Is Pepper Spray Legal in California? Laws and Regulations

is pepper spray legal in california

Pepper spray can be an effective self-defense tool – it causes temporary blindness, difficulty breathing, and severe irritation when sprayed directly into an attacker’s eyes and face. This non-lethal weapon enables potential victims to neutralize threats and safely escape dangerous situations.

But is pepper spray legal for civilians to carry and use for self-defense purposes in California?

The short answer is yes – with some restrictions. While pepper spray is legal in California, there are regulations regarding who can carry it, how much can be carried, labeling requirements, allowable methods of use, and possible penalties for misuse.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover:

  • What exactly is pepper spray and how it works
  • Current California laws on purchasing and carrying pepper spray
  • Rules on legal and illegal pepper spray use in the state
  • Consequences for improperly deploying pepper spray
  • Safety tips for responsibly owning pepper spray
  • Where you can legally buy pepper spray in California

Understanding all aspects of California’s pepper spray laws enables residents to make an informed decision about whether or not to carry it for self-protection.

What is Pepper Spray and How Does it Work?

Before diving into laws and regulations, it helps to understand exactly what pepper spray is and how it works to incapacitate attackers when used for self-defense.

Pepper spray is a non-lethal self-defense weapon derived from chili peppers. Also known as oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray, it contains the active ingredient capsaicin – the chemical that gives spicy peppers their heat and pungency.

When deployed against an attacker, pepper spray causes:

  • Temporary blindness and involuntary eye closure
  • Coughing, choking, and difficulty breathing
  • Severe burning sensation on skin and mucous membranes
  • Disorientation, anxiety, and panic

This intensely irritating payload enables even physically smaller victims to quickly incapacitate and escape larger, stronger attackers. Effects generally last 30-60 minutes, with full recovery taking place afterward.

Pepper spray comes in several forms, but fogger and stream sprays are the most common:

  • Fogger sprays emit a widely dispersed cloud ideal for dealing with multiple attackers at once
  • Stream sprays shoot a more concentrated jet allowing greater stand-off distance from individual attackers

Both foggers and stream spray are legal when used properly for self-defense in California. We’ll now turn to the specific laws regarding pepper spray possession and use in the state.

California State Laws on Carrying and Using Pepper Spray

california state laws on carrying and using pepper spray

California has specific laws allowing civilians to carry pepper spray for the express purpose of self-defense while also restricting against misuse and abuse. These are highlighted in California Penal Code Section 12403.7 and summarized as follows:

Legal Use

  • Adults may legally purchase, possess and use pepper spray solely for self-defense purposes in a situation where they have a reasonable fear of harm to themselves or others.
  • The maximum allowable volume of pepper spray is 2.5 oz containers – this is equivalent to a short 2 second burst.
  • Pepper spray canisters must clearly list an expiration date and have labeling stating it is meant solely for self-defense.


  • Pepper spray cannot be used ceremonially or for any reason other than lawful self-defense.
  • Prior conviction of a felony or assault legally prohibits owning pepper spray.
  • Minors under 18 cannot purchase or possess pepper spray, except those 16-17 with parental permission.

Under Section 12403 of the Penal Code, misusing pepper spray in an unlawful manner or violating any of the above regulations is illegal and punishable as a felony offense by imprisonment, fines, or both.

Now that we understand pepper spray laws in California at a high level, let’s get into more detail on properly carrying and deploying it for self-defense.

Who Can Legally Carry Pepper Spray in California?

As noted in the restrictions above, certain groups of people cannot legally purchase or carry pepper spray in CA:


  • Anyone previously convicted of a felony cannot legally possess pepper spray according to Penal Code 30600.
  • This includes felony convictions in any U.S. state or federal court, not just limited to California.

Drug Addicts

  • Being addicted to an illegal narcotic drug also prohibits pepper spray ownership as stated in Penal Code 12403 Section C.
  • This applies even with no criminal drug conviction.


  • In California, it is also illegal for a minor under age 18 to purchase or possess pepper spray.
  • The one exception is 16-17 year olds that have explicit parental permission as already noted.

Other Restricted Groups

Additionally, California Penal Code 12590 restricts pepper spray access to:

  • Those under mental health restraining orders.
  • People with prior misdemeanor convictions for assault or unlawful use of tear gas devices.

Outside of these exceptions, pepper spray is legal to purchase and carry in California for civilians wanting to protect themselves or provide for their personal safety.

But they must do so properly and only deploy defensively during situations legally warranting self-defense.

Consequences & Penalties for Improper Pepper Spray Use

consequences & penalties for improper pepper spray use

Mishandling pepper spray or deploying it unlawfully carries stiff legal penalties in California.


