It was in 1996 when California passed the Compassionate Use Act or the law that allowed patients with valid doctor’s recommendation to possess and cultivate cannabis for their personal medical use. Twenty years after, the state government approved the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. What will happen to the existing laws? How will the law on recreational marijuana use affect that of medical marijuana? Here is a quick guide we’ve prepared to help you understand cannabis use in California.
Let’s start off with differentiating marijuana as medicine and as a recreational drug. Medical cannabis refers to the use of marijuana plant – whole, unprocessed, or its extracts – to treat symptoms of illnesses. Marijuana has been used as medicine for thousands of years because of its main active ingredient, THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, which stimulates brain receptors to increase appetite and reduce pain. Medicinal cannabis has greater cannabinoids which calms the nervous system, alleviates pain, and improves mood.
Over a million medical marijuana patients in California have a doctor’s recommendation. San Francisco County has the highest number of patients, followed by Marin and Alameda. Reports say that medical cannabis benefits patients suffering from 250 different illnesses, with chronic pain as the top use for medical marijuana.
Marijuana as a recreational drug tends to have higher THC content. This is where users get the “high.” People take the recreational variety mostly for the “high” effect than its medical benefits.
Now on to the questions.
Q: How do I qualify for medical marijuana?
A: You must be at least 18 years old and a California resident with a health issue. Doctors recommend cannabis for quite a number of health woes including migraines, epilepsy, cancer pain, nerve pain, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s, lupus, glaucoma, anorexia, arthritis, insomnia, and anxiety disorders.
Q: How do I buy medical cannabis?
A: You need a California licensed physician to recommend or approve your use of medical cannabis. A verified doctor’s recommendation is what you will present in dispensaries to buy medical cannabis. When we say recommendation, we mean a complete written letter format in an 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper with your name, patient ID number, doctor’s signature, expiration date, embossed seal, date of issuance, and a way to verify its authenticity. Recommendations are renewed on a yearly basis.
With a valid doctor’s recommendation, you can apply to California’s Medical Marijuana Program and be issued a medical marijuana identification card (MMIC). This card gives you access to dispensaries in California. The medical marijuana card registry is voluntary, though.
Q: Which strain of medical marijuana should I get?
A: This will depend on your condition. The dispensary staff can help you explore and identify the best kind of medical cannabis for your health concern. What you’d want to know is the strain’s THC/CBD levels, consumption time, and positive and negative effects. Indica strains are said to be more relaxing and calming. Sativa strains tend to be less potent and has a higher level of THC which can lead to increased energy, creativity, and a mood boost.
Q: How much can I possess for personal medical use?
A: Proposition 215 states that patients can possess whatever amount of cannabis necessary for their personal medical use.
Q: Can I grow or cultivate marijuana plants?
A: Patients can cultivate only up to 100 square feet for personal medical use. Primary caregivers with maximum of five patients can cultivate cannabis up to 500 square feet. Take note, however, that local government can restrict the cultivation of medical cannabis. Cities and counties are allowed to prohibit and regulate dispensaries and cultivation of marijuana. In Fresno County, only six plants of marijuana can be cultivated and it must be grown indoors, in a locked space. In Riverside County, qualified patients and caregivers can cultivate a maximum of 12 plants on a land where they reside, and for medical purposes only. Medical cannabis patients in San Francisco can grow up to 24 plants while those in Marin County can only grow up to 5 mature plants.
Q: Can I consume medical marijuana in public?
A: Consuming in public is permitted but can be very complicated as all use of cannabis is still illegal under federal law. California law cannot override federal law so expect no special treatment for medical marijuana use. Cigarette smoking rules also apply to marijuana. It is more prudent if you will be discreet when taking medical marijuana in public so opt for vaping, tinctures or edibles. Your residence is the most appropriate place to take your medical cannabis.
Q: Are cannabis concentrates covered under medical marijuana laws?
A: Compassionate Use Acts states that concentrated cannabis can be considered as medical marijuana. Note, however, that extracting marijuana to produce concentrates using butane is illegal.
Q: I do not have any illness. Can I consume marijuana for recreational purposes?
A: Under Proposition 64 or the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) approved last November 2016, adults 21 years old and above can legally use recreational marijuana.
Q: Now that recreational use of marijuana for adults has been legalized, what will happen to the existing laws on medical marijuana use?
A: Patients under medical cannabis treatment will keep their existing rights under Proposition 215 regardless of the stricter limits for adult users under Proposition 64. Local government still has the prerogative to restrict cultivation.
Q: Can we now buy marijuana for recreational use at dispensaries and medical collectives?
A: Not yet. Retail sales for adult recreational use will begin in 2018 when licensed stores start to operate. In the meantime, only patients with valid doctor’s recommendation can purchase medical marijuana from dispensaries.
Q: Are medical marijuana patients exempted from paying state sales tax?
A: The passage of Proposition 64 exempted specific sales of medical marijuana from sales and use tax. A medical marijuana identification card issued by the county and a valid government-issued identification card must be presented to be exempt from sales tax. A doctor’s recommendation won’t qualify you from sales tax exemption. There will be taxes for cultivation, production and sales of recreational marijuana.