If you are here, you’re likely either considering a medical marijuana card for the first time or groaning about renewing your existing card. Renewal can be a real time-consuming chore, but we will help you be certain you are getting it done right.
For most readers, the worst time is the first time.
Whether you are still not sure about getting a medical marijuana card, or you already know a lot about cannabis as medicine and now just need the details that will save you time and money, this guide will help you make informed decisions with the right information.
We will cover the application process, how it works to meet with a licensed medical professional about cannabis and a medical marijuana card, and getting the card itself.
[Every state with a Medical Marijuana Program has a different set of rules and processes, and we’re not detailing each state here. This is a basic overview of common trends across states.]
What is a Medical Marijuana Recommendation?
A medical marijuana recommendation is a document from a doctor. It states that the patient has a qualifying condition, in the physician’s professional medical opinion, and would benefit from medical cannabis use. Patients obtain and send a medical marijuana recommendation as part of the application process for a medical cannabis card to the state’s medical marijuana program.
The medical marijuana card itself is similar to any other official state-issued ID card, except that this one enables the patient-holder to possess and purchase medical marijuana products. Patient cardholders can buy medical marijuana through medical marijuana delivery services where they exist or through licensed cannabis dispensaries. In some medical marijuana states, patients can also grow cannabis. Patients cannot enter these dispensaries or legally possess or purchase medical marijuana without their card in most states.
First Steps to Get a Medical Marijuana Card
Obviously, to be considered a patient you need to have a qualifying medical condition that medical marijuana might help. This leads us to the first step.
Step 1: See a local medical professional or an online alternative
In most medical marijuana states, patients must first determine whether they could benefit from medical marijuana due to having a qualifying condition. They can then meet with their doctor to confirm their condition. During the visit, the doctor will evaluate the patient’s condition, plus other information such as supplemental health history documents, health records, and prescriptions.
If the doctor examines the patient and determines they do have a qualifying condition, they will complete and submit a state-provided form, usually called a medical marijuana recommendation or certification. That recommendation gets submitted along with the patient’s online application. The state evaluates the entire application package and issues a medical marijuana card to any approved patients.
In many medical marijuana states, this process has moved online. Telehealth platforms such as Veriheal, Leafwell, and NuggMD are easy to use, quick, and HIPAA compliant, so it isn’t always necessary anymore to travel to a medical marijuana clinic or even leave your home.
In some states there are places you can visit in person to both see a doctor and apply to the state. These services charge extra, but for many patients it is well worth the convenience of getting it all done at once—mostly by someone else!
Step 2: Get approved and receive your recommendation or medical certification
Your doctor or other medical professional will email the recommendation or certificate to you if they approve you for medical marijuana shortly after the appointment. Then it’s time to apply for your card.
Step 3: Apply to the State Medical Marijuana Program
Each state’s process is a bit different. Most require a PDF copy of your recommendation or certificate to be uploaded as part of your application.
What is the Medical Marijuana Card Application Process Like?
After the last step, ideally the state will approve your application and you receive your medical marijuana card. It will be yours to use as a state-issued legal form of ID for buying medical-grade marijuana and cannabis products from dispensaries.
But how does that last step happen? The medical marijuana application process varies widely from state to state, just like medical marijuana regulations do. For example, Oregon and Colorado allow many people access to medical cannabis for a variety of qualifying conditions, and they grant medical cannabis patients access to a broad range of cannabis products. In contrast, some states, like Texas, are far stricter. Interestingly, though, the actual application process is relatively similar across the board, starting with the medical visit and qualifying condition diagnosis to get the ball rolling.
How to Prepare for Your Medical Marijuana Appointment
The best thing to keep in mind for this appointment is this: be honest! If you’re worried about talking to a doctor about medical marijuana, you’re not alone.
Doctors who help medical marijuana patients are not skeptics. They are not working with law enforcement. They understand that cannabis is medicine that can truly help people—you don’t have to convince them. You just need to give them some insight into what’s happening with you personally.
If what’s really going on is that you have anxiety and like to calm yourself down naturally, tell them. If you use cannabis to help manage ADHD and focus, tell them that. Be aware of what the qualifying conditions are in your area, of course, but let them know all of the ways the medical marijuana you have used works for you, or how you believe it can help you.
