What Are the Consequences of Getting a Medical Card for Marijuana?

At the time of writing, medical marijuana is legal in well over two-thirds of states, while over a third of states plus D.C. allow recreational marijuana use. In the states with medical marijuana programs, an MMJ card is a legal requirement.

We have passed the silver anniversary of America’s first medical marijuana program in the modern era. In 1996, Prop 215 allowed residents of California access to cannabis if they could prove a medical need. It opened the door to legalization in dozens of states. One hopes that the notion of it becoming legal on a federal legal is now a certainty, rather than the pipe dream it was a few decades ago.

This article looks at the consequences of getting a medical marijuana card. The advantages of using cannabis to help alleviate the symptoms of conditions are outlined throughout this website. Many of the benefits outlined below relate to how MMJ cardholders hold advantages over recreational users. However, there are also plenty of other privileges compared to individuals who don’t currently hold a valid card.

Of course, there are a few disadvantages to consider, and to ensure balance, we have included them in this piece. Let’s begin!

How Easy Is It to Become a Medical Marijuana Cardholder?

Unfortunately, we can’t give you a definitive answer. It depends on several factors. For instance, the application process varies from simple to convoluted, depending on your state. Things have improved, but that was a necessity. In early 2016, 16 states (a significant majority at the time) received a failing grade in a special report examining the quality of every program in America.

A more recent report, published in 2022, revealed an improvement in the standard of medical marijuana programs in states that legalized medical marijuana. Primarily, states that received a “fail” grade were locations that had yet to legalize the substance for medical use.

Alas, recreational legalization has harmed the MMJ programs of many states. For example, in Oregon, recreational legalization has all but ruined the state’s program. In 2016, the state had over 400 licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. Within a couple of years, there were only eight.

Then there is the small matter of receiving a recommendation from a doctor. Not all physicians in legal states are cannabis advocates, and they have no legal obligation to help you out.

Now, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of getting a medical marijuana card.

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What Benefits Do Medical Marijuana Cardholders Receive?

Whether you want cheaper weed or protection from legal issues, there are plenty of reasons why getting a medical marijuana card beats relying on recreational cannabis.

1 – Legal Protection

If you reside in one of the states where you are only allowed medical marijuana, an MMJ card can be the difference between a misdemeanor (or even a felony charge) and freedom!

mmj-card-pros

Let’s take Arkansas as an example. The state legalized medical cannabis via a vote in November 2016, although licensed sales only began in May 2019. If you’re a medical marijuana cardholder, you’re legally allowed to buy up to 2.5 ounces from a dispensary every 14 days. However, without a card, possession of fewer than four ounces is a Class A misdemeanor, which could result in a year in prison, along with a $2,500 fine. A third conviction for possession is a Class D felony, with maximum penalties of 6 years in prison and a $6,000 fine.

You even benefit from protection in states where recreational marijuana is legal. For example, adults aged 21+ can possess up to an ounce without penalty in California. However, only medical patients can possess a higher amount. If you don’t have legal access to medical cannabis products and are caught with more than an ounce, you could spend up to six months in prison on a misdemeanor charge!

2 – Lower Costs

If you live in a recreationally legal state, getting a medical marijuana card saves you money in many cases. This is an extremely important benefit for individuals who genuinely need cannabis for medical use. In Colorado, for example, MMJ cardholders avoid retail and excise taxes. Other states, such as California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Oregon, offer tax breaks for cardholders. You can save hundreds of dollars, if not thousands, each year in some states!

If you live in a state with medical marijuana, you can still save money compared to prescription medication.

Imagine a situation where you need a drug that isn’t covered by your insurance. Pharmaceuticals can be incredibly expensive. For instance, Epidiolex, an FDA-approved drug with at least one active ingredient that comes from the cannabis plant, costs about $1,000 for a 60ml supply. When it was initially released, there was outrage over the fact that patients could expect to pay an average of $32,500 per annum. This figure works out at over $2,700 per month.

Medical marijuana cardholders, on the other hand, can go to a dispensary and get cannabis for medical purposes at a fraction of that cost. However, there is no way to guarantee that what you purchase at the medical marijuana dispensary is the same as Epidiolex. Therefore, if you are prescribed Epidiolex by your healthcare provider, it is still recommended that you get it.

3 –Higher Potency Products

As any medical marijuana patient will attest, the dosage is extremely important for MMJ products. It is often necessary to buy extremely potent cannabis to alleviate your symptoms. As such, medical dispensaries are usually allowed to sell stronger cannabis than recreational dispensaries, and you can purchase more.

In California, for example, MMJ cardholders can purchase 2,000mg of non-edible products each time, compared to the 1,000mg limit imposed on their recreational counterparts.

