As of April 2021, over 40% of Americans live in one of the 15 states where adults can legally buy cannabis for recreational use. Whether you live in a state where dispensaries are already open or whether you’re patiently waiting to buy your first legal eighth, it may still be worth considering a medical marijuana card.
Even in fully legal states that are saturated with adult use dispensaries, it can still pay to get a medical cannabis card — although not for everyone. High on the list are the ability to buy cannabis in other states where it’s only legal medically, and the prospect of saving hundreds of dollars a year.
Of course, this is only relevant for those who qualify as medical cannabis patients.
Here are all of the considerations.
- Tax breaks and cost savings
- Higher purchase limits
- Buy cannabis in other states
- Grow your own
- Different products available
- Access to more healthcare professionals
Tax breaks and lower prices
In adult use states, consumers must pay either an excise or sales tax on their purchases — and in many states, both. The amount of the tax varies widely from state to state. In Illinois for instance, there is a 10% excise tax on cannabis flower, while in Nevada and Colorado the excise tax stands at 15%. The range of sales tax is even more stark. In Maine, for instance, there is a 10% sales tax on cannabis purchases, while in Oregon it’s 17%, and in Washington, a jaw-dropping 37%.
In some states the combined taxes can be outright prohibitive for some. In Colorado, there is a 15% excise tax and a 15% sales tax on cannabis purchases, which, for those of you who already smoked a few bowls before reading this, adds up to a whopping 30% on each purchase.
For medical cannabis patients, most states still affix a sales tax on products but do not require an excise tax. This can make a major difference for cannabis consumers.
The amount of money that could potentially be saved depends on the amount the consumer purchases per year, the annual cost of getting and renewing a medical marijuana card, including a visit with a doctor, and how much sales and excise tax they would otherwise pay as an adult use consumer.
Take, for example, a Washington state resident who purchases a $200 ounce of cannabis per month. A 37% excise tax represents $74 on each ounce purchased. To become a medical patient in Washington, you need to see a doctor, which can cost $50 or more, which needs to be done each year. Assuming that you purchase an ounce a month at $200/ounce, that means the yearly expenditure on cannabis flower will come out to $2,400 — or $2,450 if you include the cost of the doctor visit. For a recreational customer paying the 37% excise tax on each sale, this would come out to $3,288 per year, a substantial yearly difference of $838.
The cost savings will vary from state to state, and depend on the amount of tax you are exempt from, the cost of registering and renewing as a medical patient, and the cost of seeing a physician. A big factor is also how much cannabis you purchase.
In California, for instance, many patients find that the time and financial costs of getting a medical marijuana card are not worth it.
Less restrictive limits on possession and purchasing
In adult use cannabis states there are limits on the amount of cannabis an adult can purchase or possess, while medical patients typically have more lax restrictions. For instance in Colorado, medical patients can possess up to two ounces of cannabis at a time, while adult use consumers are limited to one ounce or less. In California, there are no set limits on possession of medical cannabis patients, while adult use consumers can only possess up to one ounce of flower.
Purchase limits can also vary. In Oregon, adult use consumers can purchase up to one ounce of flower, 5 grams of extracts/concentrate, or 16 ounces of cannabinoid product in solid form on a daily basis. Medical cannabis patients. meanwhile, are allowed to purchase up to 8 ounces of usable cannabis per day.
For when you travel to a non-legal state (reciprocity)
Medical cannabis users who live in an adult use state may be able to buy whatever products they need at an affordable price and have no need for a medical card. But what happens if you have to travel for work, vacation, or a short term relocation?
Many states that don’t have legal recreational cannabis do have medical cannabis dispensaries that will honor out-of-state medical cannabis licenses, known as reciprocity.
For medical cannabis patients, this means knowing that you won’t have to go without your medicine just because you’re temporarily in a non-adult use state. See which states have reciprocity.
Cannabis cultivation rights
In some adult use cannabis states, there are less restrictive rules regarding how much cannabis someone can cultivate for personal use or whether you’re allowed to grow your own at all.
In Maine, residents can grow three or less plants, while medical patients can grow up to six. In Oregon, residents can grow up to four plants, while patients can grow six. In Washington it’s not legal to grow cannabis for recreational use, though patients can cultivate up to six plants.
Medical cannabis users who want to grow their own marijuana — especially in larger quantities — should consider applying for a card.
Different products and dedicated dispensaries
In some states there are limits on the types and potency of cannabis products that consumers can purchase — unless they are medical patients.
In Nevada for instance, edibles and concentrates are limited to no more than 100 milligrams of THC per container, while for medical patients the limit is 1,000 milligrams. In Oregon, recreational consumers can purchase edibles that contain up to 50 milligrams of THC, while medical patients can purchase edibles that have up to 100 grams per container. In addition, the tinctures available to medical patients can contain up to 4,000 milligrams of THC per container, as opposed to 1,000 milligram for adult use consumers.
In addition, many states that have both recreational and medical cannabis programs also have dispensaries that are solely for medical patients. This allows medical patients to skip the lines at recreational dispensaries and ensure that they are able to obtain the medicine they need without competing with recreational customers.
And even if there aren’t dedicated medical dispensaries, there are many recreational dispensaries that allow medical patients to skip ahead of recreational customers.
Access to physicians and pharmacists
With a medical cannabis license, patients can access medical-only dispensaries and receive guidance from on-site staff with medical or pharmacological training. These health care professionals typically have more expertise on cannabis — and its potential side effects and drug interactions — than the average budtender at a dispensary. This means that not only can they potentially make better recommendations for cannabis products and dosing, but can also help the patient avoid any potential drug interactions.
And while it can seem that cannabis has become fully part of the mainstream, there is still a stigma attached to cannabis consumers — especially recreational users — in many parts of society. Having a medical cannabis card can send the message that you consume for more “kosher” reasons, if you’re concerned about keeping up appearances.
When it’s not worth it to get a medical card
In some states, the price of a consultation with a physician and applying for a medical card, not to mention yearly renewal fees, can make getting a medical cannabis card not worth the cost from a strictly economic basis. This is mainly the case for patients who don’t need an especially large amount of cannabis each month, or don’t need any specific cannabis products that are only available for approved medical patients, and of course varies from state to state.
Whatever your decide, consider meeting with a physician
Even if you live in a state where you can access affordable, legal cannabis with more dosing and product options than you could ever need, you still may want to consider speaking to a trained medical cannabis physician.
Everyone’s body is unique and the same cannabis product or device that works perfectly well for one person could be ineffective or even have a less than beneficial effect for someone else.
Perhaps most importantly, a healthcare professional can help you formulate treatment goals for your cannabis use and create a plan to achieve them. They can also help avoid any potential negative drug interactions.
Simply put, even if it doesn’t make any difference to your pocketbook or your access to cannabis products, it can definitely pay to get some professional guidance before starting a medical cannabis regimen.