How to save a bundle on California cannabis

cannabis taxes
(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

Want to avoid paying state and local sales taxes on California cannabis?

Need to possess or grow more than a recreational user?

If you have a qualifying medical condition to use the botanical herb, and plan to spend more than $100 per month on cannabis, consider getting a California state medical marijuana program card.

Those printed-on-paper recommendations or plastic cards purchased from doctors will still get you in to medicinal cannabis dispensaries in 2018. But only people who have a valid California Medical Marijuana Identification Card issued by their county health departments will avoid paying sales taxes.

The state ID card program is obscure, and has attracted few users in its 14-year history, but that will change in 2018. The California Medical Marijuana Identification Card program exempts qualified patients from paying 7 to 10 percent in sales taxes at the register. And the card arguably provides stronger legal protection to possess up to eight ounces of cannabis, instead of just one ounce under recreational marijuana law. (Patients can still purchase 8 oz. or 12 plants with their doctor’s notes; they only need the voluntary state ID to get the tax benefit.)

Here’s how:

Step 1 – Get A Doctor’s Recommendation for Cannabis

how to save on cannabis in california
The app EazeMD awaits folks who want a medical cannabis recommendation.

Getting a state identification card for medical cannabis is a two-part process. First, you see a doctor to get your “recommendation” (essentially a doctor’s note), then you use that recommendation to obtain the official state ID card through your county health department.

Check out our guide to the best storefront marijuana clinics, cannabis specialized physicians and online recommendation options.

When you see the doctor online or in person, eligible medical conditions for cannabis include: “the treatment of cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.”

Step 2 – Getting Your State ID Card

An example of an official California medical marijuana ID card
An example of an official California medical marijuana ID card

OK — so you got your valid “doctor’s recommendation” for cannabis? Now, you’re ready for step two, getting the state ID card.

Getting a state ID card costs $100 annually, or they’re $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 the fees. Fees are capped at $100. Here’s how to get your California Medical Marijuana Identification Card:

Step 2B) Locate your county health office and, if possible, download, print and complete the application

Here’s a list of health department offices in California’s 58 counties.

For example, the San Francisco Dept of Public Health offers an application form for download at the SFDPH Medical Cannabis page.

Here is the link to download the SFDPH Medical Cannabis Program card application form.

If you cannot go online, download and print out your application form, you can pick one up in person. Check your county listings. For example, San Francisco residents go to:

San Francisco Department of Public Health
101 Grove Street, Room 105
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 206.5555
Hours: 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. Monday, Wednesday & Friday.

Step 2C) Turn in the application

First, check with your county health department to see if you need to make an appointment. Some counties don’t accept walk-ins, and office hours vary by county. Some offer all-day service throughout the business week, but many have odd service hours. In San Francisco, the office is open 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

What to bring to the County Health office:

  • Your current doctor’s recommendation authorizing medicinal cannabis use. This is, as San Francisco puts it: “an original letter from a medical provider stating that you have a serious medical condition where the use of medical marijuana is appropriate.”
  • Valid government-issued identification (driver’s license, California State ID Card, passport)
  • Proof of residence (current photo IDs with current address or a recent utility bill, or a recent rental or mortgage payment receipt)
  • Proof of Medi-Cal or county health assistance, if necessary (bring your Medi-Cal card)
  • Bring $100 cash. No credit cards, debit cards or checks are accepted.

Step 2D) Wait

Your card will be mailed to your home address. Processing time can take up to 35 days once the application is accepted. Usual turnaround in San Francisco is ten days.

Step 3) Use the card

Customers purchase legal recreational marijuana at Berkeley Patients Group on Jan. 1, 2018.
Customers purchase legal recreational marijuana at Berkeley Patients Group on Jan. 1, 2018. | Photo by Jimi Devine

Bring your state medical cannabis ID card to any dispensary or delivery service in the state. The state ID card will get you in the door and should save you that sales tax at the register. Tip: mark your calendar for your annual renewal, so you don’t forget to renew.

More questions? Read our ‘Frequently asked questions about getting a California state medical marijuana ID card


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