When California’s medical marijuana patients visit marijuana dispensaries or order from marijuana delivery companies, patients must prove they possess either a doctor's written recommendation for marijuana use or a valid medical marijuana identification card, or MMIC.
While obtaining an ID card is voluntary and comes with varied fees based on a patient's location -- a doctor's recommendation is both mandatory for medical marijuana purchases and easier to obtain.
Here's how it works.
Before purchasing medical marijuana from licensed dispensaries, patients must undergo a doctor's evaluation and receive a medical marijuana recommendation.
Medical recommendations are valid for 12 months -- and patients wanting to renew their recommendations must get a doctor to reapprove the use of medical marijuana. (The doctor who initially approves a patient for marijuana use and the doctor who issues a renewal can be different doctors.)
Patients with medical recommendations can then choose to apply for a medical marijuana ID card. The sole purpose of the ID card is to protect patients and/or their caregivers from being arrested or prosecuted for marijuana use or possession -- as every ID card holder is placed in a statewide database accessible by law enforcement.
Still, even though having an ID card provides some benefits, there are reasons most patients choose to skip getting it altogether.
For one, ID cards can be relatively expensive. In San Diego County, for instance, medical marijuana ID cards cost about $166 per year, and about half that fee, or $83 for Medi-Cal patients.
Also, marijuana ID cards are only valid for the term of the recommendation. That means when the recommendation expires every year, so does the ID.
It's no wonder only about 7,100 ID cards have been issued in California each year since voters first approved medical marijuana use in 1996, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Obtaining and renewing a medical recommendation, however, costs much less and is more convenient than ever before.
Gone are the days when patients had to spend hours making an appointment, traveling to a doctor’s office and waiting for a consultation.
Now, patients can obtain both new recommendations and renewals online. Thanks to websites such as MMJDoctorOnline, patients can upload a photo of their state ID, participate in a brief webcam chat or phone call with a doctor and receive an almost-immediate marijuana recommendation or renewal. With
MMJDoctorOnline.com charges $49 for new recommendations and renewals (But you can get it for $39 here) -- and the company expeditiously emails a temporary recommendation to patients in addition to mailing permanent recommendations to patients within a few days.
The company also mails recommendations in discreet packaging and ensures each recommendation is officially signed by a California doctor and embossed, as required by law.
HelloMD, another online medical recommendation service company also gets in on the convenience factor.
In an Elite Daily article, Pamela Hadfield, HelloMD co-founder said, “If you have ever gotten your medical marijuana card at a traditional clinic, you know they are often not in nice parts of town, are usually clustered in larger cities, tend not to feel private, and the quality of care is often inconsistent. When we created HelloMD, we wanted to offer a convenient, affordable, private service that could reach people that might not otherwise have access to clinics.”