How to get a medical marijuana card in California

What is an MMJ Card in California?

In California, an MMJ card, also known as a medical marijuana card or medical cannabis card, is a legal state-issued identification license that allows patients suffering from any physical or mental debilitating condition stated under California State Law to possess, acquire, or cultivate marijuana and other related cannabinoids for medicinal purposes. While marijuana is considered illegal under the Federal Controlled Substance Act, the California Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act(MAUCRSA) allows the use and possession of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes within the state's jurisdiction. However, this is not without limitations. California medical cannabis and its derivatives can only be used by indicated patients who have a state-licensed doctor's recommendation or a valid MMJ card.

The California Department of Public Health, via its Center for Health Statistics and Information, administers the Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program. This center not only processes medical cannabis card issuance and renewal, but it also publishes monthly statistics of medical marijuana cards issued in all 58 counties in California. The latest report in 2021 revealed that there are 111,634 MMJ cardholders in the state.

Who Can Apply for an MMJ Card in California?

To be eligible to apply for a medical marijuana card in California, the applicant must be at least 18 years, have one or more of the qualifying health conditions, and must reside in the State of California. Those that meet these criteria may still be denied an MMJ card for certain reasons such as:

  • Prior felony charge
  • Improperly completed applications
  • Errors in providing information

Can a Minor Obtain a Medical Marijuana Card in California?

Yes, a minor below the age of 18 who has a qualifying diagnosis such as cancer, epilepsy, and autism can receive a California MMJ card. This is only possible if the minor has parental consent, physician's recommendation, and an adult willing to act as their caregiver or legal guardian. Minor patients with proof of emancipation can obtain their MMJ cards from their county program without parental approval. Essentially, the minor and caregiver must provide valid state-issued photo identification before the MMJ application or renewal process is approved. A certified copy of a birth certificate can serve as sufficient proof of identity for a minor patient who lacks a government-issued ID.

It is important to note that minors can also apply as a caregiver in California.

What Conditions Qualify for Medical Marijuana Cards in California?

Even though California is a golden state for marijuana use, not all medical conditions qualify for medical marijuana cards in the state. Your application faces almost certain denial if you have a disease or ailment allowable in some states but not acceptable for treatment with medical marijuana in California. As explicitly defined under California Medical Marijuana Laws (Senate Bill 420), you qualify for an MMJ card if you have been diagnosed with one or more of the following debilitating or life-threatening medical conditions.

  • Chronic pain
  • Cancer
  • Cachexia (wasting syndrome)
  • Arthritis
  • Migraine
  • Anorexia
  • Glaucoma
  • Persistent muscle spasms such as those associated with multiple sclerosis
  • Seizures such as epileptic seizures
  • AIDS
  • severe nausea
  • Any other persistent or chronic medical symptom that either substantially limits a person's ability to conduct one or more of major life activities as defined in the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, or if not alleviated, may cause serious harm to the person's safety, physical, or mental health

How Do I Apply for an MMJ Card in California?

In California, qualified patients and their primary caregivers can apply for an MMJ card through various means, including:

How To Apply for an MMJ Card in Person in California

If you have one or more qualifying medical health conditions as well as a physician's recommendation, you can apply for a California MMJ card in person at the Medical Marijuana Program (MMP) Section of your County Department of Health. While the application process is subject to local guidelines, the general application procedure is essentially the same for all California counties. The steps for applying for an MMJ card in person in any California County MMP office are detailed below.

The documents required include a valid and original government-issued photo identification and proof of county residency bearing your current address within the county (copy of recent utility bill, California DMV vehicle registration, or current rent/mortgage agreement). If applicable, also provide your original Medi-Cal or County Medical Services Program card. Patients and Primary caregivers below the age of 18 Minors who lack photo identifications can provide certified copies of their birth certificates.

