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How to get a Medical Marijuana Card in California

Under California law, patients with qualifying medical conditions can use medical marijuana to potentially provide relief for symptoms of their conditions. Wondering how to get a card and what the benefits are? We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about obtaining and using a Medical Marijuana Identification Card (MMIC) in California. 

California Medical Marijuana Law & Regulations 

Let’s start with a little historical context: in 1996 the California legislature passed Proposition 215, the California Compassionate Use Act, allowing certain people to legally possess medical marijuana. The act exempts both medical marijuana users and primary caregivers from any legal repercussions and allows them to purchase, cultivate, or transport marijuana for personal medical use. 

Twenty years later in 2016, California voters approved Proposition 64 legalizing the use of recreational marijuana for people over 21. That law went into effect at the beginning of 2016. While many patients who were previously using medical marijuana under Prop 215 may be able to purchase marijuana from recreational dispensaries now, there are some benefits to purchasing and using marijuana through the medical marijuana system. 

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How to Get a Medical Card in California for Marijuana 

One of the most common questions people ask is, “how do I get a medical marijuana card in California?” The first step to getting medical marijuana in the state of California is to get a medical marijuana identification card (MMIC). A marijuana card in California comes from the Department of Public Health (CDPH) Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program (MMICP). The state keeps a registry of people approved for medical marijuana use, and that person’s primary caregiver. While participation in the database is voluntary, registering makes it easier for law enforcement to check the validity of an MMIC if necessary. 

Where can I apply for an MMIC? 

Local county health department offices handle applications for an MMIC. They are not available from a doctor’s office. You can fill out and print the Medical Marijuana Program Application online so you won’t have to fill it out by hand at the county office. Forms are also available online in Spanish. 

California medical cannabis card requirements (documentation) 

Applicants must go in person to the county office to apply for your MMIC, and you need to bring: 

  1. Your medical recommendation from a qualified healthcare provider 
  2. One form of government-issued identification with a photo, such as a driver’s license 
  3. One document to prove your residency, such as a utility bill, rental or mortgage agreement, or DMV vehicle registration 

How much does a medical marijuana card cost in California? 

Applicants must also pay a fee of up to $100 to register. If you can’t afford to pay the fees, ask the county office for information on who is eligible for a reduced fee or to have the fees waived entirely. Once you fill out the application and pay the fee, you’ll get a photo taken that will appear on your MMIC. You must appear in person to get this photo taken for your card, so you cannot get a California medical marijuana card online. 

How long does getting a medical marijuana card in California take? 

County offices may spend up to 30 days verifying the information on your application. Once it’s all verified they must make your marijuana identification card available within five days. Cards are valid for up to one year for both a patient and a primary caregiver. 

How do you renew a California MMIC? 

After getting your medical card in California, you will need to renew it each year. Renewing a card requires the same steps as getting a new card. You will need a valid prescription from your physician, but if your previous medical documentation is not expired and will not expire within a year, you may be able to use it again. If your address or other personal information changed, take all the documentation for your new residence or identity. For example, if you got married and changed your name, take your marriage license when you renew. 

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Qualifying debilitating medical conditions 

Requirements to get a medical marijuana card in California include a prescription from a licensed physician in the state verifying you have at least one of the following conditions: 

  1. Anorexia 
  2. Arthritis 
  3. Cachexia (wasting syndrome) 
  4. Cancer 
  5. Chronic pain 
  6. Glaucoma 
  7. HIV/AIDS 
  8. Migraine 
  9. Persistent muscle spasm (and spasms associated with multiple sclerosis) 
  10. Seizures 
  11. Severe nausea 

If you have another chronic medical condition or a persistent medical symptom that makes it difficult to participate in major life activities (as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990), you may also qualify for a California medical card to buy marijuana. 

Who are caregivers? 

A caregiver is one designated person who has responsibility for the patient’s (applicant’s) housing, health, or safety. These can be an individual, such as a spouse, friends, or family members. They can also be organizations that provide care and support, such as a long-term care facility, hospice, or home health agency. 

Qualifying patients can designate anyone who is 18 or older as a primary caregiver. But to qualify, the person must “consistently assume responsibility for the housing, health, or safety of the patient.” Applicants cannot select a primary caregiver who is just an acquaintance or family member but who does not provide care. 

How many caregivers can I have? 

California medical marijuana laws only allow applicants to designate a single primary caregiver. The person must live in the same city or county where the qualified patient receives services. 

How do caregivers assist patients? 