Simply displaying pepper spray in a threatening way qualifies as brandishing under Penal Code 417. This is considered a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 2 or 3 year in jail and $1000 fines when no valid self-defense need exists.


Intentionally spraying someone unlawfully out of malice or revenge constitutes assault and battery under Penal Code Section 240. When serious bodily injury also occurs, penalties escalate to up to $10,000 fines and 4 years imprisonment.

Self-Defense Claim Denial

Most critically, being charged with an offense for misusing pepper spray also invalidates any claim of legal self-defense. So no justification for unlawful pepper spraying exists under California laws.

When violating any pepper spray carrying provisions per 12040 PC, possession itself becomes a statutory offense subject to the following punishments:

  • up to 3 years jail time
  • fines up to $10,000
  • becoming a prohibited possessor losing all future pepper spray rights

As repeat violations stack up, consequences intensify further still with permanent forfeitures of rights. Clearly misusing pepper spray lacks any legal defense and carries strictly enforced penalties in California.

Safety Tips for Responsibly Carrying Pepper Spray in California

safety tips for responsibly carrying pepper spray in california

When carrying pepper spray lawfully, adhere to these best practices for safely handling and deploying it:

  • Clearly memorize proper self-defense laws for California.
  • Treat pepper spray canisters gently to avoid accidental discharge.
  • Never brandish or threaten use without legitimate need.
  • Only spray as a last resort when facing imminent bodily threat.
  • Aim for assailant eyes and facial area for max effectiveness.
  • Have proper ventilation or mask to avoid affecting yourself or bystanders
  • Safely secure pepper spray inside pockets, purses, bags when not in immediate use.
  • Check canister expiration date and maintain fresh stock. Most expire 3-4 years after purchase.
  • Practice quick access and spraying technique before real confrontations.
  • Consider self-defense training to boost confidence, awareness and alternatives.

Following these responsible precautions reduces risk to yourself and others when relying on pepper spray for self-protection. Training also helps respond properly in stressful situations.

Where Can I Buy Pepper Spray Legally in California?

When purchasing pepper spray, buyers must be over age 18 and transactions typically occur face-to-face through licensed weapons dealers or pharmacies.

Online sales delivering to California addresses are strictly illegalPenal Code 22815 PC specifically prohibits mail orders, Internet purchases or any other delivery sale of tear gas devices intended for personal protection. Buyers could suffer criminal charges receiving contraband defense sprays through such unauthorized channels.

Instead, seek local pepper spray shops, firearm dealers, or pharmacy counters selling properly labeled defense spray canisters compliant with CA regulations. This avoids legal issues carrying improperly sourced solutions.

Confirm any product clearly lists “for self-defense purposes only” plus satisfies restrictions on formula, payload volume, spray mechanism, and other attributes compliant for the California market.

Be aware federal limits also govern transporting pepper spray devices while crossing state lines via air travel or other methods. So always research both destination and transit location rules before purchasing and transporting pepper sprays across jurisdictions.

Viable Alternatives Beyond Pepper Spray for Self-Defense

While an effective and legal option under many scenarios, pepper spray also carries restrictions along with the potential for misuse or over-reliance.

Those uncertain they can adhere to California’s regulations or seeking non-chemical alternatives should consider supplemented or replacing pepper spray with these other common self-defense options:

  • Tactical flashlights for visually disorienting attackers
  • Tasers capable of incapacitating aggressors by electric shock
  • Handheld alarms emitting painfully loud sound to scare away attackers
  • Tactical pens featuring reinforced tips for jabbing sensitive body areas
  • Kubatons consisting of short sticks applying leverage pressure to lock joints or deliver pain compliance
  • Martial arts building physical defenses, situational awareness, confidence

Consult local laws for any restrictions around these alternative self-defense items which may also apply in California. But many represent viable alternatives to supplement or replace pepper spray for personal protection.


This guide covers the critical details around legally carrying and using pepper spray in California. While allowed under regulation, misusing pepper spray carries serious consequences. Responsible handling and adherence to safety best practices are essential.

Potential buyers able to pass background checks and prior convicted of no disqualifying offenses can purchase pepper spray local dealers. But properly labeled containers limited to 2.5oz must clearly state “for self-defense only” along with expiration dates and first aid information.

Only during confrontations with reasonable fear of immediate harm to oneself or others can deployed pepper spray qualify as legal self-defense in California. Improper use threatens not just criminal liability, but permanent forfeiture of Second Amendment rights.

Weigh these provisions of California code before opting to carry pepper spray or relying on it as a self-defense choice. Pepper spray represents just one option among various self-protection items permitted under state law. But understanding associated regulations and penalties ensures those who depend on it stay safely within their rights.

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