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Are There Any Disadvantages to Getting a Medical Card?

A medical marijuana card comes with some huge advantages for those who require cannabis for medical reasons, but are there any downsides to getting a medical card? The answer depends on where you live, whether recreational marijuana use is legal in your state, and your field of work.

In general, those who are most impacted by having a medical marijuana card include people who want to hold firearms, those who work in transportation, those who work for the federal government, and those who live in federally subsidized housing. However, for most medical marijuana patients, the advantages of getting a medical marijuana card far outweigh any potential disadvantages.

Disadvantages of Having a Medical Marijuana Card

As noted, getting a medical card can put the cardholder under certain restrictions. This is primarily because marijuana is still a controlled substance at the federal level. Even if the state permits marijuana consumption, federal laws apply on federal lands and to federal government jobs. There are also certain restrictions placed on individuals who consume marijuana (including MMJ cardholders as well as recreational consumers) when public safety is at stake.

You Can't Work in a Federal Government Job

Federal employees must abide by federal laws as well as state laws. So until the United States follows Canada's lead and takes marijuana off the DEA's list of controlled substances, people who consume cannabis are generally excluded from holding a federal government job.

Some employees of private, nationwide companies have been successful in court when contesting wrongful termination for medical marijuana consumption. However, local laws won't help in the case of a federal government job.

You May Be Excluded from Federal Government Housing Assistance

In a similar vein, a medical marijuana cardholder may be excluded from federally subsidized housing, as per the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is a catch-22 situation—some medical marijuana patients can't work due to their medical condition and hence struggle to afford rent.

You May Be Barred From Obtaining a Commercial Driver’s License

Out of concern for public safety, medical marijuana cardholders may be prohibited from obtaining a commercial driver’s license in many situations. This may pose a problem for prospective cab drivers, bus drivers, truck drivers, and pilots. No matter how responsible you are personally, regulating bodies may err on the side of caution.

The good news is that you can still get a regular driver's license. You just can't drive under the influence or with a blood THC concentration above the threshold set by your state.

You Can't Buy a Firearm

Marijuana consumers are prohibited from buying a firearm anywhere in the United States. This rule was set in 1968 as part of the Gun Control Act and doesn't appear to be changing any time soon. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) strictly prohibits gun dealers from selling firearms to medical marijuana cardholders, and prospective buyers are legally required to disclose their medical cannabis status.

If you already own a firearm and are thinking of becoming a medical marijuana cardholder, your physician isn’t going to ask you if you own a gun. However, becoming a cardholder might still put you at odds with the law, so it’s important to consult with legal representation before applying for your MMJ card.

You'll Need to Pay a Renewal Fee Every One or Two Years

The last downside, or really minor inconvenience, is that you'll need to renew your MMJ card every year or two. Depending on where you live, this usually involves making an appointment with a licensed physician—either in person or via a medical marijuana telemedicine appointment—filling out an application form, and paying a fee, which ranges from $0 to around $350.

The good news, however, is that a medical marijuana card usually pays for itself in tax savings, and many sick patients even save hundreds to thousands of dollars over the course of several years.

Advantages of Getting a Medical Marijuana Card

It’s important to note that, while there certainly can be disadvantages to getting a medical card in some cases, these disadvantages are almost always outweighed by the advantages.

It Allows You to Consume Cannabis in Medical-Only States

As of February 2022, 37 states, three territories, and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana programs. As of May 2022, 19 states have also legalized recreational marijuana.

If your state only has a medical marijuana program, getting a medical marijuana card will be the only way you can get access to cannabis products sold at dispensaries. To know whether you are eligible for a medical marijuana card, check the MMJ qualifying conditions in your state.

It May Provide Certain Legal Protection

States with a recreational marijuana program often allow employers to maintain a "drug-free workplace" and sanction employees who test positive for cannabis. However, in states like Arizona, the law provides legal protection for medical marijuana cardholders—employers can't discriminate against you for testing positive for cannabis if you have a medical marijuana card (there are always exceptions to this rule, however).

Likewise, landlords generally can't refuse to rent their property to you for your medical marijuana use unless doing so would cause them to lose a federal benefit or license.

You May Benefit From Higher Possession Limits and Product Potency

In states with medical and recreational marijuana programs, medical patients enjoy higher possession limits and can purchase more potent cannabis products compared to recreational consumers.

In Arizona, for example, medical marijuana users can purchase up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis every two weeks compared to one ounce for recreational marijuana customers, and there is no limit on THC potency for medical products.

You May Save Money on Taxes

Recreational cannabis sales are typically subject to an excise tax, which can reach 37% in some states. However, because medical cannabis customers need to buy cannabis to treat a medical condition, they typically only pay sales tax on their purchases. In Arizona, medical marijuana patients save a huge 16% compared to recreational customers.

You May Have Higher Growing Limits

If you have a medical marijuana card, you can often grow more cannabis plants at home than someone without a card. For example, in Hawai'i and Illinois, home cultivation is only permitted for medical marijuana card holders. In Arizona, medical patients can grow 12 marijuana plants (compared to six plants for non-cardholders) as long as they live at least 25 miles from a dispensary.

You May Qualify for Home Delivery When It’s Otherwise Prohibited

Some states allow cannabis delivery for both recreational and medicinal customers. But many states—including Arizona—allow delivery exclusively for medical patients, so it’s worth getting certified if your condition makes mobility a challenge.

Depending on the dispensary, the delivery might even be free of charge if you place a minimum order of medical marijuana products. Some dispensaries will even throw in a small gift for free.

What About Street Marijuana?

While there may be some downsides to getting a medical marijuana card, inconvenience isn’t one of them. While it does take a bit of time and money for qualifying patients to get certified, it’s still a much better alternative to street cannabis, and it’s definitely worth the effort. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • Street cannabis is not tested for potency or contaminants. Unlike the cannabis sold in medical marijuana dispensaries, black-market cannabis doesn't come with a lab report telling you how much THC and CBD the bud contains or whether it's free from non-approved pesticides, heavy metals, solvents, yeast, mold, mycotoxins, and other problematic substances. You could be exposing yourself to harmful toxins.

  • Street cannabis is typically lower-quality. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for, and cannabis is no exception. With the legalization and regularization of marijuana, quality has skyrocketed. Thanks to dispensary pricing, legal cultivators now have the resources and ability to conduct in-depth strain testing, run breeding programs, and go on time-consuming pheno-hunts. While legal cannabis might cost more, the consistently high quality of dispensary cannabis means you can be sure the bud will actually deliver.

  • Street cannabis is often unethical. Unfortunately, to hide their cannabis grows, some black market cultivators grow cannabis in public forests, diverting rivers and poisoning the water and wildlife. As with most illegal activities, short-term gains (and short-term savings for you) end up resulting in long-term damage that's even costlier to fix. By contrast, legal cannabis companies go to great lengths to grow cannabis sustainably, and many give back to their communities as well.

Finally, if you live in a state without recreational cannabis, you could get into serious legal trouble for consuming marijuana without a medical card—even if you have a legitimate medical need. Depending on the laws where you live, you could even face jail time. It’s not worth the risk.

If You Need an MMJ Card, the Pros Outweigh the Cons

After examining the upsides and downsides of getting a medical card, it should be clear that it's far better to get a medical marijuana card and shop at medical dispensaries than it is to pay recreational prices or take your chances on street cannabis.

At the end of the day, a medical marijuana card will help you save money on excise taxes, enjoy greater legal protection, grow more cannabis plants at home, and perhaps get home delivery. But the best advantage of all—you'll be able to get the relief you need.


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