The next installment in our “How to Get Medical Marijuana” series takes us to California.

With the combined enactment of Proposition 215 in 1996 (also called the Compassionate Use Act) and California Senate Bill 420 (the Medical Marijuana Program Act) in 2003, California became the very first state to establish a medical marijuana program.

Despite California’s reputation for being a state which enjoys its weed, Proposition 215 barely passed with 55.58% yes votes and 44.42% no votes. Thankfully, enough Californians realized the medical benefits that cannabis can have. Since then, those suffering from a variety of debilitating medical conditions have gained access to medical marijuana.

Whether you’re a California native or new to The Golden State, if you wish to obtain medical marijuana, you probably have some questions. We’ve pulled together some information to make the task easier, including an overview of state law, how to get a medical marijuana recommendation/card, and some frequently asked questions regarding medical marijuana in California.

California Medical Marijuana Law

In California, all that is required to be able to purchase medical marijuana is a doctor’s recommendation.

Eligible Doctors

There is no special kind of doctor you need to visit. All physicians, osteopaths, and surgeons licensed to practice medicine in California can recommend marijuana for a patient.

However, those who practice more holistic medicine, such as chiropractors, herbal therapists, and acupuncturists, are not authorized to issue medical marijuana recommendations.

Applicable Medical Conditions

Under Proposition 215, doctors can recommend or approve medical cannabis for patients living with cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, glaucoma, chronic muscle spasms, arthritis, migraines, cachexia, seizures, severe nausea or, “any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.”

This phrasing is intentionally forgiving so as not to exclude individuals who have another condition. So don’t worry, if your condition is not listed, you’re not out of luck. Physicians in California have recommended marijuana for other conditions, like insomnia, PTSD, depression, PMS, and more.

Cultivation

With a medical marijuana recommendation, California residents and/or their caregivers are allowed to cultivate bud, hash, concentrates, and edibles for personal medical use. Proposition 215 also allows for cannabis to be transported on California roads by the individual in possession of the recommendation or their caregiver.

Sale

Interestingly, California legislation does not explicitly permit the sale of medical marijuana. According to Prop. 215, caregivers and collective/co-op members may charge patients for the expenses they incur while growing cannabis if they operate on a “non-profit” basis. Both of these entities are also protected from being arrested or charged with possession for sale, transportation, or operating a center designed to distribute a controlled substance.

Possession

In terms of possession, medical marijuana patients in California are technically allowed to have “whatever amount of marijuana is necessary for their personal medical use.” That said, it should be noted that medical marijuana laws can vary based on the city or county you’re in. So in some places, there are certain amounts of cannabis that are considered “reasonable” and, when these limits are exceeded, patients and caregivers risk being cited or fined under local jurisdictions.

It’s crucial that you understand the specific laws in your local area. In general though, according to Health and Safety Code Section 11362.77, qualified patients or caregivers can possess up to 8 ounces of dried marijuana at a time and grow no more than 6 mature or 12 immature plants.

Additionally, the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (formerly known as the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act) that came into effect on January 1st, 2016, states that qualified patients can grow in up to 100 square feet of space. Primary caregivers who have five patients or less are allowed to grow in an area up to 500 square feet. But remember, these laws are mandated by the state and do not include or exclude those established by local governments.

How to Get Your Medical Marijuana Card in California

If you haven’t already realized it, getting medical marijuana in California isn’t exactly hard. You aren’t even required to have a card if you have a valid doctor’s recommendation, as the California Medical Marijuana Identification Card (MMIC) program is completely voluntary.

There is no legal difference between having a MMIC or just having a recommendation from a doctor. The only real difference is that once you voluntarily register with the state, police can search your ID number in the California database and confirm your patient-status. This decreases the chance you’ll face legal ramifications for possessing marijuana if pulled over with it, but who wants to be in a database when the alternative option of going through a private company protects you the same? We’ll get to that shortly.

For now, whether you want a state-registered medical marijuana card or not, you’ll first need to get your doctor’s recommendation. If you can, it’s best to work with your primary care physician to obtain a recommendation. Not all primary care providers are believers of medical marijuana however, so you may need to find another doctor or one that specializes in medical marijuana. California NORML offers an easy to use medical cannabis specialist finder to help locate a qualified doctor near you.

