What happens to medical cannabis in California under legalization?

The app EazeMD awaits folks who want a medical cannabis recommendation.

For the state’s hundreds of medical cannabis dispensaries, Jan. 1, 2018 is very much business as usual, although they may find themselves turning away some recreational users who arrive to shop.

Over the next 18 months, the medical system will obtain state licensing and new rules will phase in.

Over the next few years, medical-only dispensaries will face increased competition in cities with adult-use stores, but they could also see a new influx of medical patients who come forward precisely because cannabis is now legal for recreational use. The medical dispensaries in towns that ban recreational stores will enjoy some market protection.

For qualified patients, Jan. 1 is also business as usual at almost all of the state’s medical dispensaries. There should be little disruption.

Why you want to get or renew your medical card

So — cannabis just became legal for all adults 21 or older. Why would you spend $40 to $100 on a doctor’s recommendation to use marijuana? Good question. It’s because:

  • it’s right for some people
  • medical recommendations unlock hundreds more stores on Day 1 of legalization
  • you can avoid paying some taxes
  • you can buy stronger medicine
  • and you can grow more plants.

More stores

For the state’s hundreds of thousands of medical cannabis recommendation holders, Jan. 1 is business as usual at 90 percent of their retailers — except for long lines, higher prices and limited selection at medical dispensaries that obtained a recreational license.

For starters, very few adult use stores will be open in the opening weeks and months of commercial cannabis sales in California — just several dozen for the whole state. Also, smoking lounges are allowed by Proposition 64 but will likely take some time to open. For now, some medical marijuana dispensaries already provide safe, comfortable places to smoke.

Sales tax savings

One of the main benefits of being a medical marijuana patient: You will find cheaper prices for flowers and concentrates. In most cases these items will be identical to those offered on the adult-use side; patients are not paying 7.25-10 percent in state and local sales taxes.

Bigger limits

Being a medical patient will also allow people to purchase, possess and transport more than the recreational limit, which is an ounce of cannabis and eight grams of concentrate. In addition, medical cannabis patients can grow more than six plants (although the exact number is based on the standards set by the county where they reside).

Stronger products

Another main difference between the two cannabis regulatory models in California comes in the sale of topicals and edibles. The topicals will be stronger on the medical side — 2000 mg of THC versus 1000 mg of THC. So will edibles, at least until July 1. A grace period allows edibles containing more than 100 mg of THC to be sold to medical marijuana patients until the summer. Then, all edibles for both markets can contain no more than 100 mg of THC divided into 10 mg servings.

Why you want a state-issued medical cannabis ID card

If you want to avoid paying new sky-high taxes on California cannabis or carry a half pound of pot, or if you have a qualifying condition to use the botanical herb medicinally, then you need to participate in an obscure government program: The California Medical Marijuana Identification Card. Only 2 in 10 Californians eligible for Medical Marijuana Identification Cards apply for one, but that may change under legalization.

Having a state marijuana card exempts qualified patients from paying the state sales tax and provides the legal protection to possess up to eight ounces of cannabis, seven ounces more than the upcoming adult-use recreational limit.

Printed-on-paper recommendations or plastic cards purchased from doctors will still get you in medicinal cannabis dispensaries in 2018. But only people who have a bonafide California Medical Marijuana Identification Card issued by their county health departments will get the sales tax break.

Cards cost $100 annually ($50 for low-income recipients of state Medi-Cal health care and free for indigent recipients of county health care). County health departments process applications and collect fees.

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