Going to see a doctor can be a complicated process. Getting medicine can be, too. Both can also be expensive. This is especially true when it comes to consulting with a doctor about the use of cannabis and figuring out where cannabis products are available.
And while it's not uncommon for low-income patients to need medical assistance, it can be even harder when that medication is cannabis.
The barriers are many — applying and paying for an annual medical card, the often prohibitive price of the medicine itself, and the fact that marijuana is almost exclusively handled on a cash basis and isn't covered by insurance. Seeing this need, there are a growing number of programs meant to help low-income patients bridge both the financial and informational gaps that prevent them from accessing medical cannabis.
“I don't think your healthcare should be dependent on your ZIP code or your financial well-being,” said Garyn Angel, the founder of Cheers to Goodness Foundation. “But around the world those are the two determining factors. If we can cause a positive impact on that, it's our duty as humans.”
Here are some of the programs across the U.S. available to low-income medical cannabis patients who need help accessing their medication. Besides these resources, some dispensaries offer discounts to low-income patients, so contact your local dispensary to see whether they have a need-based program and if so, how to sign up for it.
City of Berkeley
Where: The city of Berkeley, California
Help It Offers: A city ordinance helps residents living in the city to cover medical cannabis expenses. Patients making less than $32,000 per year or $46,000 for a family of four can access their medical cannabis for free from local medical dispensaries.
According to the ordinance, dispensaries must offer at least 2% by weight of their annual medical cannabis supplies to very-low-income customers for free. The cannabis has to be of the same quality as that sold to paying customers. Income is verified through federal tax returns.
While each dispensary has slightly different rules, typically, low-income patients need to fill out an application, provide documentation of Berkeley residency, and possess a California medical marijuana card. The Berkeley Patients Group, the U.S.'s oldest medical cannabis dispensary, offers an example of what to expect.
California Medical Marijuana Identification Card
Help It Offers: In order to access compassion programs in the state, California Medical Marijuana Identification Card (MMIC) is required. It typically costs about $100, but low-income patients who are eligible for Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program, can get their card for $50. Fees are waived for indigent patients who participate in the County Medical Services Program, a state health care program for uninsured low-income and indigent California residents, according to the California Department of Public Health's website. Patients must apply for the card through their home county health department.
Rainy Day Foundation
Help It Offers: Rainy Day Foundation is a nonprofit that helps cannabis patients who are low-income, disabled, and live in Florida. The foundation provides financial assistance to cover the cost of doctor's referrals and the Florida medical cannabis card. Anyone who has a disability award letter from the Social Security Administration and makes less than $1,000 a month may apply to the foundation. The Rainy Day Foundation currently has a waiting list of 400 patients.
What It Needs Help With: Financial donations. You can donate through the organization's website.
Oregon Health Authority
Help It Offers: This state agency oversees the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program and offers reduced-price state medical cannabis cards. The basic application fee is $200, but patients in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) pay $60; patients enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan pay $50; and recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and veterans pay $20. For more information, visit the Oregon Health Authority website.
Sanctuary Alternative Treatment Center
Where: Plymouth, New Hampshire
Help It Offers: Sanctuary Alternative Treatment Center, a nonprofit therapeutic cannabis provider, offers medication discounts for qualifying New Hampshire patients based on financial hardships or their eligibility for Medicaid, SSI, or Social Security Disability Insurance. One-on-one consultations for new patients are used to determine a patient's qualifications.
Cheers to Goodness Foundation
Help It Offers: Cheers to Goodness Foundation was started in 2012 by Garyn Angel, the founder and CEO of MagicalButter.com, the company that makes Magical Butter machines, which are botanical extractors. Cheers to Goodness Foundation has provided holiday gifts to families strapped for cash due to high medical cannabis expenses, donated 420 Magical Butter machines to medical cannabis patients who were victims of the devastating 2017 Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and has paid the expenses of families who have needed to move to states with more progressive medical cannabis laws in order to access needed medications, according to Angel.
What It Needs Help With: Financial donations can be made on the Cheers to Goodness Foundation website.
Massachusetts Medical Use of Marijuana Program
Help It Offers: Massachusetts medical cannabis patients facing financial hardships can get the $50 program registration fee waived if they are enrolled in MassHealth, the state's Medicaid program, receive SSI, or their household income doesn't exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty level for their family size ($36,180 for a single person or $73,800 for a family of four). To apply, patients need to present proof of verified financial hardship, which can include an official acceptance letter or card for MassHealth, federal tax returns, an SSI benefit verification letter, or a SNAP statement for the current year; according to the Mass.gov website.
Feature image: Patients who cannot afford medical marijuana or documentation for state programs have government and private nonprofit assistance available to cover costs. (Photo via Shutterstock)