Few places have had such a circuitous route to medical marijuana legalization as Washington, D.C. Despite being legalized in the 1990s, it took 15 years for D.C. residents to have legal access to MMJ.
Fast forward to 2015, and Senate Bill 5052 was passed, establishing official state regulations for the production, possession, sale, and use of MMJ. November 2014 saw the legalization of recreational cannabis via a voter-approved ballot measure known as Initiative 71. It went into effect in February 2015.
Does this mean you don’t need an MMJ card in Washington, D.C.? No! Even though adult-use cannabis is technically legal, you can’t legally purchase it! That is potentially about to change, but for now, if you want to buy marijuana legally in D.C., you need an MMJ card. Keep reading to find out how to get one.
D.C. Medical Marijuana Card Laws
Thanks to Initiative 59 in 1998, D.C. was one of the first locations in the United States to legalize medical marijuana. Alas, the passing of the Barr Amendment stopped the District from using its money to support the new program. It wasn’t until 2009 that the Amendment was overturned. Nonetheless, it took four more years for anyone to obtain medical marijuana legally.
The District’s Council passed a bill legalizing medical marijuana in May 2010, so it was technically legal from the beginning of 2011. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that the first medical marijuana patient in D.C. purchased cannabis from a licensed dispensary.
Initiative 71 legalized recreational cannabis as almost 65% of voters said ‘yes’ in November 2014. Even so, there is nowhere to buy adult-use marijuana because commercial, recreational sale remains technically illegal!
The legislation that has blocked these sales was omitted from the 2021 Senate appropriations bill. This could spell the start of plans to begin legal recreational marijuana sales in Washington, D.C.
The Gifting Economy
Until recreational marijuana becomes more accessible, you require an MMJ card to purchase high-quality cannabis from a dispensary.
The strange nature of the District’s laws mean you can’t purchase cannabis in the ‘traditional’ sense recreationally. It is illegal to buy it directly from a store. Instead, you purchase another item, like a t-shirt or bumper sticker. Then, you receive cannabis that is ‘donated’ by the vendor rather than being sold.
The strange nature of the District’s laws mean you can’t purchase cannabis in the ‘traditional’ sense recreationally.
You’re also allowed to give up to an ounce to someone for free. Those operating in this legal gray area risk arrest if they get the law wrong, however.
The District of Columbia is relatively lenient when it comes to cannabis. For instance, even though you can’t legally buy recreational marijuana, you can possess up to two ounces or six plants. Yet, the illegal sale of any amount could land you in prison for six months.
If you have a medical need and want to avoid any legal problems, read on to discover how to get an MMJ card in D.C. Make sure you have proof of residency before proceeding.
How to Get a Medical Marijuana Card in Washington, D.C.
While recreational marijuana is technically legal in the District, there are several advantages of attaining an MMJ card. Primarily, you have an element of legal protection from overzealous law enforcement, and you can buy from a licensed dispensary.
Also, you can use medical marijuana when you turn 18. Minors can only apply with a caregiver. Recreational cannabis is only available to those aged 21+. There are other benefits that you will discover in the final section.
Step 1 – Book an Appointment with a Licensed Physician
There are several options in DC. Firms such as Capital City Care and the Metropolitan Wellness Center (MWC) help get you in touch with doctors they have a relationship with. For instance, MWC gives you the names and addresses of five ‘marijuana-friendly’ physicians, and claim these doctors’ appointments cost 50% less than average.
There are also companies such as Veriheal who enable you to consult a doctor online. With this type of appointment, it takes around 15 minutes for the doctor to evaluate your ailments and answer any queries you have about cannabis treatment. If you opt for an online consultation, make sure you have your medical records ready for uploading.
In both instances, the physician will ask questions and try to ascertain whether cannabis is a viable medical treatment for your condition. We will discuss the ‘qualifying medical conditions’ a little later on. Incidentally, you are supposed to have a ‘bona fide’ relationship with the doctor.
In D.C., the following types of medical professional can provide you with the written recommendation:
- Nurse practitioner
- Naturopathic physician
- Physician assistant
- Physician (MD, DO)
Step 2 – Complete & Submit Your Application
If the physician approves you as a medical marijuana patient, you will receive a Physician Recommendation Number. Keep this number safe because you need it to register with the District’s Department of Health when completing your Patient Application Form. Aside from the electronic number, you need:
- A federal or D.C. government-issued photo ID, or one issued by another state government. A valid D.C. driver’s license is usable as proof of residency. You can also use a passport.
- Overall, you need two types of proof of residency. Please note, these two documents can’t be of the same kind. For instance, you can’t have a cable bill and a utility bill.
- Your Social Security Number.
Please note that the forms you must complete are different depending on the source of your recommendation. For example, the documents you get after receiving a doctor’s approval are different from a dentist’s approval.
If you run into difficulties with the application form, ask a local dispensary for help. Make sure you send your application as soon as possible. The DOH doesn’t accept written recommendations made more than 90 days before the date of application.
You also have the option of submitting a paper application. Send it to the following address:
899 North Capitol Street
NE 2nd Floor Washington, DC 20002
Attn: Medical Marijuana Program
Step 3 – Wait!
After you have registered with the DOH and submitted your form, you have to wait. It will send a confirmation of receipt email if you apply online. When your documents are reviewed, the DOH will send a second email outlining payment options within three business days. Finally, you’ll receive two further emails once the application is fully processed.