When you are honest with the physician, they can give you the best possible advice. In this vein, it helps them a lot to have as full a picture as they can, so give them your medical records. These may include:
- health summaries
- list(s) of diagnoses
- a medication list
- photos of prescription bottles
- physician’s progress notes
Get these ahead of your appointment and, if it’s online, upload them onto the platform so the physician has time to review them. Also, make a short bullet point list for yourself of things you’d like to talk about.
What to Expect From Your Medical Marijuana Doctor
A medical marijuana doctor has experience with cannabis as medicine. They understand how to support medical marijuana patients, and they don’t need to be convinced that cannabis is medicine. They also respect and preserve patient confidentiality.
A typical medical marijuana appointment lasts about 15 minutes. During that time, you will discuss any medication and your medical history, and you will speak with your medical marijuana doctor about your condition. This enables your doctor to make an informed decision about whether medical marijuana could work well for you based on an accurate sense of your current condition.
The discussion and questions themselves won’t seem strange at all—just like talking to any other medical professional. They’ll want to know about things like past prescriptions, bad interactions with medications, the symptoms that you cope with and how you do it, and your treatment goals.
One of the best things about seeing a medical marijuana doctor is that it removes this discussion—which can feel strange or awkward to some of us—from the setting with our normal doctor.
A medical marijuana healthcare team makes no assumptions and passes no judgements. They are there to hear the facts, get your opinions, and make recommendations for you based on our collective years of experience.
Which Doctors Prescribe Medical Marijuana?
Under federal law, no doctor can prescribe medical marijuana. The food and drug administration FDA regulates the word “prescribe” and everything to do with it, and the FDA limits physicians to prescribing FDA-approved medications designated for specific health conditions.
This is the reason for the medical marijuana recommendation. It’s not a prescription; it’s a recommendation that the patient use cannabis.
The type of doctor that can legally recommend medical marijuana varies from state to state. Typically, both medical doctors (MDs) and doctors of osteopathy (DOs) can recommend medical marijuana to patients. Some states also allow physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, or other healthcare personnel to recommend cannabis.
How to Get a Medical Marijuana Card Online via Telemedicine
As acceptance of and laws surrounding medical marijuana have relaxed across the country, more and more states have legalized medical marijuana programs. However, that doesn’t mean that all patients who need help can physically access medical marijuana. Doctors serve as gatekeepers to cannabis in all legalized states, so people in very rural areas or with disabilities that prevent them from traveling or other issues may need help connecting with a medical marijuana doctor.
It is these patients who benefit most from telemedicine and related technological advancements that enable online medical marijuana evaluations. In California especially the process is very simple, as you can see below. (Much of the information for California applies to all MMJ programs as well.)
So, what is telemedicine? Telemedicine, sometimes called virtual medicine or telehealth, is the practice of using technology such as phone calls or video software to gain access to health or medical support or advice. Telemedicine is particularly useful for people in remote locations or for whom travel is difficult.
Now more than ever the world is accepting telemedicine and telehealth initiatives and for good reason. In the era of COVID-19 and the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals, doctors’ offices, and clinics around the country had to embrace the online format quickly to avoid undue risk to staff and patients alike.
Even as states recover, the convenience of telemedicine for things like medical marijuana evaluations has long been apparent.
How is Getting a Medical Marijuana Recommendation Online Different from In-person?
The advent of telemedicine and the use of electronic communications and technology to provide clinical services to patients without visiting in-person has changed the way healthcare providers interact with patients. Many states allow a medical marijuana doctor to evaluate patients via a telemedicine practice.
The most notable difference between online and in-person evaluations is the more significant reliance on patient testimony because the doctor cannot thoroughly examine his or her patient over a video call. However, in many cases, most of what is seen in the office relies on patient testimony and records anyway. For example, even in person a doctor has to rely on records and patient testimony to establish whether a patient has a neurodegenerative disease that is “invisible” to the eye. For many conditions, this is sufficient for the doctor to make the call on the recommendation to the state’s cannabis program.
