California was the first state to legalize medical cannabis in the United States, thanks to Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. Voters decided that regardless of the Food and Drug Administration’s lack of testing for safety and efficacy, certain patients can possess and cultivate marijuana for medical use. Patients with a medical card could grow their own or purchase marijuana from a system of collective and cooperative distributors.

Then in November 2016, voters again approved using marijuana in California, this time for recreational use by adults 21 and older. Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, legalized growing and selling weed in the State of California similar to the way it regulates, controls, and taxes alcohol. Recreational cannabis sales went live in January 2018.

Ever on the forefront of innovation, Californians now have the option to grow cannabis for personal use. Before you rush out and buy your first plants or seeds, here are a few things you need to know to grow marijuana legally in California.

Personal use

Growing marijuana for personal use is an adult recreation according to the State of California. The minimum age to legally grow it is 21; it’s still against the law for teenagers to grow and use weed. Just like with alcohol sales, you could get in trouble for underage consumption.

The law states that each person can grow six plants in total, regardless of the plants’ stage of growth. Other states’ laws allow adults to have more plants if some are not flowering, but California strictly adheres to the six-plant limit.

You must restrict your plants to only where you live. You can’t grow six plants at home and another six plants at work (even if the boss allows it). Check with your municipality to determine if you can have your plants growing outdoors or if your location is strictly indoor growing. California law states it’s up to the local authorities to determine if they want to prohibit outdoor marijuana plants. And if you live close to certain public places, schools, parks, etc., it may be illegal to grow your plants.

The law wants your marijuana plants and their use to be a private issue. This means you shouldn’t live stream your plants growing or your personal use of the crop. And when you travel with your weed, you can only legally carry 28.5 grams of marijuana. Leave the rest of your crop at home.

Where to grow your personal plants

Before you worry that six plants won’t be enough, advanced growing techniques can turn your six-plant crop into more than enough weed. First, find out if you can grow outdoors or if you’re restricted to indoors. Then choose a strain that grows well in the California climate if you’re growing outdoors. Growing indoors requires a few pieces of equipment to simulate the sun and breeze, but you control the environment, unlike an outdoor grow.

Growing outdoors

You want a hardy plant that grows well in the California climate. There’s no need to purchase grow lights and fans since the sun and wind take care of that for you. You can grow your six plants in containers outdoors or directly in the soil.

Be prepared for surprises when you grow outdoors. These can come in the four-legged variety such as wildlife or insects, or the two-legged variety such as nosey neighbors. If you grow outdoors, find a spot that offers plenty of privacy and security.

Growing indoors

If you’re growing indoors, you don’t have access to the sun, the breeze, and the soil and its various nutrients. You must provide those for your cannabis plants. You must purchase a grow light that simulates a minimum of eight hours of direct sunlight a day. Choose soil with a mixture of vermiculite, perlite, and coco coir to start. A more advanced growing technique is hydroponics, which involves growing your marijuana plants directly in water; it requires more expensive, complicated equipment.

You can also make your own organic compost for your soil. While it takes a bit more work, it’s easy to learn how and is more environmentally friendly. If this sounds like too much work, you can buy nutrients to feed your weed plants. The nutrients your plants need depends on the soil you’re using, but mainly will be nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Research these nutrients to determine which will maximize your soil makeup and your marijuana plants.

Finally, test the soil and water you use on your weed to determine its pH level. Make sure your plants are pH balanced. If the pH level is too acidic or alkaline, you must add ingredients to the soil or water to help balance it out. Google pH levels in soils to learn more.

Growing from seed

If you’re lucky enough to have clones or cuttings from mature female marijuana plants, you can skip this section. But if you’re starting from seed, you must germinate them first before planting.

Purchasing a starter cube helps keep your seeds moist but not wet and warm but not hot. Seeds started this way will sprout up in a few days or up to a week. But if you don’t have a starter cube, a few supplies at home will come in handy.

Put your seeds in a glass of water for a few days. The temperature should be around 68 degrees with a pH level of 6. It may take over 24 hours, but soon you’ll see a tail poking out of the seed. Once you see that tail, you can plant your seeds.

Another method is wrapping your seeds in a moist paper towel and placing it between two plates to keep the moisture inside. If you use this method, make sure the paper towel stays moist and check every few days for the tail.