After you receive your MMJ card in the mail, you can legally purchase cannabis from any licensed dispensary in D.C. Applications are reviewed in order of receipt on a ‘first come, first served’ basis.
What Are the Washington, D.C. Medical Marijuana Costs?
It costs $100 to apply for the MMJ card in Washington, D.C. However, you could benefit from a reduced fee of $25 if you can supply proof of the following:
- That you are a current Medicaid or DC Alliance recipient.
- That your gross income, including rent payments, alimony, child support payments, and any other income received regularly, is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.
You will also pay approximately $100 for the physician’s consultation. The card is valid for a year. Once it is time to renew, you must go through the entire process once again. This includes the $100 application fee and the cost of the recommendation. For the record, it costs $90 to replace your card if you lose it.
Incidentally, there are three methods of paying the DOH. You can physically enter the D.C. DOH and pay by debit or credit card. Alternatively, print out the confirmation email and get a money order made payable to the DC Treasurer. Finally, you can pay online once you receive a payment link. This option is available to online applicants only.
What Conditions Qualify for a Medical Marijuana Card in Washington, D.C.?
The list of qualifying conditions includes:
- Severe/persistent muscle spasms such as those in diseases like multiple sclerosis
- A chronic condition that ‘ordinary’ medical measures can’t treat
- Any situation where medical marijuana treatment is possibly beneficial
- You may also qualify if you undergo medical treatment such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy
In reality, there is an extensive range of qualifying conditions. The Medical Marijuana Expansion Emergency Amendment Act of 2014 made things a little clearer. It states that patients could receive MMJ for “any condition for which treatment with medical marijuana would be beneficial, as determined by the patient’s physician.”
How Long Does It Take to Get a Medical Marijuana Card in Washington, D.C?
The DOH says it processes applications within 30 business days. Most MMJ patients say they receive their card in the mail in 3-4 weeks. However, the processing time is increased if you submit an incomplete form.
In addition, you should start the renewal process at least 60 days before your card expires.
Other Information on the Washington, D.C. Medical Marijuana License Process
Hopefully, you will find it relatively easy to get your medical marijuana card in Washington, D.C. However, some prospective patients may need further clarification, so we have answered a few FAQs below.
How Much Cannabis Can I Buy & Possess?
MMJ patients can purchase up to four ounces of cannabis every 30 days. However, the maximum possession limit is two ounces. You can buy marijuana flower, edibles, concentrates, seeds, seedlings, and transdermal products. In contrast, recreational users can only possess a maximum of two ounces.
How Much Marijuana Can I Grow at Home?
You are also allowed to grow up to six plants, although you can only have three ‘mature’ plants at home at any given time. The maximum yield is eight ounces of usable marijuana produced from the plants. This limit is only applicable to anyone entered into the MMJ authorization database. Otherwise, the maximum is four plants and six usable ounces.
If a doctor decides that a qualifying patient requires more than the legal amount, they can recommend a maximum of 15 plants yielding up to 16 ounces of usable marijuana.
Where Can I Use My Marijuana?
You can only use your cannabis in a private residence. If you use it in a public place, you WILL get arrested! When using weed in D.C., be VERY careful where you are.
Those found in possession of cannabis in a federal place face severe penalties.
The federal government controls 29 % of the region’s landmass. The feds strictly enforce cannabis prohibition on their property. This includes military land, national parks, Rock Creek Park, and the National Mall. Those found in possession of cannabis in a federal place face severe penalties. Having an MMJ card doesn’t save you in this instance.
Also, bars and restaurants are shut down if violations of the marijuana law occur on their property.
Where Can I Buy Marijuana?
Licensed medical dispensaries in D.C. include:
- Takoma Wellness Center
- DC Holistic Wellness Center
- National Holistic Healing Center
- Herbal Alternatives
- Metropolitan Wellness
- Capital City Care
- Anacostia Organics
- Kinfolk Dispensary
Overall, D.C. has relatively few MMJ dispensaries. Then again, the District’s entire landmass is only 158.1 square kilometers, so you’re never too far away from one! Another benefit of being an MMJ patient is that you can go to the dispensaries listed above and buy marijuana more easily than a recreational user.
Can I Get Marijuana if I Am Not a D.C. Resident?
Yes! D.C. has a broad reciprocity agreement. It allows patients from almost every state with a fully operational MMJ program to purchase marijuana in the nation’s capital. There are also states ‘under review’ for addition at a later date.
How Do I Register as a Caregiver?
If you need assistance using or obtaining medical marijuana, you can designate a caregiver. Please make sure they are at least 18 years old. They can only provide care for one patient and purchase cannabis from one selected dispensary. The process involves:
- Completing the Caregiver Application Form
- Passing a Criminal Background Check
- Providing two different proofs of D.C. residency
- Payment of $100
Caregivers are subject to the same purchasing and possession limits as their patients.
Final Thoughts on Getting a Washington, D.C. MMJ Card
Although cannabis is recreationally legal in the District of Columbia, it is not permissible to buy or sell the substance! Instead, you need to participate in the absurd ‘gifting’ economy. You don’t have to worry about this issue if you have an MMJ card, and you can buy up to four ounces. Just make sure you don’t use it in public or anywhere near federal property!