At the time of this writing, 22 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the consumption of marijuana for medical purposes.  This does not mean, however, that it is legal for everyone to purchase or smoke marijuana. Regardless of the state you live in, you will need approval from a physician and in most cases will need to apply for a license. While the process varies somewhat from one state to the next, the basic steps for getting a license are fairly similar across the different states. These instructions will walk you through the basics of applying for a license to purchase, possess, and consume medical marijuana.
Preparing to Apply
1Learn the law. The law regarding medical marijuana varies greatly from one state to the next, with some states making it much more challenging than others to obtain a license. Knowing the law in your state will make the process easier and protect you from possible prosecution.
- For example, California law allows licenses to be granted for a wide range of conditions such as cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or “any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.” This last category is quite broad and has made it very easy to obtain a license in California.
- Other states, such as New Jersey, have stricter guidelines, requiring a “debilitating” medical condition and providing a less flexible list of eligible conditions.
- State laws also vary regarding how much marijuana you can possess, and whether you can cultivate your own plants.
- Brief summaries of the law for each state that allows medical marijuana use are available here. Penalties for possession of marijuana outside the bounds of medical limits also vary by state and amount. The penalties for this offense in each state are summarized here.
- Be aware that whatever the law may be in your state, possessing any amount of marijuana is still a misdemeanor at the federal level. Although federal agents generally do not pursue individual patients, there is still a very slight risk of federal prosecution.
- At the federal level, the penalty for a first-offense possession conviction is up to $1000 and a year in prison.
- Penalties are even more severe if you give or sell marijuana to others. Even if obtained legally, this is considered drug trafficking.
2Determine your eligibility. After reviewing the conditions for which medical marijuana is allowed in your state, consider whether or not you are eligible.
- If you have been diagnosed with any of the conditions that are listed explicitly in your state’s law, you are almost certainly eligible for a license.
- If you haven’t, it may still be possible for you to get a license. For example, if you have any symptoms that might be considered evidence of a condition for which marijuana can be authorized in your state, it is probably worth pursuing the matter further.
- If you do not have any symptoms, ou may not be able to obtain medical marijuana legally if you live in a state with a strict statute.
- Most states also require you to prove residency to be eligible.
3Find a physician. If you think you may be eligible for a medical marijuana license, your next step is to find a doctor who is willing to authorize it. This could be your regular doctor if you have one, or it could be someone else.
- If you think your regular doctor would be willing to authorize a marijuana license, the easiest thing to do is probably to visit him or her.
- If not, there are some ways to find a doctor who is amenable to such authorizations. For example, you can contact your local dispensary as they are likely to have contact information on hand for a doctor in your area.
- There are also numerous websites that provide directories of doctors who conduct medical marijuana evaluations in the states where it is legal, such as this directoryfrom medicalmarijuana.com and this search feature from United Patients Group.
4Visit the doctor. Make an appointment and visit the doctor for your evaluation. Tell the doctor about your condition and why you think medical marijuana might be helpful to you.
- If the doctor thinks your case is valid, he or she will provide you the authorization necessary to apply for a license from the state.
- In states with more permissive restrictions, such as California, there are clinics that exist for the sole purpose of medical marijuana screenings. The staff at these establishments won’t need much convincing: just tell them how marijuana might help you and you’ll probably get approval.
- If you are seeing a regular doctor or live in a state with a stricter statute, you may need to be more persuasive. It’s a good idea to go in the appointment with a good understanding of the law in your state, the research on how marijuana may be helpful for your condition, and information about the safety of the drug. If you’ve done your homework in advance, you’ll be able to make a better argument.
- It may be especially important to tell your doctor that, according to federal law, he or she cannot be prosecuted for discussing or recommending medical marijuana use. Concerns about being prosecuted, which date back to threats made in the 1990s, make some doctors hesitant to authorize or even discuss this option.
- In some states, written authorization from your doctor may be sufficient to purchase marijuana from a dispensary.
Applying for a License
1Fill out the paperwork. Once you’ve received authorization from a doctor, most states will require you to fill out a form and enroll in a registry of approved patients.
- It’s possible the approving doctor will have the necessary paperwork. Otherwise, it should be available online.
- Depending where you live, you may be able to scan the paperwork and the physician’s documentation to submit via the internet, as is the case in the state of New Jersey. In other places, you may need to submit the documentation in person, as is the case in San Diego County. Ask the doctor or find your state’s requirements online.
2Pay the fee. Most (but not all) states also require you to pay a fee to receive your license. How and when you pay your fee will vary by state, but there should be instructions available with your registration paperwork.
- State fees range from $10 to $200.
3Wait for your card. Even if your paperwork is approved, don’t try to purchase medical marijuana until you’ve received your card.
- In most states, it will take a few days to review your paperwork, and then your card will come in the mail. In California, some clinics that do medical marijuana screenings can issue you a card on-site.
4Visit a dispensary. Once your card has arrived, you can visit a licensed dispensary and purchase marijuana.
- In many states, such as Arizona this is the only way to obtain medical marijuana legally. If you buy it from another source, you may still be in violation of state laws.