Medically reviewed by Katherine Golden, RN
Written by Denise Gonzalez-Walker

“Should I get a medical marijuana card?” We hear that question a lot on the Leaf411 cannabis nurse hotline, as callers seek out the best way to access legal cannabis.

We can help you sort out your options based on your needs as well as what options exist where you live. Check out our Leaf library for your state’s current cannabis laws.

Is Legal Recreational Marijuana an Option for You? Then You Might Not Need a Med Card

Many of our callers are just starting out using cannabis and only require small doses of THC. Lower dose products are more easily found in recreational dispensaries. You don’t need a medical marijuana card (often called an “MMJ card” or “med card”) to visit recreational (rec) dispensaries, though you’ll need a state-issued ID as proof that you are 21 or older.

Also, it’s worth noting that cannabidiol (CBD hemp) containing less than 0.3% THC is federally legal. (Each state still has the authority to allow CBD hemp sales or not). CBD hemp products are available over-the-counter and online in nearly every state, no med card required! We’ll talk more about CBD later in this post.

If you’re just starting out with cannabis and live in a fully legal state that has both rec and medical marijuana, we suggest reaching out to a cannabis-trained clinician first for advice on the best routes, ratios and products. Our free Leaf411 hotline is a good resource! 

In many cases, these products will be available to you without a med card, saving you both the time and cost of applying for a card.

David Gordon, MD, a Leaf411 advisory board member and integrative medicine practitioner notes that, “In Colorado, a lot of the products that we might use for medicinal purposes are only available on the rec side. Companies aren’t making as many products for the medical side because it’s not as profitable.” 

While it can be challenging to find products made specifically for the medical market, we’re proud to have incredibles brand as one of our supporting members. The incredibles brand is committed to providing consumers with safe, consistently high-quality products.

Clinician writing a medical assessment on a clipboard

Understanding Med Card Qualifications

Before we get into cases when a med card makes sense, it’s important to talk about the qualifications for getting a medical marijuana card. Covered conditions vary from state to state. For example, in Colorado, the state list includes specific disabling or debilitating conditions. Oklahoma, on the other hand, is one of the least restrictive states. Their law leaves it up to the doctor to determine if cannabis is a good treatment option.

Check this link for an updated list of different states’ qualifying medical conditions.

When a Med Card Makes Sense

Some states only legalized medical marijuana, not recreational use. If you live in one of these states, then your only option for accessing legal cannabis is by qualifying for a med card.

Med cards are also the only option for people under the age of 21 to access legal cannabis.

Keep reading for information on how to get a card, as well as how it’s different from getting a prescription for other medications.

It’s important to know what a med card gets you, as well as what protections it does not provide (you might be surprised!).

What a Med Card Provides in Some States

  • Access to products at lower cost than recreational dispensaries
  • Lower sales taxes when buying at a medical dispensary
  • Higher doses and higher limits on how much you can buy in a day
  • The ability to legally grow your own cannabis for personal use in some (but not all) states 

What the Med Card Doesn’t Do

It’s important to remember that all marijuana—medical and recreational—remains federally illegal, even when legalized at the state level.

Other Considerations Before Getting a Med Card

Will a med card restrict your right to own firearms? The answer is a tricky one.

Cannabis is federally illegal, and the feds oversee gun licensing and ownership. By the letter of the law, anyone using a federally illegal drug, or addicted to an illegal drug, is prohibited from owning or buying firearms. 

If you’re buying a gun, you typically must complete a background check—specifically, the Firearms Transaction Record, or Form 4473. This form includes a question specific to marijuana use, and reinforces the federal prohibition, asking:

Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?

Warning: The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside.

In other words, if you answer truthfully (and you should—lying on Form 4473 is considered a felony offense!), then your background check may fail. 

At Leaf411, we’re nurses, not lawyers. We recommend that you consult with an attorney if you have concerns about whether your cannabis use will impact your right to own or buy firearms. 

A number of law firms now specialize in marijuana law. In fact, our board member David Wunderlich, Esq., Senior Attorney at McAllister Garfield, P.C., played a key role in improving Colorado’s laws around medical marijuana, and regularly speaks on cannabis and hemp issues. 

Medical marijuana use may also impact state-administered public assistance benefits such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) in states that drug test welfare recipients. Interestingly, in Missouri, having a med card can actually protect your benefits. However, the rules vary from state to state and are frequently being updated. We strongly suggest you ask your social service agency whether holding a med card would impact your public assistance benefits.

How to Apply for a Med Card

You’ve weighed the pros and cons, as well as options available in your area, and have decided to get a med card. Where do you start?

  • Search online using “med card” and your state to find state-specific information for obtaining a medical card in your area. Our Leaf411 nurses can also help via our free anonymous hotline at 1-844-LEAF411 (844-532-3411).
  • Check your eligibility, making sure you have a qualifying medical condition.
  • Confirm any special requirements, such as if you’re applying as the legal representative of another adult or someone under 18.
  • Note the process for obtaining a card, including required fees. In some cases, discounts may be available for specific patient groups. For example, Oklahoma provides a discount to 100% disabled veterans.
  • Find a doctor who provides medical marijuana evaluations. Your regular primary care provider may provide this service, though many primary care doctors may be unfamiliar with the med card evaluation process. Some states require that evaluations take place in-person, while other states allow phone or online evaluations.
Clinician holding pills in one hand, cannabis flower in other hand, visualizing how med card is different than prescription

How a Med Card and a Prescription Are Different

You may think that the med card evaluation process will be a lot like getting a prescription from your primary care doctor. In fact, that’s rarely the case! The doctor’s certification simply tells the state that you qualify for a med card based on their assessment of your health history and conditions. It doesn’t tell you which products to start with or how much to take.

When you schedule a med card consultation, it’s worth asking whether the provider provides guidance on using cannabis to treat your health condition. If they do not, you may want to seek out a cannabis doctor who provides this service, such as Dr. David Gordon, who we recently interviewed

You can also reach out to a resource like the cannabis-trained nurses at Leaf411 for suggestions on where to start.

A Note for Patients Living in States Without Legal Cannabis

Cannabis containing over 0.3% THC remains completely illegal in 17 states. However, federally-legal CBD hemp products containing less than 0.3% THC are legal in almost all states. Full spectrum CBD hemp products contain many beneficial plant compounds shown to impact a variety of health conditions. In fact, even in states with legal cannabis, we sometimes suggest starting with CBD hemp products for certain health concerns.

At Leaf411, our cannabis nurses emphasize the safe legal use of cannabis. When you call, we listen to your specific needs and concerns. We will help  find options and guide you to resources that best fit your lifestyle and health goals.

Call our free anonymous hotline today at 844-LEAF411 (844-532-3411).