As more states decriminalize and legalize marijuana, stoners everywhere are rejoicing. Funding is flowing to the research of what weed enthusiasts have long known to be a safe and beneficial drug, and marijuana sales are finally advancing state and local government programs.
Yet, in many places, governments offer marijuana licenses, or weed cards, through a board of regulators. When do you need to apply for a license of this type, and when can you use cannabis freely?
If Your State Only Has a Medical Marijuana Program
As of this writing, only 11 states permit the recreational use of marijuana, and two of them (Maine and Vermont) don't have any regulations for opening recreational dispensaries, meaning users need to grow their own cannabis plants to legally use weed. In contrast, over 33 states have medical marijuana programs, which allow sufferers of various health conditions to buy and use weed legally. If you live in a state like Arkansas, medical dispensaries are your only option - aside from black-market ganja, of course.
In most of these states, you need the recommendation of medical marijuana from a doctor and a diagnosis of a specific ailment that is on the state's list of qualifying conditions. The one exception is Oklahoma, where doctors have the full responsibility of deciding whether a patient's medical condition warrants the use of marijuana for treatment.
If you suffer from a medical condition that qualifies you for your state's medical marijuana program, you shouldn't hesitate to bring the issue up with your regular doctor. Not only will they know more about your personal medical history and the potential advantages and disadvantages of medical weed, but they can also guide you through the license application process.
Conversely, if you don't already have a qualifying medical condition, you might still be able to secure a medical marijuana license through less scrupulous healthcare professionals - but doing so is morally gray. You should decide for yourself whether you are willing to skirt the laws of your state to gain access to a legal weed dispensary.
If You Need Access to Specialized Cannabis Products
The differences between a recreational dispensary and a medical dispensary are more than that one requires a special card to enter. Medical marijuana dispensaries function like pharmacies, serving customers one-on-one to ensure they find products that will help them manage their unique conditions.
Because conditions managed with medical marijuana tend to be exceedingly severe - epilepsy, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's, cancer and more - most states permit medical dispensaries to sell more specialized cannabis products. As a result, medical dispensaries have a much different inventory than the recreational dispensary down the street.
If you need exceedingly high-THC or high-CBD weed products, you might need access to a medical marijuana dispensary - which of course requires a license. You might require these products if you suffer from a qualifying condition that is mitigated by high doses of medicinal weed and/or if your tolerance to THC (or CBD) is remarkably high.
If You Are Growing or Selling Cannabis
Though precise regulations vary from state to state, most states that have legalized weed allow adults above the minimum age to grow a certain number of cannabis plants per household. The same is true for licensed medicinal users; growing a small cannabis crop at home allows you more regular access to the substance that manages your condition. Some states even allow you to dispense small amounts of your homegrown ganja to family and friends, as long as you don't make them pay.
However, if you are growing a large amount of weed with the intention of turning a tidy profit, you do need a license. Because cannabis cannot legally be transported over state line (or else it will incur the wrath of the federal government), each state must maintain enough cannabis cultivation to supply its population of weed users. You can obtain a cultivation license through your state's marijuana regulatory agency, which might be managed by the state health department or the agricultural department.
Similarly, if you want to open a pot shop of your own, you will need to apply for a dispensary license. Often the competition for these licenses is fierce, but many states are introducing social equity programs that give precedence to BIPOC and female business owners in the marijuana space.
If you are an average marijuana user with average marijuana needs in a state with a recreational marijuana program, you don't need to apply for a weed card. However, plenty of people do benefit from exclusive access to medical-grade cannabis products, so licensed programs remain valuable even as weed legislation expands.