Weed Wednesday: a pot patient’s guide to getting a medical card

Massachusetts' first recreational marijuana shops still up in the air, but Worcester will play a central role. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

By Maddie Arreola
BU News Service

In 2008, Massachusetts decriminalized marijuana. In 2012, medical marijuana was legalized. And in 2016, voters chose to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Recreational marijuana stores won’t open until next year, so until then patients will have to obtain a medical card if they want to purchase weed legally.

While the idea of getting a medical marijuana card seems simple enough, how does one actually go about it?

Anyone looking to get a recommendation must meet the criteria to do so, and each state has their own set of rules and regulations regarding marijuana usage. In Massachusetts, the law requires patients to register with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) before acquiring a medical recommendation to purchase and use medical marijuana. The annual registration fee is $50, but there may be further expenses throughout the process, so patients should be prepared to talk with their doctor or insurance provider.

A patient must have a qualifying health condition to apply for a medical marijuana license. Qualifying conditions in Massachusetts include ALS, Cancer, Crohn’s Disease, Glaucoma, Hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Parkinson’s Disease. Other conditions may be eligible, so patients should talk to their doctor if they believe the use of cannabis would improve their condition. 

Patients with a qualifying condition will then need a written recommendation from a licensed physician that states that the benefits of cannabis therapy would outweigh the risks. The law requires patients to have a “bona fide physician-patient relationship or a bona fide advanced practice nurse-patient relationship” in order to be issued a recommendation. Once a physician certifies a patient’s condition, they must submit an online application to the DPH.

After a patient is certified by their doctor, they’ll receive information and instructions to complete their online patient application. Patients will need a valid photo ID. Acceptable forms of ID include a Massachusetts driver’s license, Massachusetts state ID, U.S. passport plus proof of residency or U.S. military ID plus proof of residency.

Patients will also need a photo of themselves that meets specific requirements. It must be in color, from the past six months, showing only their head and shoulders, in front of a plain white background and looking at the camera (no smiling).

Even if a patient has a medical marijuana recommendation from another state, they’ll still need to procure a Massachusetts ID. When it comes to purchasing medical marijuana, Massachusetts does not offer reciprocity for medical marijuana cards and recommendations from other states. However, Massachusetts does offer reciprocity when it comes to possession of marijuana within the state.  

Once a patient has gone through the process of acquiring a medical marijuana card, they can find a dispensary. Currently, there are only 16 medical marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts, which means that many patients have lengthy drives ahead of them in order to get their medicine.

Even though the majority of the state voted to approve the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana, over a hundred communities imposed temporary bans on dispensaries. Thirty-five cities have permanent bans. Massachusetts still has a long way to go in order to improve patient access to medicinal marijuana, but with the recreational shops opening next summer, there may be hope for patients that live far from existing dispensaries.

If you have questions or want to find out more about the Medical Use of Marijuana Program at Mass.gov.

1 Comment

  • In response to the statement in this article: “The law requires patients to have a “bona fide physician-patient relationship or a bona fide advanced practice nurse-patient relationship” in order to be issued a recommendation.”, I am relentlessly searching for information about when Nurse Practitioners will be able to certify patients for MMJ in Massachusetts. Your article mentions that NPs can issue a recommendation, but I can’t find any information about this, and the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Program staff do not know any information and have largely ignored my correspondences. If you have any information about when and if NPs are certifying MMJ in Massachusetts, I would appreciate your input.

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