How to Apply for a Medical Marijuana Card

To use cannabis medically without incurring civil or criminal penalties, you'll need a medical marijuana (MMJ) card. But how do you get one? 

JJ Watt, Partner
4-minute read

Although marijuana (or cannabis) remains illegal on the federal level, and only a few states allow legal recreational use, many states have approved the sale and use of medical marijuana for the treatment of certain illnesses. To use cannabis medically without incurring civil or criminal penalties, you'll need a medical marijuana (MMJ) card. Once registered, you can get cannabis from approved dispensaries, health clinics, and wellness centers.

Advantages of getting a medical marijuana card

Even if cannabis is legal in your state, there are still advantages to getting a medical marijuana card. A major advantage in many areas is that you won’t have to pay as much for the product. Many insurance companies don’t cover the cost of medical marijuana, and it is often highly taxed. Often, medical dispensaries afford cardholders benefits that recreational users don’t get. For instance, in Colorado, patients can avoid the high taxes that recreational customers have to pay.

Many insurance companies don’t cover the cost of medical marijuana, and it is often highly taxed.

Another advantage is that those younger than 21 can often use medical cannabis. Recreational shops in many states can only sell to those age 21 or older. That makes sense for those who use marijuana recreationally, but some health care providers might recommend cannabis for younger people. In some areas, those under the age of 21 can legally get a medical card. A minor’s access might be restricted, however. For instance, they might need to have a caregiver assist them. The type, such as edibles or oils, as well as the potency limits, can vary depending on the area. Younger people may also be required to only use certain strains, such as those high in CBD, a compound that doesn't have intoxicating effects.

Getting your MMJ card

To get a card, you'll go through an application process. Applicants can get approval by working with a specialist who has a medical marijuana license. Once the specialist approves the patient, the applicant can legally purchase an approved amount of medical cannabis. You can expect to pay a fee during the process. For instance, in Pennsylvania, you might have to pay a $50 fee. There are several key steps involved during the application.

Learn the restrictions for your state

Plan ahead by looking at your state’s requirements. For instance, in New Jersey, you need to maintain a bona fide relationship with a qualifying physician. That could include having a doctor-patient relationship for over a year or having had at least four visits to the provider.

On the other hand, getting your card in Ohio is often easier because you can do it online with companies such as NuggMD. Many U.S. states and the District of Columbia allow patients to use cannabis with an MMJ card, but each one has different rules. It’s important to know the regulations in your area so you can understand any challenges you might face. Look at information from your area’s health and human services office for a list of approved conditions. They might include medical conditions such as muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

You might want to know if your area lets you get a card for your particular condition. Crohn's disease, cancer, and glaucoma are on Arizona’s list of approved conditions. But Connecticut has a longer list of qualifying conditions, such as ulcerative colitis and sickle cell disease. Although you can get a card in New Jersey for anxiety, you can’t do the same in New York. Always check with your state’s website to see if your condition is covered.

Gather your records

You will need to gather your medical records and be prepared to list any disabilities, injuries, or illnesses. That means you’ll need to have a health care provider sign a statement recommending medical cannabis. Often, the physician has to be licensed through the state or work with the area’s health department for filing the right paperwork. You usually have to be a resident of the state to qualify for a card. If you don’t have identification such as a passport or driver’s license, you can’t proceed.

After the process

In many states, cards are only valid for a certain amount of time. Some might expire after a year. If that’s the case in your state, you’ll have to submit another application once your MMJ card expires. Check with the local health department to see if your card has an expiration date.

The shopping experience at recreational versus medical dispensaries

You’ll likely notice a few differences between recreational and medical shops. In medical dispensaries, users will present a valid MMJ card and their ID. Some medical dispensaries have waiting areas where customers enter one at a time for privacy’s sake. Depending on the state, some dispensaries are dual-licensed, which means they can offer services to both medical and recreational users. They may offer certain discounts as well.

Many dispensary workers (or budtenders) can answer questions from customers. Some dispensaries offer education to their budtenders. Staff members who attend seminars are likely to be more knowledgeable. You might need to connect with several dispensaries to find one that has well-trained staff.

Growing your own

While certainly not the case in every area, some states allow MMJ cardholders to grow cannabis. Some states allow both recreational and medical users to grow, and cardholders might be allowed to grow higher amounts.

The ability to grow your own marijuana can be helpful for patients who are unable to get to a dispensary. In Oregon, recreational users can grow up to four plants at home. But medical users can have as many as six mature plants and a dozen immature ones. Immature plants are those less than two feet tall. One of the advantages of growing the herb at home is that it may help to offset some of the dispensary expenses.