Updated on June 28, 2021.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
The unfortunate reality is that, despite medical marijuana being a widely approved alternative therapeutic option for patients suffering from specific health conditions, there are still certain circumstances under which you, as a patient, could be arrested. Don’t let yourself become a statistic. Be smart about your actions and always follow the rules.
Here’s a picture for you: As of the most recent presidential election, California approved a ballot measure legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. Prior to this, the state still had relatively liberal and lax marijuana laws, having decriminalized marijuana in 2011. Despite this, a report from the Drug Policy Alliance found that, between 2006 and 2015, there were almost 500,000 arrests made for marijuana possession infractions, and while that number dropped off after 2011, thousands of arrests were still made annually.
Why did this happen? In the majority of cases, it’s because people did not heed the nuances of the marijuana law.
The Parameters of Medical Marijuana Use Vary State by State
Most states that allow medical marijuana have specific rules governing use. In Pennsylvania, for example, there are specific rules and regulations about how to ingest medical cannabis. The state’s medical marijuana legislation does not allow cannabis in smokable forms, or the production or sale of infused edibles.
Medical marijuana patients in this state are instead limited to consuming cannabis in the form of a pill, liquid, tincture or an oil.
Don’t Buy Marijuana From the Wrong Places
It’s important to know where you can legally obtain medical cannabis in your state. Most states have several options to accommodate people with different living situations and styles. Here’s a list of the options commonly offered by states to obtain medical marijuana:
You can grow or cultivate your own medical cannabis, but keep in mind that plant quantities can vary state by state.
Your primary caregiver can give you marijuana. This designated person is allowed to grow plants for your use, as well.
Utilizing medical marijuana cooperatives or collectives. Some people opt to grow the plants together, but keep in mind that you’re not allowed to sell to other patients.
Head to your local authorized dispensary.
Don’t Carry Around More Than Is Allowed
The Drug Policy Alliance found that many of the arrests made for marijuana possession happened when the apprehended person was carrying around more than an ounce of pot, which many law enforcement officials would consider “excessive” or “unreasonable.” They may assume you have an intent to sell, which is not allowed.
To avoid this, be sure to only carry around what you need, and stay within the dosage prescribed to you by your doctor.
Sharing Marijuana With Other People
Sharing medical marijuana obtained with your prescription card is not allowed, and in most states that applies even if the other person also has a medical card. Your prescription card is intended for your use only.
This is especially important in states that have not passed recreational marijuana legislation. In states where medical marijuana is legal, you can avoid running into any trouble by always making sure you have your medical ID on you. You can avoid this by not sharing your cannabis with anyone else.
Smoking Where You Shouldn’t Be
Although states are continuing to liberalize when it comes to marijuana legislation, this doesn’t mean people are free to smoke pot wherever they choose. In Washington state, for example, people can smoke weed either on private property or any place that’s away from the general public, so they don’t have to see or smell it. You also aren’t allowed to smoke it in the shop you bought it at, concert venues and all federal land, including national forests, parks and monuments.
Unsurprisingly, the rules that govern where cigarettes can and cannot be smoked usually also apply to marijuana. The unfair part is that while cigarette smoking may not get you arrested, it’s possible that marijuana could yield a different outcome based on the opinion of the law enforcement officer you deal with.
Issues With Your Registry Card
Make sure you do all of your paperwork for your registry card. Just about every state where medical marijuana has been legalized requires patients to seek a licensed physician to issue you a recommendation or a prescription, after which you must register with the state’s medical marijuana patient registry, in order to receive your actual ID card.
You will also be required to renew your card annually. It’s only after these steps that you are legally permitted to grow, buy, have or use cannabis for medical purposes.
It’s absolutely essential that you closely study your state’s specific recommendation and registration requirements for medical marijuana. Not doing this can leave you vulnerable to arrest if you’re caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, without the proper documentation.
It’s possible that, for whatever reason, you’re having a hard time obtaining a physician’s recommendation for medical cannabis. Maybe you’re not sure where to look, or maybe you’re afraid to discuss it with your physician. It’s understandable that you may turn to marijuana obtained illicitly to relieve your symptoms, but if you’re using marijuana for medicinal purposes without having a physician’s note or card, you’re subject to a misdemeanor or even a felony, depending on how much you have.
To avoid this situation, its best to consult with a licensed physician who can give you a legitimate recommendation, and it’s easier than you think.
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