Top 10 Benefits of a Medical Marijuana Card
As of February 2023, 21 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational users, and if you live in one of those states, you might wonder whether you still need a medical marijuana card or can simply skip the application fee and purchase adult-use marijuana from a dispensary.
In reality, the benefits of medical card ownership still hold true even after a state legalizes marijuana. While the exact benefits (and differences between the med and rec programs) vary by state, cardholders will generally enjoy lower tax rates, more potent cannabis, and higher purchase and possession limits.
MMJ Card Benefit #1: More Affordable Cannabis
Most states with a recreational marijuana program charge excise taxes at the point of sale. Medical cannabis customers are usually exempt from paying these taxes. While medical customers generally still pay sales tax and local transaction taxes, these tend to be quite low compared to the excise tax, which is 10% on top of the retail price in New York and Nevada, 16% in Arizona, and as high as 37% in Washington.
MMJ Card Benefit #2: Access to Free Cannabis
Some states allow dispensaries to give a specified amount of free cannabis to medical marijuana patients. To be eligible, the customer must have a qualifying condition for medical marijuana—such as chronic pain or post-traumatic stress disorder (depending on the state)—and have obtained a written recommendation for cannabis from a licensed physician. The patient must also be within his or her designated marijuana allotment limit to receive free cannabis products.
If you’re not already certified, you can get your medical marijuana card online in Arizona and a few other states.
MMJ Card Benefit #3: Higher Possession Limits
In all states with medical and recreational marijuana programs, the possession limits are higher for medical patients than they are for other customers. In Arizona, medical marijuana patients are allowed to purchase, possess, and transport up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis (in any form) compared to 1 ounce of cannabis (of which no more than 5 grams are in concentrate form) for non-cardholders.
MMJ Card Benefit #4: Lower Age Limits
The legal age for adult-use cannabis is 21 in most states. In states that have legalized recreational cannabis for customers aged 21 and above, medical marijuana is often permitted for cardholders 18 and above.
Medical marijuana cardholders under 18 are usually only permitted to possess and consume marijuana with the recommendation of two physicians and the consent and supervision of a parent or guardian. A designated caregiver must cultivate or purchase marijuana on the patient’s behalf.
MMJ Card Benefit #5: Access to Dispensaries
States with parallel recreational and medical marijuana programs may have some dispensaries that are licensed for medical sales and others that are licensed for recreational sales. Some dispensaries may hold a dual medical and recreational marijuana license. When you have a medical marijuana card, you are assured entry into dispensaries that are medical-only.
MMJ Card Benefit #6: Access to Potent Products
State laws generally restrict the potency of adult-use cannabis edibles to 10 mg THC per piece and 100 mg per package. For medical cannabis patients, however, there is generally no maximum percentage of THC—meaning that you can buy more potent products for a similar price (helping you save money). In some states, dispensaries have separate catalogs for medical and adult-use customers, with a wider selection and stronger strains in the medical catalog.
MMJ Card Benefit #7: Priority Access During Shortages
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was increased pressure on dispensary stock in many states as customers flocked to buy cannabis. To ensure that medical patients didn't miss out on their medicine, the state of Illinois passed a statement giving priority to medical marijuana patients and their caregivers over recreational customers whenever stock in a dispensary is running low.
MMJ Card Benefit #8: Home Delivery and Home Cultivation
The state of Arizona permits home delivery of medical marijuana (subject to local laws) to MMJ patients with recreational delivery set to begin sometime between January 2023 and January 2025. Moreover, patients who live more than 25 miles from their nearest dispensary may grow up to 12 marijuana plants, whereas the limit for recreational growing is six marijuana plants (to a maximum of 12 plants per household where two or more adults 21 or over reside at the same time). In both cases, MMJ cardholders have easier access to marijuana at home.
MMJ Card Benefit #9: More Legal Protections
In some states, a certified medical marijuana patient can't be fired or denied employment based on a positive test for marijuana or THC. In contrast, employees can often be denied employment in a "drug-free workplace" for testing positive for THC. The exceptions to the “medical cardholders are protected” rule are federal government jobs and safety-sensitive jobs that involve driving a commercial vehicle or operating an aircraft.
MMJ Card Benefit #10: Access to Interstate Reciprocity
Many of the states that have legalized medical marijuana recognize out-of-state cards either for possession or purchase. That means that MMJ cardholders can often continue to take their medicine when traveling without needing to establish residency and apply for a local MMJ card at their destination.
States that allow out-of-state cardholders to purchase medical marijuana as of March 2023 include:
West Virginia (terminally ill patients only)
Other states have conditional rules on accepting out-of-state cards. Before traveling, check the reciprocity, purchase, and possession laws of the state where you will spend most of your time.
How Do I Know If It's Worth Getting an MMJ Card?
Whether or not it's worth getting a medical marijuana card depends on several factors:
Does your state have a recreational marijuana program? If not, an MMJ card is the only way you can legally purchase cannabis.
How much do you typically spend on cannabis products each year? If it's less than the cost of getting an MMJ card, purchasing cannabis from a recreational dispensary would be more cost-effective in the long term. If it's more, getting a card could result in significant cost savings.
Do you need especially potent marijuana for your condition? If so, consider an MMJ card.
Would an MMJ card provide greater protection at work? If so, it's probably best to apply for a card.
Do you want to purchase a firearm? MMJ cardholders can't legally purchase firearms, which is one of the few downsides to having a medical card.
Do you want to work in a federal government or safety-sensitive job or live in federally subsidized housing? Qualifying patients who want to participate in federal employment or federally subsidized housing may need to look for an alternative form of treatment for their conditions as marijuana is still federally illegal.
A Medical Marijuana Card Can Make Your Life Easier
Patients with qualifying conditions know what a difference medical marijuana can make in their day-to-day lives, and with a medical card, gaining access to the medicine you need is easier and more affordable.
If you have a serious condition that would qualify you for an MMJ card in your state, consider the potential benefits of becoming a cardholder vs purchasing adult-use cannabis (or not purchasing cannabis at all). Then, you can make an appointment with a medical marijuana doctor and be one step closer to enjoying all the benefits of a medical card.