When your state legalized medical cannabis, you got your medical card. And started a journey to explore how cannabinoids combined with THC could help address debilitating symptoms. Clinical studies report that cannabis can help patients with many different types of symptoms. From chronic pain to mental health struggles with PTSD, anxiety, or depression.
Then something unexpected happens; your state legalizes adult-use or recreational weed. In most states, lobbyists have been working on legalization for more than two decades. But adult-use legalization is always an uphill battle socially, and legislatively.
If you are sitting with your medical card and now residing in a state with legalized recreational cannabis, do you still need your card? After all, you have to go through the process of renewals on an annual basis (in most states). That means paying for a health evaluation that your insurance probably doesn’t cover.
But before you decide not to renew your medical card, review the benefits that your card provides. Many states are adding some medical card benefits that can save patients time and money. And often, patients with a medical card are provided with privileges that recreational cannabis users can’t get.
Amending Laws and State Constitution: Why It Takes so Long to Legalize Medical Cannabis
With South Dakota’s exception, which legalized both medical and adult-use cannabis simultaneously in 2020, most states lead with medical programs first. The implementation of a medical marijuana program immediately addresses the needs of patients. But there are other administrative reasons why states lead with medical cannabis legalization first.
New laws are required to legalize medical cannabis. But the state Legislatures are also responsible for amending the constitutional laws within the state. Because access to medical cannabis also means that patients need to be protected from things like discrimination for housing or employment. And patients also need to be legally protected from being charged by law enforcement for cannabis use.
The tax revenues earned by states that have successfully launched medical marijuana programs are important. Especially now, when every state is experiencing crisis level expenses and fiscal strains because of Covid-19. But as tax laws are also drafted, there are other considerations. Since medical cannabis is authorized for patients with health conditions, it needs to be affordable. Many patients with chronic diseases (including seniors) are on fixed incomes.
From a continuity of care perspective, cannabis cannot be more expensive than patients can afford. Otherwise, it negates the whole intention of medical legalization. But the start-up costs of a new program are expensive. And ultimately, states that decide to legalize adult-use can make the medical cannabis program self-sustaining, with recreational pot taxes. And that also takes additional legislative work to implement.
Six Advantages to Keeping a Medical Marijuana Card in a Recreational State
Having a medical card can feel costly and inconvenient compared to recreational use. Every time you visit a dispensary, you have to bring out your medical marijuana card and your driver’s license. You have the expense of renewals and follow-up appoints (which can be mandatory depending on the state). It can feel like a lot of running around.
Here are five advantages to consider if you are thinking about getting rid of your medical card and buying cannabis from recreational dispensaries instead:
- Lower Taxes
Medicine is taxed at a lower rate than other controlled substances, including cigarettes and alcohol. That is because it is a necessity for health. If medical cannabis was overtaxed, most patients wouldn’t be able to afford it. States like the District of Columbia charge 37% taxes on medical cannabis! Oregon charges 17%, and California cannabis for patients was taxed at a rate of 15% in 2020. It adds up.
In most states, the retail sales tax paid by patients buying cannabis is much lower. People who buy at recreational dispensaries will pay a premium tax, just like buying alcohol or cigarettes, etc. It is a non-essential product—the difference between being untaxed on things like meat, and milk, versus being taxed on candy.
New Jersey is one model that many other states may follow. In 2020, New Jersey lawmakers announced a tax cut on medical marijuana products. It was phase one of a multiple-stage reduction in medical cannabis taxes scheduled over the next four years. Interestingly, nationwide, New Jersey has one of the lowest cannabis excise tax rates of 6.625%.
Over the next four years (and after the implementation of the new adult-use or recreational weed laws in NJ), patients will pay 0% taxes. Medical cannabis will cease to be taxed for people with medical cards. And the anticipated revenues from recreational sales in the state will fund the operational costs of both the adult-use and medical cannabis programs in New Jersey.
- Guaranteed Access to Medical Cannabis as an Essential Service
When the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic hit America in February 2020, businesses started to shut down. What we thought would be a 2-4 week shutdown for public safety stretched on. And both medical and recreational dispensaries were impacted, along with other retail stores.
However, states were quick to pivot and make medical dispensaries an essential service. That meant that they could stay open to serve patients through the pandemic. With new precautions, such as drive-through or park and pick up. Like pharmacies, medical dispensaries will remain open. Recreational weed users don’t have that luxury.
- Consultations and Care from a Doctor Experienced with Cannabis Therapies
Your health and medical conditions change constantly. As you get older, you may need different medications to manage your symptoms. Many recreational cannabis users do buy weed for medical purposes as well. But they don’t have the built-in supervision of a practitioner who can help monitor reactions between cannabis and prescription drugs.
The annual physician visit is built-in for that reason. To help the patient constantly monitor their changing health needs. Cannabis does not contraindicate (or conflict) with many medications. However, some people can have adverse reactions. The supervision and assistance from a doctor help patients use medical cannabis more safely.
- Opportunity to Grow Cannabis At Home (Where Permitted)
Accessibility and keeping cannabis affordable for patients who need it remains a priority for every state. And some states have created legislation that allows patients to grow a certain number of seedlings and mature plants in their homes.
The first reason is mobility. Some patients live in rural areas and may not have access to public transportation. That means getting their prescribed cannabis can be a lot harder. Others face economic challenges that make it hard to travel. In some cases, patients can grow at home. This helps remove the obstacles of transportation, mobility, and affordability from the equation.
- Potential to Request Higher Potency Products
Some states have placed a maximum THC potency for medical cannabis products. Texas, for example, has a very low-THC policy. But what if that low THC isn’t enough to provide the relief and comfort you need? Where do you go next?
Medical cannabis cardholders can get help from their referring doctor to appeal a higher potency permit. This is common in cases where the patient may have a terminal illness. A higher THC level may provide better compassionate care for patients in end-of-life circumstances. To ease pain, nausea, muscle tremors, insomnia, and stimulate the appetite.
- Medical Card Reciprocity Programs (Interstate)
Oklahoma announced in February 2021 that it will now issue medical marijuana cards to any American resident over the age of 21 years. Regardless of what state they live in. Patients will be able to schedule with an Oklahoma physician for evaluation, then apply with the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA).
Is it legal to take cannabis outside of the state of Oklahoma? No. Is it likely to happen now that anyone with a qualifying health condition can get a card? Even if they don’t live in Oklahoma? Yes. But that is just a hint at what might be coming if federal legalization comes through with the MORE Act.
State reciprocity, which means your medical card could work in any state. And, you may be able to travel with a set quantity of cannabis between states without the risk of federal charges. That also means patients who are snowbirds could use their medical cards to buy cannabis wherever they are in the United States. That would also reduce the need to travel (illegally) with medical marijuana products.
The laws governing medical marijuana are always changing at the state level and being amended as the medical cannabis programs work out the problems or obstacles for patients. But one thing is clear; having a medical card means advantages that recreational users will never have. So, it might be a good idea to keep that card after all.