In California, illicit cannabis production continues despite recent legalization. In this study, we use anonymous surveys of California’s cannabis farmers to ask: Why are some cannabis farmers engaging in the state’s licensing initiative while others are not. About one third of respondents reported that they never applied for a license. Many non-applicants were small cultivators with diversified livelihood strategies. They attributed non-compliance to not only financial barriers, but also administrative and psychological ones, all of which disproportionately affect farmers with fewer resources. We recommend policy measures to mitigate the administrative burdens of compliance, particularly for small farmers and the health of rural economies.