The vegetative stage of growth

This is the first stage of growth where your plants grow rapidly if you’re feeding and watering them right. You want them to grow fast while still being healthy and bushy, so take care to monitor their sunlight and temperatures. Marijuana plants grow best between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit and require direct sunlight between 10am and 4pm if you’re growing outdoors.

If you’re growing indoors, you can use your grow lights for up to 24 hours a day. When you’re feeding your growing cannabis plants, start with only half of the recommended amount of nutrients so you don’t burn them out. Once they grow extremely fast, then you should feed them the recommended amount of nutrients.

The flowering stage of growth

Now is when your buds form, and you must separate the male from the female plants. This happens towards the end of the growing cycle, whether your plants are indoors or outside.

Male plants are easy to identify. They have pollen sacs and don’t have the little white hairs that female plants do. As soon as you find a male plant, remove it from your grow. If you allow the male plants to flourish, they will pollinate your female plants which will produce seeds instead of buds.

If you’re growing indoors, you must reduce the grow lights to 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. Keep the grow lights consistent to simulate the flowering stage of growth because nighttime is an important part of the stage. You want complete, uninterrupted darkness for 12 hours.

Also, reduce the temperature to between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit to help the flowering stage. Both the temperature and less sunlight will happen naturally outdoors. Keep an eye on your nutrients because your flowering plants will use nutrients differently.

When to harvest

Examine your marijuana plants daily. When they stop growing new little white hairs and around two-thirds of the hairs have turned a darker color, it’s time to harvest. Waiting until 70% of the hairs have darkened can maximize the level of THC in your harvest. The more hairs that darken (80-90%), the higher your relaxing high will be.

Use scissors to cut off the flower part of the plant and discard the rest. Next, cure and dry your weed.

Drying the buds

This is a critical step because if you don’t dry them properly, they could mold. Hang your flower parts upside down in a dark, cool place with plenty of ventilation. The key is to keep them from drying too quickly.

Once your buds are dried out, place them in a mason jar that seals tightly. Fill each jar up 75% with buds, screw on the lid tight, and put the jars in a dark, cool place. Every day, open the jars for a few seconds to release any moisture buildup and to let fresh air in. If your jars seem like they still have too much moisture, leave the lids off a little longer to keep mold from growing.

This daily curing process in the mason jars takes about two weeks. After two weeks, only open the jars once a week to release any moisture. Some people only cure their buds for two weeks, while others recommend a minimum of 30 days. Experiment with curing to see which gives you the best results.

Final thoughts

To get your best marijuana yield, avoid these newbie grower mistakes:

  • Not testing pH levels. The pH levels at your plants’ roots must be balanced. If you ignore their pH levels, your cannabis plants won’t take in nutrients properly. Maintain pH levels as strictly as you maintain temperature and humidity in your grow room.
  • Not learning the basics. If you never read this post, you won’t have the basics. Without these industry standards, you won’t reap the harvest you want. Growing outdoors offers more help from Mother Nature to make things happen. If you don’t orchestrate the changing of the seasons in your indoor grow, your crops won’t grow as expected.
  • Overfeeding or watering. Overfeeding your marijuana plants can cause nutrient burn and over-watering them can cause mold and mildew growth. You might even drown your plants. Start with half the recommended dosage of nutrients, and only water when the first inch of soil is dry.
  • Skimping on seeds. Buying the cheapest seeds leads to less desirable plants. You can save costs by buying second hand equipment like grow lights, fans, etc., or growing outdoors. Don’t skimp on seed quality though. Find easy beginner strains that grow fast, are easy to take care of, and have the highest yield.

Finally, don’t sell your marijuana unless you have a state license. You grew it for personal use, and if you’re caught selling weed to an underage kid, you’ll face felony charges. To sell weed legally, there are state and local channels you need to go through to set up a legal marijuana business—which is another post entirely.

Christopher Wright

Meet Christopher Wright, aka Blue, successful radio host and creator of Cannabis Talk 101. As well as CEO of Cannabis Talk Network. For over a decade now, Chris has had his hands in all faucets of the Cannabis Industry. From medicinal marijuana dispensaries and cultivations to controversial cannabis activism, Chris is a pioneer for the cannabis movement.