Consequences of Getting a Medical Card in California

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Benefits of Having a Medical Marijuana Card in California

There are several advantages to having a California Medical Marijuana Identification Card. These include protection from arrest for marijuana protection, higher purchase limits, and higher marijuana cultivation limits.

Legal Protection

The California medical marijuana card identifies the person named on the card as protected pursuant to the provisions of Proposition 215 and Senate Bill 94. The card helps law enforcement identify the carrier as legally permitted to possess specific amounts of medical marijuana under certain conditions. Hence, medical marijuana patients are advised to always carry their medical marijuana identification cards with them to avoid arrests for marijuana possession when stopped by law enforcement agents.

Lower Prices

A California medical marijuana identification card (MMIC) exempts the cardholder from paying sales and use taxes on marijuana purchases. Since the California-imposed sales and use tax on cannabis is not included in the final price paid by cardholders for medical marijuana, possessing the MMIC allows cardholders to save money by paying lower prices for marijuana products. Overall, medical marijuana products are cheaper for medical marijuana cardholders than for recreational marijuana buyers and medical marijuana patients who choose not to collect the MMIC.

Higher Purchase and/or Possession Limits

If you have a medical marijuana card in California, you can purchase and possess higher cannabis amounts than non-cardholders. Pursuant to the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA), individuals who have California medical marijuana identification cards can possess up to 226.8 grams of dried cannabis. If you do not have an MMIC, you are restricted to possessing no more than 1 ounce of non-concentrated marijuana or 8 grams of cannabis concentrates.

Higher Cultivation Limits

The California MMIC grants cardholders higher cannabis cultivation limits than recreational marijuana cultivators. If you have an MMIC, you can grow 6 mature cannabis plants and up to 12 immature cannabis plants at home. Persons who do not have an MMIC are allowed to cultivate no more than 6 marijuana plants, regardless of maturity level.

Access for Minors

California medical marijuana card makes marijuana accessible to both adults and minors. If you are 18 or older, you can apply for a California MMIC and use marijuana once you are issued the card. However, if you do not have an MMIC, you must be 21 or older to be able to possess or use marijuana legally.

Reciprocity

Although California does not accept medical marijuana cards issued from outside the state, some other states accept California medical marijuana cards. Due to medical marijuana reciprocity rules, having a California medical marijuana card allows you to continue your treatment when you travel outside California. Some states where a California MMIC may be accepted include Nevada, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Utah, the District of Columbia, New Hampshire, Hawaii, and Maine.

Employment Protections

Pursuant to AB 2188, which takes effect from January 2024, it is unlawful for an employer in California to discriminate against an employee or applicant for:

  • The use of marijuana off the job or away from the workplace
  • An employer-required drug test result showing that the employee or applicant has non-psychoactive cannabis metabolites in their system

Under AB 2188, employers are prohibited from holding test results for non-psychoactive THC metabolites against an employee or applicant if all the test reveals is evidence of previous marijuana use. AB 2188 does not exempt employees in safety-sensitive fields, such as health and services, transportation, agriculture, and manufacturing.

Note that AB 2188 does not state that employers have to permit employees to possess, be impaired by, or use cannabis on the job. Employers are allowed to maintain the right to maintain drug-free workplaces as outlined under Section 11362.45 (f) of the California HSC (Health and Safety Code).

Holding a California MMIC also disqualifies you from obtaining federal employment due to the federal classification of marijuana as an illegal narcotic.

Downsides of Getting a Medical Marijuana Card in California

While possessing a California MMIC has benefits, there exist certain drawbacks to having the card, such as certain driving and employment restrictions.

Firearm Prohibition

If you are a medical marijuana cardholder in California, you cannot legally purchase a firearm from a federal firearm licensee. Although no California law specifically prohibits MMJ cardholders from possessing guns, the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 makes it illegal for a person who is an unlawful user of marijuana to possess a firearm or ammunition. Similarly, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) recently revised Form 4473, the federal form that every firearms purchaser must complete when purchasing firearms from a licensed dealer, with a warning to ensure that prospective firearm buyers answer Question 11e.