Getting a Medical Marijuana Card in California
California makes it very easy to qualify as a medical cannabis patient. In fact, in less than an hour, you can typically get a doctor-approved medical marijuana card online. Proposition 215 from 1996 made it so, and here is how it works.
The process is so easy in California because most dispensaries accept medical marijuana recommendations. In other words, you don’t even need to wait for the approval and official card to come; you just get the recommendation from the doctor and head out to the dispensary. The recommendation from a doctor works like the consent to treat your condition with medical cannabis.
Using an online service, you provide proof of residency, basic medical information, and proof of ID. Obviously, this only works for California residents.
Once you have submitted all of your documents, your online evaluation will take place with a doctor—usually no longer than 15 minutes. See above for more about that visit. Just like in any state the card comes later, but in California thanks to Prop 215, you can buy cannabis the same day you get your recommendation in your email inbox.
(In fact, for all of the states that allow online medical marijuana cards, this is really the only major difference.)
Where Can I Get a Medical Card Near Me?
If you don’t live in California, there are still ways to get a medical marijuana card. Several states allow telemedicine and medical marijuana recommendations online.
Currently, residents of Nevada can only use Nugg MD. People who live in Arizona, DC, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, and Pennsylvania can only use Veriheal. And lucky residents of New York, Oklahoma, and California can choose between Nugg MD and Veriheal.
NuggMD Marijuana Card: FAQ
If you’re in California, New York, or Oklahoma, NuggMD is your best online medical marijuana choice—and if you’re in Nevada, it’s your only choice. NuggMD offers among the best service, process, and overall experience in the industry, in part because they’ve been doing this since 2008.
- Sign up on the NuggMD site
- Submit your medical documents
- Schedule a doctor consultation (many are same day)
- Approved recommendations can be downloaded
- Actual cards within days
- Starts at $39 for new patients and renewals
Veriheal Online MMJ Recommendations: FAQ
Veriheal is the only option in many medical marijuana states, and it is moving to expand. You can find medical cannabis recommendation services from Veriheal in Arizona, California, Washington D.C., Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New York, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania—so far.
- Complete a Veriheal online profile
- Submit necessary documentation such as proof of ID, driver’s license, etc.
- Schedule and attend teleconsultation with an approved medical marijuana doctor online
- Most approval happens in about 15 minutes
- Cost is $199 for one patient or $379 for two patients which includes the doctor teleconsultation, a valid MMJ card for qualifying patients, 24/7 access to dispensary verifications, and 100% money-back guarantee
What Are the Benefits of Having a Medical Marijuana Card in a Recreational State?
If legal use of cannabis throughout the United States is creeping closer and closer—and we hope it is!—then you may be wondering what the point of a medical marijuana card is. In a legal state, what are the benefits of a medical cannabis card?
In a world where anyone can just walk into a dispensary and legally purchase cannabis with their state ID, is the visit to the doctor and the rest of the hassle and expense for a medical card worth it?
The answer is yes! Medical marijuana cardholders enjoy many real benefits, including access, cost, dosage, selection, support, and other reasons such as ability to grow:
Access. Recreational shops can sell to anyone over age 21, but this leaves people 18 to 20 years of age out in the cold, as well as children with serious ailments who benefit from treatment. A medical marijuana card allows these patients to access the cannabis medicine they need to treat epilepsy, cancer, and other ailments, legally.
Cost. Many states’ medical dispensaries offer lower cost options for patients, a difference maker for many. This is particularly true since no one’s insurance covers cannabis.
Dosage. Medical marijuana offerings are carefully tested and measured for dose. Many patients need access to high-strength medical marijuana, while recreational shops are hampered by potency limits.
Selection and Support. These issues go hand in hand with medical dispensaries versus recreational outlets. Patients need access to a wider variety of options, including medical marijuana products that are not “fun” but are useful and therapeutic such as troiches and suppositories. These are tough to come by in a recreational store. Support for medical issues is equally hard to find in a non-medical marijuana setting but easier to find in medical marijuana dispensaries. Those are also where you can more easily find budtenders who can talk cannabinoids, symptoms, and strains.
