Updated on June 4, 2021.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Contrary to stories coming out of California and other pot-friendly states, getting legal access to a federally-regulated Schedule 1 drug isn’t as simple as walking in, dropping your cash on the counter, and smiling for a picture.
If you applied for a medical marijuana card from your state but were denied, it could have been for a variety of disqualifying reasons—one of which was likely explained in a letter (sent via the actual postman) detailing what steps to take to correct the issue, and a limited window in which you can re-apply (for another non-refundable application fee, of course).
Understanding the underlying cause of the denial is the first step in remedying it—and so is going back in armed with the right information. Here are a few fresh angles on the process, should you continue to pursue a license to use marijuana for your health.
Stricter states require you to produce medical records showing a well-documented, state-qualifying diagnosis that’s both chronic (meaning it has persisted over a period of many weeks, months, or years), and has also shown to be demonstrably resistant to other treatments—meaning your doctor attempted, if not exhausted, other pathways including FDA-approved medication, before turning to cannabis. And sadly, whether or not they are thoroughly reviewed or even checked at your appointment doesn’t mean that the state can’t deny you a card for not supplying them upon request.
For most patients, showing a history of their condition isn’t a problem—you can simply request a copy of your medical records (under HIPPA your doc’s office is required to give this to you). But often there are aches and pains that never get reported to a medical professional—because maybe you assume the condition or injury is too old, the pain too generalized, or that nothing (but weed) does it much good. But this is the exact sort of thing you should discuss with your doctor—if only to make a note of it in your medical record. You can then take these records elsewhere, such as to a cannabis physician, to show your medical due diligence to state regulators.
This means you’ll need to plan in advance if you want to re-apply for your marijuana card with the right documentation. More than copays and physician fees (which you bet will be steep, not covered by insurance, and usually paid in cash) what you’ll probably spend the most on during this process, is time. Time spent at the doctor’s office, and time spent attempting alternative, non-narcotic therapies (such as completing physical therapy scripts and safely going on, and off, other medications to rule out their effectiveness).
Even under the best of conditions, it could take several appointments with a doctor or specialist to establish your chronic, treatment-resistant condition. And once you have your doctor’s recommendation letter, most states will take at least a few weeks to process and send your marijuana card in the mail.
Consider secondary or complicating conditions
Most medical marijuana patients use cannabis to treat more than one symptom or condition at a time (for example treating both chronic back pain, alongside depression), or to treat a complicating condition (such as nausea derived from a bad migraine). So keep in mind that it could be a secondary condition that qualifies you more readily than what brought you to see the doc in the first place.
One patient on Quora describes how, for years she treated her thyroid trouble and menopause symptoms with marijuana, but when she went to register with the state she had to include ‘lower back pain’—something she suffered from regularly but didn’t consider chronic at the time—to get her license approved when her other conditions weren’t included in the approved list. Her story is a common one: consider that an average of 62% of all medical marijuana license holders use cannabis for the broadly-characterized chronic or severe pain (followed by muscle spasm).
All told, the more detailed and open you can be with your recommending physician, the more likely you’ll be able to get the care you need. MarijuanaDoctors has lots of tips on how to discuss marjijuana with your doctor.
Travel to a legal state
If you live in a non-legal state and are having problems getting approved for medical marijuana, consider looking further afield. In states where recreational marijijuana is legal, a current driver’s license is all that’s required to buy weed—regardless if you’re there for fun or to treat a legitimate medical condition (and guess what? No one cares!). To be clear, crossing state lines with marijuana is a federal crime—and you’ll be at serious risk for penalty if you’re caught. However, in practice, federal authorities aren’t exactly waiting at the state borders to haul you off to jail—and for patients with few other choices and no medical recourse, getting access to the treatment they need might be worth the road trip.
Ask about a cannabis derivative
If you are denied the use of medical marijauana or live in a state that does not have medical cannabis laws—yet suffer from a condition such as chemotherapy-induced nausea, vomiting, anorexia from AIDS, etc—ask your doctor about dronabinol (or, the generic form of Marinol), which is a medication containing a compound similar to that found in marijuana but is FDA approved, and available nationwide. CBD, another wildly-popular isolated compound derived from hemp, is used to treat a wide variety of ailments and is available over the counter in a variety of forms.
Lean on your primary care doctor
Nearly 80% of physicians believe that they need more medical knowledge and training before they can recommend cannabis to patients—yet many don’t realize how easily this training and certification can be obtained (in some places a process as simple as filling out paperwork and attending a brief training). Don’t be shy: simply ask your doctor to research or complete the state’s requirements to write you a cannabis recommendation themselves—at worst, they say no or send you to another doc. But discussing medical cannabis with your physician helps move us all to move the needle: on educating providers, normalizing cannabis as a medicine, and encouraging doctors to take the needs and desires of their patients seriously.
About the Author
Sarah A Lybrand is a writer specializing in lifestyle, health, finance, cannabis—and fun. She’s written for Yahoo Finance & Shine, Bust, Juno, MarketSmiths and Toast Media, among many others.