However, in Oregon, the slow death of the medical marijuana program is hitting patients hard. With the implementation of the recreational program, the state’s Health Authority began regulating THC content. Now, medical edibles can contain no more than 100mg of THC, and they cost up to $20 apiece.

Believe it or not, this is an improvement! Until April 2022, the limit was 50mg of THC per edible product! Moreover, the maximum amount of delta-9 THC per serving was set at just 5mg, while it is 10mg now.

4 – Higher Possession Limits & Fewer Age Restrictions

MMJ cardholders are generally permitted to carry more cannabis than recreational users. In California, medical marijuana users can carry up to 8 ounces on their person. In contrast, recreational users are legally allowed a maximum of one ounce and up to 8 grams of cannabis concentrate.

pros and cons of medical marijuana card

In Arizona, recreational users can possess up to an ounce of usable marijuana. Medical marijuana cardholders are allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of weed. It is a similar story across the United States. Most states with recreational programs have lower limits for adult-use weed use than medical marijuana. Indeed, only a handful of states with legal recreational marijuana allow more than an ounce.

In all states where marijuana use for recreational purposes is legal, customers must be at least 21 years of age. In certain medical states, you only need to be 18 years of age once you can present your MMJ card. This is a huge development for people aged 18-20 who need cannabis to treat a certain condition. Also, states with medical marijuana programs allow minors to use cannabis with the assistance of a named legal guardian or caregiver.

5 – Higher Growing Limits

Not every program allows a medical marijuana patient to grow weed at home, but many do. Certain states only allow you to grow if you live a certain distance from the nearest medical marijuana dispensary (usually 25+ miles).

Please note that you face severe legal consequences in certain states for the illegal cultivation of marijuana. In Louisiana, for instance, MMJ is legal but growing the plant is not. If caught cultivating weed in the Bayou state, you could face a 5 – 30-year sentence for growing a single plant since it is a felony! A five-year jail term is a mandatory minimum!

Some states only allow you to grow cannabis if you have an MMJ card, while certain recreational states allow you to grow more with a card than if you are a recreational user.

In California, recreational users can grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes. However, at the time of writing, MMJ cardholders can still grow up to 99 plants if they apply for and receive a special marijuana cultivation license. However, within the next few years, the growing limit will likely be reduced in states where it is currently possible to grow dozens of marijuana plants.

Issues Faced by Medical Marijuana Card Holders

Even though states with legalized medical marijuana offer many advantages over recreational cannabis, it isn’t a perfect system. You might be legally protected in some ways, but you have to give up certain rights that mean a great deal to many people.

1 – You Can’t Own a Firearm Legally

In the United States, the Second Amendment, which guarantees citizens the right to bear arms, is seen as sacred by millions of people. However, individuals holding medical marijuana cards are not allowed to buy firearms. This will come as a shock to a great number of people looking to engage in marijuana use for medical reasons. After all, Statista estimated that up to 45% of American households have at least one gun in their possession.

If you fall into this category and want to avail of the products in a medical marijuana dispensary, you must surrender your weapon(s). The Federal Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Federal Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1997 make this rule very clear.

These laws prohibit individuals who unlawfully use narcotics or controlled substances or are addicted to them from shipping, transporting, receiving, or possessing firearms or ammunition. Remember, marijuana remains a controlled substance. Therefore, federal law means you can’t have a medical cannabis card and own a firearm.

This is inconvenient for both cannabis users and law enforcement. In Honolulu, Hawaii, the local government embarked on a doomed quest to get people with medical marijuana cards to surrender their weapons and forbid future purchases.

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Health won’t share the medical marijuana registry with the state’s law enforcement base. Therefore, if you live in PA, you can bypass the restriction by acting responsibly with your firearm!

2 – You Risk Losing Your Commercial Driver’s License

The Department of Transportation does not authorize the use of medical marijuana. In simple terms, if you intend on getting a medical marijuana card, you can’t also hold a commercial driving license (CDL). Once again, this is down to the fact that medical marijuana remains a federally illegal substance.

A commercial driving license is mandatory when driving a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV). In certain states like New Jersey, you need a CDL to drive a van for hire, a bus, or a limousine. Therefore, if you work as a commercial driver and use medical marijuana, you’re jeopardizing your career.

If you’re a transportation employee and test positive for marijuana in a drug screening, producing an MMJ card won’t be enough to save your job. Of course, you could argue that nothing will happen if you’re never caught. Alas, if you’re asked to submit to a drug test, and it shows a positive result for THC, your employer is required to remove you from driving, and your license is immediately suspended. Moreover, you’ll struggle to find another job in the field.