Just like patients, caregivers must have a valid medical marijuana id card. The qualifying patient applies for a caregiver card at the same time they submit their own MMIC application. You can also apply for a caregiver card at a later time. 

Caregivers can assist with medical marijuana in several ways. They can: 

  1. Purchase up to 8 ounces of marijuana for the patient 
  2. Transport up to 8 ounces of marijuana to the patient 
  3. Cultivate up to 6 mature or 12 immature plants for a patient  

If a patient needs more than these amounts to treat their condition, a physician can write a recommendation for the patient and caregiver to have expanded limits.

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Where to legally buy medical marijuana in California 

Only licensed dispensaries can sell marijuana. In addition to understanding how to get a medicinal cannabis card in California, it’s important to understand the difference between recreational and medical dispensaries. 

Medical dispensaries can only sell to people with a valid MMIC. Retail dispensaries can sell to anyone over the age of 21, but you may have to pay the added taxes and fees if they are not licensed as a medical dispensary. 

FAQ 

Can I go to a dispensary without a card in California? 

Yes, if you have a state issued ID that proves that you are over 21 years old. 

Approved medical marijuana patients (over 18 years old) and caregivers can purchase medical marijuana from a dispensary with a valid MMIC. 

What if I lose my medical card? 

If your medical marijuana card is lost, damaged, or stolen, you need to contact your county program directly. 

Can a minor apply for an MMIC? 

Yes but under certain conditions. Minors who are “lawfully emancipated or have declared self-sufficiency status” can apply on their own. If you don’t meet those qualifications, the county office will contact your parent or legal guardian to verify the information on your application before they can approve it. [Source] 

Why do I need to apply for my MMIC in person? 

Once you fill out the application and pay the fee, you’ll get a photo taken that will appear on your MMIC. You must appear in person to get this photo taken for your card. You cannot get a California medical marijuana card online. 

Does California accept out-of-state medical marijuana cards? 

Unfortunately, no. California does not recognize medical cards from other states.  

Moreover, only residents of California can get the MMIC. A California medical card for non-residents is not available. Visitors can come to California and purchase recreational marijuana, but cannot purchase from medical dispensaries. 

Can I use my California medical card in another state? 

Some states have “medical marijuana reciprocity” laws, meaning you can use a valid California MMIC in those states to purchase medical marijuana. It is still a federal crime to transport marijuana across state lines, even if both states have legalized marijuana. It’s important to understand the state laws before you try to purchase or use marijuana in another state. 

States that do accept out-of-state cards are: 

  1. Arkansas 
  2. Hawaii 
  3. Maine 
  4. Nevada 
  5. New Mexico 
  6. Oklahoma 
  7. Washington, DC  

Does California Medicaid cover medical marijuana? 

Medicaid (and Medicare) are insurance programs run by the federal government and administered by each state. Since marijuana is still illegal under federal law, these programs do not cover medical marijuana costs. 

Can I get fired for having a medical card in California? 

An employer cannot search the California database to see if you have a medical card or visited a marijuana dispensary. However, employers have the right to conduct random or regular drug screenings, especially if drug use could affect public or workplace safety. California employers have a right to maintain a drug-free workplace, so if an employee tests positive for drugs they could get fired. Talk to an attorney with experience in California medical marijuana laws to learn more. 

Can veterans get medical cannabis? 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) must follow all federal laws, and under those laws marijuana is illegal. VA healthcare providers cannot recommend or prescribe medical marijuana, and VA pharmacies cannot fill marijuana prescriptions, even in states where it is legal. However, veterans also cannot be denied VA benefits if they get a prescription to use medical marijuana from a licensed California medical provider. 

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Sources:

  1. CA Secretary of State – Vote96 – Text of Proposition 215 
  2. Proposition 64: The Adult Use of Marijuana Act 
  3. Medicinal cannabis – Department of Cannabis Control 
  4. Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program 
  5. ADA Amendments Act of 2008 
  6. Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program – FAQs  
  7. VSB County Program locations and Hours  
  8. Medical Marijuana FAQ’s Arkansas Department of Health 
  9. Medical Cannabis Registry Program | Out-of-State Patient Application 
  10. Visiting Patients: Approved List of States | Office of Marijuana Policy 
  11. Medical Marijuana Establishments | State of Nevada Department of Taxation 
  12.  New Mexico Department of Health Medical Cannabis Program 
  13. Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority 
  14. Mayor Bowser Announces DC Will Now Accept Medical Marijuana Cards From Any State 

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