Many medical marijuana states allow patients to grow their own medicine, typically in higher amounts than recreational growers are permitted. For example, recreational growers in Oregon are allowed up to four plants, while medical growers can have six plants.
Most Common Qualifying Conditions Authorized for Medical Cannabis
Most medical marijuana states require that a state-licensed medical professional confirm you are suffering from one or more conditions from a pre-approved list of medical qualifiers for a medical marijuana card. Conditions may be mental health related such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD or physical such as epilepsy, cancer, or HIV.
Every state has a unique list of qualifying conditions. However, these are the most commonly listed medical conditions from state to state:
- ALS aka Lou Gehrig’s disease
- Anxiety disorders and depression
- Cachexia or wasting syndrome – (some states also consider anorexia or bulimia a qualifying condition)
- Cancer – (and side effects from chemotherapy) although research into cannabis for cancer treatment is ongoing, most states acknowledge that cannabis can and does abate cancer- and chemotherapy-related symptoms, including nausea, pain, and appetite loss. Many patients prefer cannabis products that contain a balance of CBD and THC for cancer-related symptoms.
- Chronic pain – (for some states, this includes arthritis, headaches, and migraines) many kinds of pain may be qualifying conditions, so look for your specific pain source or type.
- Glaucoma – this eye condition causes pain and can lead to permanent eye damage if left untreated
- Hepatitis C
- HIV/AIDS – (and side-effects from collateral diseases and treatments) HIV/AIDS patients often suffer with symptoms such as nausea, appetite loss, and fatigue
- Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) – such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
- Neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Huntington’s disease HD, Alzheimer’s disease AD, Parkinson’s disease PD) – medical marijuana can improve quality of life by boosting mobility and cognition, and relieving rigid muscles and spasticity.
- Multiple sclerosis (MS) MS symptom relief from abdominal discomfort, inflammation, insomnia, muscle spasms, pain, and depression
- Chronic muscle cramps and spasms
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) medical marijuana can treat PTSD-related anxiety and insomnia
- Seizures from epilepsy and other disorders
- Severe nausea
- Spinal cord injuries (SCI)
For terminally ill patients, most states also allow medical marijuana cards as part of a palliative care plan. In some states, this is only true if the patient has a predicted life expectancy of one year or less. Remember, check your state’s qualifying conditions because every state list is different.
How Much does it Cost to get a Medical Marijuana Card?
There are several costs inherent to acquiring your medical marijuana card, although not all apply to every patient or in every state:
- Paying for a visit to a licensed physician for the doctor’s recommendation
- Paying a state licensing fee or application fee
- A card renewal fee (and possibly a certificate renewal)
- Paying for a caregiver license
- Buying actual medical marijuana
All states do require some kind of recommendation or certificate from a licensed healthcare professional, although the fees vary state by state. As for renewal fees, every state sets not only its own price, but also how long the cards last. New Jersey cards last a mere 90 days, while Illinois cards are good for 3 years.
Marijuana and Medical Insurance
Cannabis, including medical marijuana, remains illegal at the federal level. This means that your medical insurance will not cover the cost of the card, the application fee, associated costs, or of buying the products—even if you live in a recreational state.
State Marijuana Laws and Medical Marijuana Identification Cards
As stated, laws vary from state to state and there is no federal medical marijuana program or even exception. There is a lot of variation from place to place when it comes to how the law treats people with medical marijuana cards.
However, there are some very basic rules of thumb which the Department of Health in most medical marijuana states share in some form:
- There is a limit on how much you can buy and possess on a monthly basis
- Public consumption of medical marijuana is banned, especially from schools, government buildings, and public transport
- States that allow home-growing require all plants to be out of sight of the public and ideally secured
- Just like with anything that might be considered intoxicating—although there is some debate about that point—it is illegal to operate heavy machinery or drive a vehicle while under the influence of medical marijuana
- MMJ card holders in many states cannot own firearms
- Federal employees cannot use medical marijuana, regardless of the state; in fact, no federal employee should apply for a medical marijuana card because most states maintain user registries of qualified patients, which may threaten a federal employee’s work and health insurance