3 – Medical Marijuana Patients Must Pay Annual Renewal Fees

In general, if you’re looking towards MMJ to help with a medical condition, you probably won’t mind paying this fee. Typically, you can expect to pay between $50 and $200. However, it is even cheaper in certain locations. For instance, there is no longer any state registration fee in New Mexico.

However, you must also pay a doctor’s consultation fee, which can cost anywhere from $100 to $300. Finally, you must factor in the cost of the medical marijuana itself. It is likely less expensive than many popular prescription drugs, but it is far from cheap in some locations.

If you’re seeking high-quality marijuana, for example, the average cost is $326 per ounce. The overall price ranges from about $210 in Oregon to almost $600 in Washington, D.C.

Medium-quality cannabis, also known as mids, has an average price of $266 per ounce. It is less than $200 in Washington state and over $330 in Minnesota, with D.C. the most expensive location by far at $550!

If you use an average of one ounce per month at $300 each time, this equates to $3,600 per annum. Add in the registration fee and doctor’s consultation cost, and a year’s worth of medical marijuana could cost around $4,000. Not everyone can afford to pay this much. Then again, it remains far cheaper than the $32,500+ one must pay for a year’s supply of Epidiolex!

Also, certain states offer discounts for applications with low incomes. For example, Arizona is one of the locations providing discounts for individuals eligible for SNAP.

4 – Federal Law Means You Can Forget About Holding a Government Job

If you work for the Federal Government, medical marijuana use can cost you the job, even in a state where it is completely legal. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation clarified that even medical marijuana patients were not allowed to use cannabis, and a failed test could lead to termination of employment.

This is hardly a surprise because many non-government companies have a strict zero-tolerance policy on cannabis use. Since weed remains illegal on a federal level, employees often don’t have a leg to stand on. However, some MMJ cardholders have found success in the courts after either being fired or refused employment on the grounds of testing positive for marijuana.

The U.S. Government is the biggest employer in the nation, with several million employees. If you have a good job working for them, we’re afraid that cannabis is strictly off-limits.

Things are looking up, however. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) proposes replacing a series of job application forms. Currently, the forms ask about marijuana usage in the last five or seven years, depending on the security level of the position the applicant is seeking.

medical marijuana card pros and cons

However, the OPM wants to change it, so applicants are only asked about consumption within the past 90 days. The agency wisely requests the alteration due to “changing societal norms.” If the proposals make it into law, it will be a huge boost to medical marijuana cardholders looking to work with the government.

State laws are also changing. At least 14 states plus D.C. have prohibited employers from discriminating against medical marijuana-using employees. In Nevada, for instance, it is now illegal to refuse to hire a candidate solely because THC metabolites appear on a drug test.

5 – Bureaucracy

The amount of red tape you have to go through has diminished significantly these days. In certain states, it is now possible to get a recommendation online in under 30 minutes! There are even services that enable you to order cannabis and have it delivered to your door like a pizza!

However, there are still states where it can take weeks to get your MMJ card as they continue to rely on snail mail. The main issue tends to be with new programs. It can take two years for a state to open its first medical dispensaries from the day the vote to legalize cannabis took place!

States such as Louisiana make it tough for people to get their MMJ card mainly due to severe restrictions on the number of qualifying medical conditions. Then there is the small matter of finding licensed physicians. Some states have fewer than 100, and if there is a limit on the number of medical marijuana patients a doctor can see, it can make it very hard to get an MMJ card.

Furthermore, while proponents of marijuana may celebrate the legalization of MMJ in their states, they need to exercise patience since it can take years for the law to come into effect.

This is even the case when an MMJ state permits recreational marijuana.

Virginia, for example, legalized medical marijuana in May 2004. In January 2018, the state’s governor signed legalization allowing recreational cannabis use. However, legal sales didn’t begin for almost five years!

Final Thoughts on the Medical Marijuana Card

The ease with which you can get an MMJ card depends entirely on your state. California residents can do it online and have a card ready within the hour. They can then stay at their computer, find a suitable strain, and have it delivered straight to their door. Residents in other states must hope to find a doctor that prescribes it and wait for the state health board to approve their application.

In summation, the advantages of an MMJ card far outweigh the downsides unless you like guns, have a CDL, or are employed by the government! If you have a medical card, you can purchase and grow more cannabis, buy more potent products, and save money on taxes.

Hopefully, the federal government will follow the lead of Canada and legalize marijuana throughout the United States. It is remarkable and sad that individuals in genuine need can’t access the substance. Indeed, even terminally ill patients are not permitted to use marijuana to ease their suffering in states with no medical marijuana legislation.

One would hope a federally backed program would be superior to the omnishambles that sometimes occurs at the state level.

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