How to buy legal recreational marijuana in the US and Canada

When buying marijuana in either the US or Canada, consumers should be aware of a few key realities. In the US, the best course of action may be to use use cash to buy marijuana. In Canada, using cash may also be the best option.

Buying marijuana in the US
Although it is possible for adults age 21 and over to legally buy recreational marijuana (cannabis) in several states, existing federal laws make it difficult for potential customers to use checks, credit cards, debit cards, or any kind of electronic payment system to buy recreational marijuana.

This situation is due to the fact that the purchase, sale, and consumption of marijuana is still considered illegal by the US federal government, and traditionally the federal government has made it very difficult for banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions to work with marijuana-related businesses. As a result, you will likely only be able to use cash to buy by legal recreational marijuana.

You may ask yourself two questions. First, if the US federal government is allowing states to legalize the sale and use of recreational marijuana, why make it difficult for customers to buy it?

That is a question that gets into complex and unresolved issues of the different kinds of control the federal and state governments have over commercial activities, and also about the existing federal laws and regulations that are still designed to prevent the commercial sale of marijuana.

The effect of the unresolved issues is that recreational marijuana may be purchased using cash, and not by credit or debit card.

The second question you may ask yourself is how can you pay for recreational marijuana? Since you may only be able to purchase marijuana with cash, you have to ensure that you will have enough money.

For air travelers, especially those from outside the US, who are used to using credit cards for many of their transactions, getting cash should not be a problem if you use one of the following options:

  • Airport currency exchange shops: Most larger airports, such as the airports at Denver and Seattle, have one or more shops offering currency exchange services where you can change your non-US currency into US dollars. Keep in mind that these shops may not be open 24 hours a day.
  • Other currency exchange shops: You may also find currency exchange shops in larger cities, typically in areas with high densities of upscale hotels and tourists.
  • ATM machines: Depending on what bank you use, you may be able to use an ATM machine. Unlike currency exchange shops, they are typically available 24 hours a day and can be found in communities of any size. If your bank account is with a non-US bank, your withdrawal will be in US dollars. Keep in mind that you will likely have additional ATM fees for your transaction. Also, in order to maintain your privacy, you may want to avoid ATM machines that are located in or very near a business that sells marijuana.
  • Larger hotels: Many larger hotels that cater to customers from outside the US may offer currency exchange services, but at rates less favorable than what you would get from a currency exchange shop or from an ATM.

How much cash do you need?
How much you need will depend on two factors, how much you plan to buy and what you plan to buy. Prices are variable and will depend on many factors, so you should check with one or more retail marijuana establishments to figure out how much cash you will need.

While you will likely need to use cash to purchase marijuana or or other products at the store selling retail marijuana, you may be able to use your other financial options to pay for related services like taking a taxi to or from the retail marijuana store.

How much marijuana can you buy?
Each state has slightly different rules on how much you can buy at one time. Typically, purchases are limited to an ounce (28.3 grams) or less at any one time. Also, the limits may depend on the type of marijuana product that is being purchased.

How much marijuana can you possess?
The amount that an individual can posses will depend on the laws and regulations of the state that you are in. There may also be different limits for different kinds of marijuana products.

Buying marijuana in Canada
Since October, possessing and consuming marijuana has been legal throughout Canada. Retail marijuana stores may allow customers to use credit or debit cards to purchase marijuana, but doing so may may not be a good idea for several reasons:

  • Maintaining your privacy: Using credit or debit cards create an electronic record. The privacy of those transactions will depend on the agreement that your bank or credit card company has with its customers. That privacy agreement may change over time, especially if the bank or credit card company changes ownership.
  • Potential legal problems: If your bank or credit card company is based in a location where purchasing marijuana is not legal, for example the United States, your purchase may be in violation of a law or regulation, even if your purchase happened in a location where the purchase is legal.
  • US trusted traveler programs: There are a number of programs in the US that allow expedited entry into the US or Canada (Global Entry and NEXUS), or easier processing by TSA (TSA PreCheck), that require that you not violate any laws that are enforced by the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency. Purchasing marijuana would be a violation that could bar you from one of these programs, and any record of a credit or debit card purchase of marijuana serve as evidence of that purchase.

Getting cash in Canada
Sources of cash in Canada would be similar to sources used in the US, banks, ATM machines, currency exchange shops, and larger hotels.

Other marijuana resources

How to buy legal recreational marijuana in the US and Canada -- Revised 2 December 2018