Authored Articles & Publications Apr 22, 2019

Best in Law: Holy Smoke! Smoking Cannabis at Private Business Events

BB&K Attorneys Nancy Park and Ashley Zambrano Discuss When you Can, and Can’t, Light Up

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By Nancy Park and Ashley Zambrano

If you don’t want your work event to go up in smoke, there are some property rules you need to know when it comes to cannabis use.

Now that lighting up includes smoking cannabis as well as cigarettes, do you need to be worried when you host a private event in your place of business? You normally consider this to be private property, and so you are only subject to the building rules (or your own rules if you own the building). So, is it OK to spark up anything besides the BBQ at the next company picnic?

The short answer is that it is generally permissible to smoke (or ingest) cannabis at a private event, on private property, in areas where smoking cigarettes is allowed. Smoking laws, however, are very detailed and comprehensive in California, so there are few issues to note. Smoking (or ingesting) cannabis is prohibited:

  • in public places,
  • in places where smoking tobacco is prohibited,
  • while driving or operating a vehicle and
  • within 1,000 feet or upon the grounds of a school, youth center or daycare while children are present.


“Public place,” however, does not simply mean public property. In California, the definition of a public place is widely interpreted in the law to mean any place that is open to the general public (i.e., grocery stores, movie theaters, etc.). Additionally, smoking cigarettes is extensively prohibited in California, including within any enclosed place of employment (public and private).

Some cities have adopted even more restrictive smoking prohibitions, such as prohibiting smoking in outdoor dining or common areas. Even if these restrictions only reference cigarette smoking, they apply equally to smoking cannabis. For instance, some cities expressly prohibit all smoking in public or private elevators, common areas of buildings, as well as outdoor dining areas. Even absent tobacco restrictions, some cities specifically prohibit cannabis use in specific areas.

So, if you are throwing a private party on private property, you would be permitted to allow smoking, including cannabis, but only so long as the party is not open to the general public and smoking is not otherwise prohibited.

If you’ve hired people to work the event, this means no smoking indoors (i.e.: smoking would not be allowed within an enclosed place of employment). If there is a designated outdoor area where smoking tobacco is allowed, it is safe to assume smoking cannabis is also allowed.

Obviously, minors should not be smoking, or given any cannabis — the legal age for recreational cannabis use is 21. No cannabis sales can occur, either (unless the host gets a cannabis special event permit). If you wanted to prohibit smoking or just cannabis smoking entirely, you can do so. It’s not safe to assume that if the property itself is privately owned that the issue is privately governed.

The more important question is whether the property/event is open to the general public. One other concern, similar to a host serving alcohol, is whether your cannabis-smoking guests can drive afterward, as it is still illegal to drive while under the influence.

The bottom line is a private party on public property (even if a rented community center for a private event) — no smoking. Private party (closed to the public) on private property (and no hired help) — light away — with the knowledge there are still risks as the host.

This article first appeared in The Press-Enterprise and other Southern California Newspaper Group publications online on April 19, 2019. Republished with permission.

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