  • Step 2: Contact and schedule an appointment with your County MMP office. Before taking a trip to the applicable MMP office, it is recommended to make an appointment with them by calling the office during business hours. The California Department of Public Health features the contact information and office hours of all MMP county offices on its website. While walk-in requests before 4 p.m. are processed by some counties, it is important to note that such requests are only accepted as time allows.

  • Step 3: Visit your MMP office on the scheduled date. At the time of appointment, you are required to bring your completed forms, documents, pay application fees, and be ready to be photographed. The application fees range from $40 - $400 depending on the county and nature of the application. However, applicants participating in the state or county medical services program are entitled to 50 percent or, in some cases, 100 percent reduction in fees.

Note that California counties do not offer same-day walk-in services for MMJ cards. Applicants are usually required to wait for about 30-35 days before their cards are ready for collection.

How To Apply for an MMJ Card by Mail in California

Before applying to get a California medical marijuana card by mail, you must first determine that the Medical Marijuana Program Office of your County Department of Health offers mail-in services. You can confirm this by calling your resident county's MMJ office during normal business hours. In applicable counties such as Los Angeles County, qualified applicants will need to send the completed forms, specified documents, and exact fees along with a passport color photo taken within one month of the application to the county MMP office mailing address. Most offices provide their post office address on their website.

It is worthy to note that the same application forms, documents, and fees apply for both in-person and mail-in requests.

How Does a Primary Caregiver Get a California MMIC?

In California, a primary caregiver cannot directly obtain a medical marijuana identification card (MMIC). Only medical cannabis patients can apply for an MMIC on behalf of their caregivers. At the time of application, the patient and the caregiver are required to visit the appropriate county Public Health Department. The caregiver must provide the following:

  • A completed MMIC application form (check the appropriate box on the top of the page to include a primary caregiver)
  • Proof of residency within California
  • A government or state-issued photo identification card
  • A written statement explaining how the primary caregiver "consistently assumes responsibility for the housing, health or safety of the patient"
  • The MMIC application fee

To be eligible to become a primary caregiver in California, you must be at least 18 years of age, unless you are emancipated or the parent of a minor child who is a qualified patient. You must also be a resident of California, but not necessarily in the same county where the patient lives. However, if you are a primary caregiver for more than one qualified patient, you are obligated to live in the same county as them.

Note that MMIC or medical marijuana identification card is synonymous with MMJ card, and both are used interchangeably. With a California MMIC, patients and caregivers can buy quality and designated quantities of cannabis from dispensaries in the state.

How Long Does it Take to Get a California MMIC?

30-35 days. While California medical marijuana identification card applications are collected at the county level, they are centrally processed and documented by the California Department of Public Health's Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program (MMICP). Once the application is approved by the MMICP, the cards are sent back to the county program, ready for pick up.

If the county or state MMICP finds any reason to deny your application, you will be notified within 30 days. Some reasons that can lead to application denial include improperly completed forms, errors in providing information, unlisted serious medical conditions, and many more. Your physician must be licensed to practice medicine or osteopathy by the Medical Board of California, the California Board of Podiatric Medicine, or the Osteopathic Medical Board of California. Otherwise, your application will be denied.

Applicants with denied MMIC applications are only eligible to re-apply after a period of six months. However, such applications can be appealed directly to the California Department of Public Health at no cost. To do this, download, complete, and sign the MMIC Appeals Formwithin 30 days of the date you received a denial notice from your County program. Send the completed form along with a copy of your denial notice to the address below.

California Department of Public Health

Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program

Attention: Appeals

PO Box 997410, MS 5202

Sacramento, CA 95899-7410

Getting a California Medical Marijuana Card Online

The various California county programs do not process medical marijuana card applications online. Infact, some programs only allow in-person applicants. However, it is still possible to obtain a California medical marijuana card online via independent third-party sites that offer such services.

How Much Does a Medical Marijuana Card Cost in California?

It costs between $20 and $100 to get or renew a medical marijuana card in the state of California. Because the state's marijuana program is maintained at the county level, the application fees vary from one county program to another. For instance, LA county charges $100 for regular applicants. While Orange County charges $84, San Diego County charges $44 for the same services.