We recommend NuggMD, a website that lets you chat live with a California licensed physician, who helps determine if medical cannabis is right for you, and issues you a doctor’s recommendation on the spot if you qualify. You can complete your evaluation from anywhere and can access the service from any internet-connected device during their open hours between 8:00am and 10:00pm.

With your doctor’s recommendation in hand, getting your ID card is fairly simple. While you can get your card through both private or public entities, Californians are able to have their MMJ cards issued by the state through the health department in the county they live in, which may provide a level of added comfort and security. Once you’ve identified your local health department, you’ll need to apply in person, bringing along the following documentation:

  • A copy of your doctor’s recommendation
  • A filled out Medical Marijuana Program Application/Renewal Form
  • Proof of identity (California driver’s license or other government-issued photo ID)
  • Proof of residency (rent/mortgage agreement, utility bills, or California vehicle registration)

While submitting your information, you’ll also be required to pay an application fee. At the time of writing, the state fee for a medical marijuana card was $66 for non Medi-Cal patients and $33 for Medi-Cal patients. There are also additional fees assessed by local government entities, which vary from county to county It should be noted that Medi-Cal patients will also need to provide proof that they are currently enrolled in the program.

After submitting your paperwork, your county has 30 days to verify your application, though it may take less than this. After verification, they have five days to provide you with your Medical Marijuana Identification Card (MMIC). Remembering to provide all of the required information the first time will keep your MMIC from being delayed. If you do forget to submit something, your local health department will contact you directly.

MMICs are valid for one year before they need to be renewed. The renewal process is exactly the same as the initial application process. Whether or not you’ll need a new doctor’s recommendation depends on how long the original document was valid for. They are typically only valid for a year but some can run longer, so keep this in mind as you approach your renewal date. Once the renewal application has been completed, you’ll be issued a new MMIC as well as a new ID number.

California Medical Marijuana FAQs

We hope that you’ve found this information useful and that it helps you obtain medical marijuana in California! If you still have questions, check below to see if they’re answered in our FAQs. You can also visit the California NORML website for more in-depth information and specific details on state law.

Q. Can I buy a gun while being a medical marijuana patient?

A. This one is a little tricky because you will be asked whether you use illegal drugs or medical marijuana when you try to purchase a firearm. If you say yes, you will not be allowed to buy a gun. Saying no may get you the gun, but it could also get you punished for perjury.

Q. Does California practice reciprocity with other states?

A. Generally, dispensaries in California will not accept a medical marijuana card from another state. The good news is, if you’re traveling, your California medical marijuana recommendation or card should be valid in Arizona, Montana, Rhode Island, and Michigan.

Q. As a MMJ patient, can I be drug tested at work?

A. Yes. Employers do not have to recognize that you are a medical marijuana patient and can drug test you and fire you for testing positive for cannabis.

Q. Can I fly with medical cannabis?

A. While you may come across an understanding TSA agent, you may not. It’s best to leave your medicine at home to avoid being turned over to local law enforcement.

Q. Can I still be arrested for possession?

A. Unfortunately, yes. Since marijuana is still illegal federally, you can be arrested for possession, sale, or cultivation. Federal officials have stated they will not go after individual patients however, so you should be fine unless you’re on federal park or forest land.

Q. Where can I smoke weed?

A. It’s recommended that you consume marijuana in the privacy of your own home or another private residence, especially if you are smoking it. It is technically ok to smoke outside of your house as long as you’re not in a no smoking zone, operating a boat, on a school bus, in a moving vehicle, or are more than 1,000 feet from a school or youth center, but discretion is advised.

Q. Is medical marijuana covered by insurance?

A. No.

Q. Can minors be medical marijuana patients?

A. Yes. Those 18 and under can become a MMJ patient with parental consent and proof of identity, such as a government-issued photo ID, California driver’s license, and, in some cases, a certified birth certificate.

Q. What happens to the information I provide in my MMIC application?

A. Under HIPPA, information like your name, address, and social security number, is safe. The Medical Marijuana Application System does not store this information and the only thing that will appear on your card is your photo and a unique patient ID number.

Q. Should I get my recommendation from the 420 Evaluations center down the street?

A. While some 420 Evaluation centers may seem sketchy (indeed, they can be), to our knowledge most of the 420 Doctors they have on-staff are in fact licensed by California’s medical board, but if you have any hesitancy at all, you should request to see their proof of license, or simply look their license up through the Medical Board of California’s website.