You’re about to start a Cannabis company and understand that the Cannabis industry is heavily regulated and getting a license can be more challenging than getting a regular business. At the same time, you understand that there is tremendous upside if you meet all the requirements to kick-start your business.

So, how do you get your commercial license? How do you assure your prospective customers that you’re fully registered and licensed to sell Cannabis to them? This article will show you all you need to know.

Understanding the Dynamics of Cannabis Licensing in the United States

Cannabis is not a federally legal substance. It remains a Schedule I controlled substance and offenders can be punished for possessing or selling certain amounts or in certain areas.

However, many states in the United States have taken a progressive approach toward Cannabis legalization, recognizing its potential benefits and economic opportunities. More than 50% of the US population now lives in a jurisdiction that has legalized cannabis for recreational use, and 75% of the US population lives in a jurisdiction with either a medical or recreational program. 

While these states have legalized the use and sale of Cannabis, they’ve also placed strict regulations to guide the sale, distribution, and use of the substance. Additionally, municipalities within the states that have legalized Cannabis may also have rules guiding Cannabis businesses, users, applicants, and licensees.

This makes it difficult to suggest a definite and general guideline for your Cannabis business license application. However, one thing to note is that every state has an agency that governs these licenses. In New York, it is the Office of Cannabis Management while in California, it is called the Department of Cannabis Control.

Still, we’ll show you what you can anticipate when going through with your adult-use or medical Cannabis license application.

What are the Different Types of Cannabis Licenses and their Requirements?

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Before beginning the license application process, it’s crucial to understand that different forms of Cannabis businesses carry different license types, processes, and application fees, and applicants must understand the differences.

Below are the different types of Cannabis licenses and their requirements, depending on what you want:

1. Cultivation License (Cultivator or Grower)

This license is for businesses involved in the cultivation or farming of Cannabis plants. It includes activities such as planting, growing, harvesting, and drying cannabis. Cultivation licenses can be further categorized based on the scale of operations, such as indoor, outdoor, or greenhouse cultivation.

The license requirements for cultivators can vary depending on the state and local regulations, as mentioned earlier. However, here’s a generalized approach you can take anywhere you are:

  • State Residency: Some states may require you to provide proof of residency during the application process.
  • Age Requirement: Typically you must be at least 18 or 21 years old to apply for a cultivation license, depending on the state and whether it is recreational or medical Marijuana.
  • Application Process: Applicants usually must complete an application form, and provide detailed business plans, security plans, financial information, and other documentation as required by the state regulatory authority.
  • Background Checks: Cultivation license applicants are generally required to undergo fingerprinting, criminal record checks, and financial background checks.
  • Facility Requirements: States often have specific regulations related to security systems, surveillance cameras, facility layout, and good manufacturing practices (GMP) compliance. Typically a State will ask for you to provide your proposed facility address with your application, in some cases requiring you have a deed or a signed lease. 
  • Compliance with Regulations: Cultivators must comply with various regulations regarding pesticide use, water usage, waste disposal, and product labeling. Demonstrating knowledge and adherence to these regulations is a crucial part of the application process.
  • Fees and Financial Requirements: Cultivators are typically required to pay application fees, licensing fees, and ongoing renewal fees. The costs can vary significantly depending on the state and the size of the cultivation operation.

2. Manufacturing/Processing License (Manufacturer and Processor)

A manufacturing license is required for businesses involved in processing Cannabis into various products. It covers activities such as extraction, refining, and manufacturing of edibles, concentrates, topicals, and other cannabis-infused products. 

Manufacturing licenses may have additional requirements for facilities, equipment, and product safety testing. They include the following:

  • State Compliance: Applicants for a Cannabis manufacturing license must understand and comply with specific manufacturing processes, safety protocols, and product quality standards.
  • Application Process: This may include submitting business plans, site plans, standard operating procedures (SOPs), product formulations, and security protocols.
  • Facility Requirements: States often have specific regulations related to security systems, surveillance cameras, facility layout, and good manufacturing practices (GMP) compliance. Typically a State will ask for you to provide your proposed facility address with your application, in some cases requiring you have a deed or a signed lease.
  • Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP): GMP guidelines cover various aspects of manufacturing, including facility design, equipment calibration and maintenance, sanitation procedures, employee training, and product testing protocols.
  • Compliance and Testing: Manufacturers are required to work with licensed testing laboratories to ensure accurate potency, purity, and contaminant testing of their products.

Please note that these requirements can vary significantly from state to state.

3. Distribution License (Distributor or Transporter)

Businesses holding a distribution license are responsible for transporting Cannabis and Cannabis products between licensed entities. This license ensures compliance with regulations related to the storage, transportation, and delivery of cannabis. Not every state offers this license.

4. Retail License (Retailer)

A retail license allows businesses to sell Cannabis and Cannabis products directly to consumers. This license is required for operating dispensaries, retail stores, or delivery services where customers can purchase cannabis for medical or recreational use. 

Retail licenses often have strict regulations regarding age verification, inventory tracking, and point-of-sale systems. They include the usual requirements already mentioned above and more location and zoning, and security measures.

5. Testing/Lab License

Testing licenses are granted to labs responsible for analyzing and certifying the safety, potency, and quality of Cannabis products. Testing facilities ensure that products meet regulatory standards and provide accurate information to consumers. 

These licenses focus on conducting comprehensive tests for contaminants, cannabinoids, terpenes, and other important factors. Requirements for testing licenses include everything as mentioned along with others like facility and equipment requirements, accreditation and certification, etc., depending on the jurisdiction.

Step-By-Step Process for Obtaining a Cannabis Business License

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If you’re planning to license your Cannabis business, below is a step-by-step process you can follow for every state:

  • Research State and Local Regulations
  • Develop a Business Plan
  • Establish the Business Entity
  • Obtain necessary Permits and Licenses
  • Complete the License Application
  • Submit the Application
  • Respond to Requests for Additional Information
  • Complete Background Checks and Inspections
  • Attend Hearings or Interviews
  • Await Approval and License Issuance

It is crucial to thoroughly research the regulations and requirements of the state and local jurisdiction where you plan to operate your Cannabis business and consult with legal professionals or industry consultants to ensure compliance throughout the licensing process.

Feel free to speak with our experts at Zoned Properties to ease up the process of acquiring your license and kick-off business activities with the confidence that you’ve fulfilled all local, state, and federal requirements.


Obtaining a commercial license for a Cannabis business in the United States requires thorough research, careful planning, and adherence to state and local regulations. It involves developing a business plan, securing financing, completing the application process, undergoing background checks and inspections, and maintaining open communication with the regulatory authorities. 

Consulting legal professionals and industry experts is crucial for navigating the specific requirements of each state. Note that the information shared here is what’s currently obtainable in 2023 and is subject to change, as the Cannabis industry continues to grow.