrams to consider vape purchase limits, but there are absolutely no clear laws in place saying how many edibles may be purchased.

Delivery Services

Walking into a store is only one way to purchase cannabis in California. The state has a myriad of delivery services, who have online menus to choose from and can bring your cannabis to you wherever you are — like Grubhub. Folks with busy lifestyles, or medical issues that get in the way of walking into a dispensary are not forced to ask a friend to purchase for them and break the law to get their product.

Sauce vs Live Resin

Live Resin in Colorado comes in many forms depending on the brand, strain, trimming and extraction methods. It can be a saucy consistency, a pool of terpenes with THCa crystals on top, or if not kept cold — a dry melted concoction of THCa and terpenes resembling chewed gum. In California, live resin is most commonly a mixed consistency of diamonds and terpenes, or purged into almost-clear yellow shatter. If the live concentrate is more moist, it’s labeled “Sauce”. Both markets call whipped live resin “butter” or “budder”. Sauce and live resin retail similarly in California, but it’s much easier to find what you’re looking for based on labeling rather than having to open each container. Customers who prefer a large amount of terpenes can ask for sauce, and THC fiends can ask for live resin.

Live product Giveaways

Due to the strict seed-to-sale system in Colorado, medicated product can be gifted between friends but not in a retail establishment. During vendor day events in California, often the dispensaries will advertise BOGO deals on products. However customers don’t pay a cent for the additional product - the BOGO is rarely even reflected on the receipt. The protocol is to buy the single product, then to show the receipt to the vendor who pulls out live product from a backpack or bag and hands it to you. Product can be gifted within the shop without ever having to enter the tracking system.

Pre-packed Product

The early days of choosing your own nugs from a glass jar behind the counter are on their way out in Colorado, as dispensary owners realize the time spent and risk of contamination are avoidable. However many stores who wholesale cannabis flower still weigh out grams, eighths, quarters and ounces for their customers behind the counter. In California this method is nearly extinct. This may be partially caused by the available branding space on pre-packed jars and bags. Of all the dispensaries we visited, we didn’t see a single shop with a scale on the counter. However, bud tenders were more than happy to “pick you the jar with the prettiest nugs” if you’re friendly to them.


Any cannabis related advertising in Colorado must be age-verified. By law the audience must be at least 70% 21+. These laws force Colorado brands to be creative in how they connect with potential customers. In California, cannabis advertisements are very public. Billboards advertise dispensaries, and product advertisements are plastered on the wall at Venice Beach and fences along main roads.

What are some differences in your legal state? Leave us a comment below and let us know!

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