Finding the precise number of medical marijuana patients in the United States is extremely difficult. According to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), there were approximately 3.1 million registered MMJ cardholders in the United States by the end of 2018. This is a figure that rises at a tremendous rate annually as an increasing number of Americans turn to weed to help alleviate symptoms of chronic conditions. In California alone, there are an estimated 1.23 million MMJ patients.
One of the primary fears among the MMJ community is the belief that too many people are aware of their usage. Even in states where weed is recreationally legal, certain employers terminate the contracts of anyone who tests positive for THC-COOH metabolites. Remember, pot is illegal at a federal level. Therefore, organizations don’t feel obligated to adhere to state laws.
A prime example occurred in Colorado in 2010. At that time, weed was legal for medical use. Dish Network fired Brandon Coats for using cannabis to control his leg spasms. He developed quadriplegia after a car accident. Despite having his MMJ card, Coats lost his job for smoking the herb off-duty. In 2015, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing the zero-tolerance drug policy approach of Colorado businesses to trump state law. It is a similar situation across the country today.
The landscape has changed quite a bit since then. A 2019 survey revealed that only 48% of Colorado companies would terminate the contract of staff members with a first-time positive test for marijuana. There are also dozens of examples of MMJ patients, in particular, suing firms for firing them after failing a drug screening.
Even with a slightly higher level of protection, however, many employees are still at the whims of their employers. As such, it is understandable that they want as few entities as possible learning about their possession of a medical marijuana card.
In this article, we provide you with crucial information on who can see your MMJ cardholder status. If you are an American citizen, it is pretty good news. Sadly, we can’t say the same for non-citizens.
Marijuana and Medical Privacy
While cannabis is legal medicinally in 33 states plus D.C., you only get a state-issued medical marijuana card after receiving a doctor’s recommendation. The fact that a qualified medical practitioner recommended the weed means the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects you. As such, this information remains private and does NOT show up on a background check performed by an employer or other authorities.
The entire point of the HIPAA is to protect patient privacy and stop the willful or accidental disclosure of healthcare information. Indeed, the restrictions on the MMJ card are so strict that even your dispensary only has access to the validity of the card, and NOT your healthcare information. As a consequence, no third party should receive access without your express permission.
Marijuana clinics typically have to enter your MMJ use information in a state’s medical marijuana use registry. When you meet with a physician and get your recommendation, they enter the following information into the record:
- The nature of your qualifying condition.
- The amount of medical marijuana authorized and the form.
- The types of weed delivery services you need for treatment.
What spooks MMJ cardholders is the possibility of their weed use showing up in a background check. RELAX! Remember, you only have the card on the recommendation of a doctor. Therefore, it is part of your medical history.
However, please note that as the card itself is state-issued, HIPAA does not formally protect it. Fortunately, it receives special protections due to the implied knowledge it can give of your health records. Look at your MMJ card, and you’ll notice that it doesn’t have data, such as your Social Security Number, attached.
Staying Off the Radar
Ever since the implementation of the first medical marijuana act, in California in 1996, there are concerns over whether cardholders are on ‘government watch lists’. There was a two-decade gap between the implementation of medical and recreational marijuana laws in the Golden State. During that period, patients required a doctor’s recommendation. In 2003, the state initiated a Medical Marijuana Identification Program (MMIP) to offer protection from certain weed crimes.
It was a voluntary program met with grave suspicion due to a belief that it exposed you to unwanted government attention. In fact, only 20% of MMJ patients in the state held a Medical Marijuana Identification Card (MMID) by 2017! However, Californian attorneys claim that privacy concerns should not prevent you from acquiring the card.
According to state law, police officers can verify the validity of state MMID cards quickly. In contrast, if you only have a doctor’s recommendation, a cop can arrest or detain you until everything is validated. When your application for the MMID card is approved, you get an anonymous ID number. Finally, both the state AND your county destroy the form.
Remember, a state’s MMJ application system should NOT contain personal information such as your name, address, or social security number. It does provide a unique user ID number and information on whether the card is valid. The MMJ card itself should have the dates of issue and expiry, a passport-style photo, and your number, along with the name of the state. In states such as Illinois, the card also has your date of birth and address.
Will Medical Marijuana Show Up on a Background Check?
The answer is ‘NO’ in general, but isn’t as straightforward as one might hope. The HIPAA prevents people from accessing their medical records. As a result, they don’t see your MMJ information. Alas, an employer can choose different criteria for their background checks, such as credit reports, criminal records, and individual medical records. Your medical history ‘should’ be restricted to how it affects your ability to do the job, but determining the precise criteria is not easy.