Question 11e asks whether the individual seeking to purchase a gun is an unlawful marijuana user under federal law. Due to the federal classification of marijuana as a banned drug under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, anyone using marijuana, even for medical purposes, is considered an unlawful user by the ATF. If you are a marijuana user and answer "no" to Question 11e, you risk being prosecuted for perjury. If you answer "yes," the firearms licensee is obliged to deny your request to purchase a gun. If you are caught with a California medical marijuana identification card and a firearm, you may be prosecuted under federal law.

Driving Restrictions

Unlike alcohol, California has not set a limit for the amount or percentage concentration of marijuana that drivers may have in their blood. Still, driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal in the state. Therefore, if law enforcement believes that you are impaired due to marijuana use, you may be arrested in California for marijuana DUI. Marijuana DUI is the criminal offense of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana. If you are convicted of marijuana DUI, the penalties for a first-time offense are:

  • 96 hours - 6 months in jail
  • $390 - $1,000 in fine
  • 3 - 9 months of mandatory participation in a DUI program
  • 6 - 10 months of suspended license (convertible to restricted license)

Another restriction that California medical marijuana users may encounter is in obtaining or maintaining a commercial driver's license. Since commercial driver licenses are regulated federally, it is illegal to hold a CDL license and maintain a marijuana user status at the same time. With medical marijuana illegal federally, CDL licenses are not typically issued to medical marijuana users. If you obtain a CDL license first and then get a California medical marijuana card later, you run the risk of losing your license and job if you fail a drug test as a commercial driver licensee.

Annual Renewal

A California medical marijuana identification card (MMIC) is valid only for up to 12 months from the date of issue. Therefore, you have to go through the inconvenience of renewing the card annually. The renewal effort costs time and money and can be expensive for some cardholders. Although the state does not have a specific fee for renewing an MMIC, state law mandates that county health programs do not charge more than $100.

Usually, you can expect to pay anything between $20 and $100 depending on the county where your current medical marijuana card was issued. If you obtained your card in Orange County, the renewal fee is $84. MMIC cardholders in San Diego County can expect to pay $44, while those in Los Angeles County will pay $100. Note that Medi-Cal-eligible applicants may get 50% discounts on renewal application fees. In contrast, participants in county medical service programs and indigent applicants may be able to have the fees waived.

The renewal process closely mirrors the initial application process and can involve a fairly long waiting period to obtain a new card, depending on the application volume before the county health program. Generally, it takes up to 4 weeks to obtain a new MMIC. Hence, MMIC cardholders may have to renew their cards prior to the expiration date printed on the cards.

To renew a California MMIC, you must obtain a new medical cannabis certification if your current certification has expired. Recertifications may be issued at in-person or telemedicine appointments. MMIC cardholders can expect to pay consultation fees for recertification. Consultation fees range between $100 and $300.

Federal Prohibitions

Possessing a medical marijuana card in California can present challenges, particularly in the context of federal employment or benefits. Despite the state's legalization of medical marijuana, the conflict with federal law poses obstacles for individuals seeking federal jobs. Federal agencies, in adherence to federal regulations, consider marijuana a Schedule I controlled substance, potentially prohibiting employment opportunities for medical marijuana cardholders in California and other states where marijuana has been legalized.

Federal employees in California face a similar dilemma as well, balancing state and federal laws. While the state provides legal protection for medical marijuana users, federal employees are subject to federal regulations, and the use of cannabis may jeopardize their positions, even with a valid California MMIC.

Cultivating marijuana in federally subsidized housing in California is also illegal for MMJ cardholders. Residents in these housing properties must refrain from possessing or cultivating marijuana, as federal housing policies typically align with federal law. Growing marijuana, even for medical purposes, violates the terms of residency in federally subsidized housing programs.

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