Certain factors such as emergency/expedited services and the number of caregivers may affect the cost of a medical marijuana card in applicable California counties. LA county allows qualified patients to get a medical cannabis card for up to three caregivers at an additional fee of $100 per caregiver. Expedited services cost double the original fees.

In all county programs, Medi-Cal beneficiaries are entitled to a 50 percent reduction in total medical marijuana card fees, while the fees are waived entirely for resident applicants who are eligible for and participate in the county no-cost health programs.

Acceptable payment methods include cash (for in-person applicants), money order, and cashier's check. Most counties do not accept personal checks. Be sure to confirm your County program's fee schedule and preferred payment methods before proceeding to the office.

How Do I Renew My Medical Marijuana Card in California?

To renew your medical marijuana card in California, you will need to go through the same process as when you originally applied. Typically, you are required to complete the MMJ Application and Renewal Form- CDPH-9042 (also available in Spanish), Physician's Attestation Form, and the Medical Documentation or Written Documentation of Patient's Medical Records (Spanish Version). If your medical recommendation is still valid, it can be used for the renewal application. If not, it is necessary to schedule an appointment and get a new one from your physician.

Bring the completed forms along with appropriate government-issued ID and fees to your County program. This can be done in person or by mail. It is recommended to contact your County program beforehand to inquire about applicable fees and other local guidelines that may apply to you.

What Documents Do I Need to Apply for a Medical Cannabis Card in California?

The documents needed to apply for a medical cannabis card in California include:

  • A completed MMIC application
  • A copy of your valid medical recommendation: This must be completed by your physician stating that you have been diagnosed with a serious health condition and that the use of cannabis is appropriate. As a convenience, the CDPH offers form 9044 to serve this purpose. Your physician will be contacted to verify that the document you submitted is an accurate copy of the documentation in your medical record. It is your duty to ensure that an Authorized Release of Medical Information is on file with your medical provider.
  • Proof of identity: Which must be valid and government or state-issued. An example is the California Department of Motor Vehicles driver's license. Minors that lack adequate proof of identification can use certified copies of their birth certificates as substitutes.
  • Proof of residency within the county of application. This can be your utility bill, current DMV motor vehicle registration papers, or rental or mortgage agreement.

Are My Details Kept Confidential When I Apply for a Medical Marijuana Card in California?

Yes, the details contained in medical marijuana applications in California are strictly confidential. The Medical Marijuana Program of the state Department of Public Health does not maintain or retain information pertaining to medical marijuana patients in the state. This is in keeping with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act(HIPAA).

Enacted in 1996, HIPAA was established as the national standard for the protection of sensitive medical details. The act ensures that personal information contained in a patient's medical file is not disseminated by any public or private healthcare provider without the patient's consent.

What information appears on a California Medical Marijuana Card?

In California, the information contained in a medical marijuana card include:

  • A unique 9-digit user identification number of the cardholder
  • Photo identification of the cardholder
  • Date of expiration of the identification card
  • Internet address for verifying the validity of the MMIC
  • The name and phone number of the county program that has approved the application
  • "Patient" or "Primary Caregiver" to designate the cardholder's status

Can someone Track me Down through the California Registry?

Basically, nobody can track you down through the California medical marijuana registry. This is because the CDPH shreds your personal information after your application is completed. The MMIC verification portal maintained by the CDPH is used to check whether an MMIC is "VALID" or "INVALID". It does not retain any identifiable information.

At the distribution level, some dispensaries maintain patient records containing personal information as well as the reason why the patient is receiving medical marijuana. While these dispensaries are not subject to HIPAA, there are certain state guidelines they must follow. However, not all dispensaries are compliant. Some do not use basic data protection for their customers, thereby potentially exposing patient data to hackers and accidental data leaks. It is important to determine a dispensary's status as a healthcare provider and how they handle patient data before purchasing medical cannabis from them.

California Marijuana MMJ Card