As of March 2020, medical marijuana can be legally accessed in 33 states, four out of five U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. A medical marijuana card enables access to cannabis in these locations.
Since marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, states have developed their own requirements for obtaining a medical marijuana card. Many states have adopted similar regulations, and a number of the qualifying medical conditions overlap across jurisdictions.
Which states offer a medical marijuana card?
Medical marijuana is legal in the following states and territories:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Dakota
- Northern Mariana Islands
- Puerto Rico
- Rhode Island
- U.S. Virgin Islands
- West Virginia
Each state has its own regulations governing the process of obtaining a medical cannabis card. In most cases, this information is available from the state's cannabis regulatory or governing body, or the department of health.
All states require you to be diagnosed with a qualifying condition, get a formal recommendation from a doctor, complete appropriate paperwork, and pay a fee or series of fees.
What are some common qualifying conditions?
There are several qualifying medical conditions common across almost all states and territories. These include:
- Cancer (more specifically, conditions associated with cancer and its treatment, such as pain, cachexia or wasting syndrome, and chemotherapy-related nausea).
- Severe, chronic, or intractable pain.
- Multiple sclerosis.
- Severe or persistent muscle spasms.
Many states also approve medical marijuana cards for the treatment of Crohn's disease, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and seizure disorders.
There are other conditions that may allow an individual to get medical marijuana, but these vary from state to state. They include (but are not limited to):
- Alzheimer's disease.
- Hepatitis C.
- Inflammatory bowel disease.
- Parkinson's disease.
- Psoriatic arthritis.
- Severe rheumatoid arthritis.
- Sickle cell anemia.
- Terminal illness.
- Tourette syndrome.
- Ulcerative colitis.
- Wasting syndrome.
In some states, a physician or the state's health commissioner may determine whether an individual is living with a debilitating condition, and if they should be entitled to a medical marijuana card.
Minors with qualifying conditions may also get medical marijuana cards with parental consent.
What does the process entail?
Consultation with a healthcare professional
A consultation with an approved, licensed physician or healthcare professional is the first step in determining eligibility for a medical marijuana card. In many cases, you will be required to have an established relationship with the practitioner. The healthcare professional will need to complete a full assessment of your medical history and current medical condition, which may require an up-to-date physical examination. Even if you have a qualifying condition, the physician needs to be convinced that medical marijuana will help alleviate the symptoms associated with your medical condition. If they do, they will recommend that you receive a medical marijuana card.
Completion of a state-specific registration packet
Patients are required to complete a registration packet online or on paper. Registration packets may include an application form, a signed recommendation completed by a healthcare professional, proof of state residence (such as driver's license or state ID card), a digital photograph, and any relevant medical records or evidence.
For patients who are homebound with a designated caregiver, the caregiver may also need to register. In some states, such as Vermont, you may be asked to identify a single dispensary from which you will purchase your medicine.
A non-refundable administration fee often accompanies the registration packet.
Payment for the medical marijuana ID card
If your application is approved, you'll be registered as a medical marijuana patient. In some states, an additional fee is required for the medical marijuana ID card.
Maintenance of medical marijuana patient registration
In the majority of jurisdictions, medical marijuana cards remain active for a specific period, such as one year. You'll need to reapply or renew your medical marijuana card before the expiration date in order to ensure your access to medical cannabis. State health departments and medical marijuana regulatory bodies offer guidelines on renewal.
Can I use my medical marijuana card in other states?
Individuals who travel should be aware of the laws regarding medical marijuana in other states. Be aware that it is a federal crime to travel across state lines with any quantity of cannabis, even between two states with medical marijuana programs. Several states explicitly ban the importation or exportation of marijuana across their borders.
Many jurisdictions with medical marijuana programs offer some form of reciprocity to visiting patients, facilitating travel, and conferring legal protection. The degree of reciprocity can vary, however. In some states, basic protection is extended. In others, out-of-state medical marijuana card holders are entitled to the same rights as resident patients. If you travel, be sure to check if the state you intend to visit extends some form of reciprocity.
What are the advantages of getting a medical marijuana card?
A medical marijuana card is the only legal way to gain access to cannabis medicine in states where medical marijuana is legal and adult-use marijuana is not. The illegal use of marijuana can be heavily penalized with potential fines or time in prison.
In jurisdictions where both medical marijuana and adult-use marijuana are legal, there are still clear advantages to acquiring a medical marijuana card. States with medical marijuana programs enable patients to purchase high-quality medical marijuana from licensed dispensaries. What's more, individuals with medical marijuana cards are often able to access cannabis at lower prices without the retail or excise taxes imposed on recreational cannabis products. Medical marijuana cardholders are also able to purchase products with potencies often unavailable to recreational users. They may also be permitted to possess higher volumes of cannabis than recreational users.
Finally, in jurisdictions that permit home cannabis cultivation, medical marijuana patients are sometimes allowed to grow more marijuana plants than recreational consumers.