The vast majority of your medical history is confidential. For example, a candidate with a history of mental illness is protected by HIPAA, as it should not show up in a background check. However, if you apply for a role in law enforcement, in the military, or a job that involves working with kids, a company can request permission to conduct certain health checks. It is up to you to determine whether you wish to disclose this information. Bear in mind that refusing to comply will likely reduce your chances of getting the job.
Unfortunately, the federally illegal status of weed means you can’t flaunt your use, even in states where it is recreationally legal. Even before conducting the background check, most employers will do a quick search engine query to learn more about you. It is common sense not to display your consumption of marijuana on social media, for example. This means no pictures of you lighting up a blunt, or discussing the herb on your Facebook or Twitter accounts.
It should go without saying that you don’t use weed at work, or turn up stoned! It is also a bad idea to chat about the herb with colleagues. We also advise choosing a dispensary located far away from your workplace. Otherwise, there is a chance that a company staff member sees you enter the building. An increasing number of people are successfully suing companies who discriminate against their medical marijuana use. Although you may have a case if in the same boat, don’t count on it.
Perform a Background Check… On Yourself
Did you know it is possible to run a background check on yourself? When looking for such a service, only consider sites that offer:
- Extremely detailed research to ensure your MMJ use is NOT identifiable.
- A wide array of data searches.
- Reports that are both accurate and simple to understand.
- Easy to use dashboards.
- Excellent customer support.
- A mobile app to let you check on the move.
However, even the very best background checking sites can’t provide a 100% guarantee that they have found everything about you. Nonetheless, here are five places worth considering.
1 – BeenVerified – $26.89 Per Month
If you use the three-month membership option, the price falls to an average of $17.48 per month. It is one of the best options for uncovering employment history. You can pay extra for a deep dive, which provides one of the most detailed reports you’ll ever see. The site’s customer service is excellent, and it has handy mobile apps.
2 – Instant Checkmate – $22.86 Per Month
There are several deals with this site. You can avail of a 5-day trial for $1, all the way to a six-month membership, which works out at $9.86 a month. According to Top Ten Reviews, the reports provided by Instant Checkmate had the fewest inaccuracies and were the most up to date. However, you may not see information that has changed within the last six months.
3 – Intelius – $19.95 Per Month
You also have the option of paying $39.95 for a single background check report. There is a ‘bare bones’ check for $3.95 and a statement that doesn’t include legal or criminal information for $6.95. Intelius is arguably the best option for an in-depth personal history. Downsides include inconsistent information, the fact that the information isn’t chronologically arranged, and you can’t download the reports.
4 – US Search – $19.99 Per Month
US Search is often perceived as the best budget option, even though the monthly fee is comparable to most of its rivals! It offers decent search options, up to date information, but doesn’t always include marriage data! US Search is exceptionally accurate when it comes to criminal history, addresses, and assets.
5 – PeopleFinders – $24.95 Per Month
If you don’t want to subscribe, pay $39.95 for a single report or get a scaled-down version for just $1.95. The reports provided by PeopleFinders include data about criminal history, bankruptcies, marriages, and contact information.
A lot of people seek out free background checks, but in most cases, you end up at a paid site after redirection!
Non-American Citizens & MMJ Card Privacy
Back in 2009, Eric H. Holder Jr., the Attorney General at the time, said that the feds would not make it a priority to use its resources to target MMJ patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers. In the intervening period, sensitive patient information seized by the police during dispensary raids has NOT been used to prosecute MMJ patients.
The outlook is less rosy for non-American citizens. In April 2017, John Kelly, the Homeland Security Secretary at the time, had some bad news for immigrants. He said that ICE treated marijuana as a deportable offense, especially for the undocumented.
While non-US citizens should, in theory, receive the same HIPAA protection, the stakes are MUCH higher than merely losing a job. ICE makes hundreds of noncriminal arrests each month, and tens of thousands of people are arrested on civil immigration charges every year. If you are a non-US citizen and use medical marijuana, please avoid the following:
- Carrying any accessories or paraphernalia related to the herb.
- Looking for work within the medical marijuana field.
- Admitting marijuana use to any border control or immigration official.
- Mentioning cannabis on any social media account or your mobile phone.
Your green card is at risk if you are caught using marijuana, even if you live in a legal state and have a valid MMJ card.
Medical Marijuana Information Is Safe (For the Most Part)
Overall, the HIPAA legislation protects most of your medical information from scrutiny. MMJ patients receive the same doctor-patient confidentiality as they do when using prescription medication. However, employers can request individual medical records depending on the type of job you apply for.
While an increasing number of companies won’t fire you for weed use off-duty, a large proportion still operates a zero-tolerance policy. If you have an MMJ card, don’t make your usage of the herb evident to anyone in the workplace. Non-US citizens risk their very future in the country if caught using weed, and the current administration’s stance on immigration means you have a target already painted on your back.