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A Guide to Getting a California Medical Marijuana Card in 2020

Ruth Lemon
Ruth Lemon - Operations Manager

Nov 20 2017 - 17 min read

Getting a Medical Marijuana Card Online in California

Table of Contents
  1. Introduction
  2. What ID Do I Need to Qualify for a California MMJ Card?
  3. What Conditions Can Cannabis Be Recommended for in California?
  4. I’ve Got a California Doctor’s 420 Rec. Do I need an MMJ Card As Well?
  5. Growing Cannabis Plants as a Medical Marijuana Patient in California
  6. Has Anything Changed Since 2017/2018/2019? Has Recreational Marijuana Affected Medical Marijuana In Any Way?
  7. Why Should I Get a California MMJ Card and Rec Letter Now That It’s Legal?
  8. Can I Sell Any Excess Medical Marijuana I Grow?
  9. What About Caregivers? How Does the Change in California’s Cannabis Laws Affect Them?
  10. Are There Any Other Advantages to Having a California MMJ Card?
  11. What About Health Insurance?
  12. What’s the Total Amount of Cannabis I Can Carry as a Medical Marijuana Patient in California?
  13. Can’t I Just Buy Hemp-Derived Cannabidiol (CBD) Legally and Easily?
  14. What Will the Future Bring for Medical Marijuana Patients Beyond 2020?



2018 is the year cannabis went legal in California. As of 01/01/2018, it is longer a legal requirement to hold a medical marijuana card for a person aged 21 or over should they possess 1 ounce or less of cannabis (max. 8 g of concentrates).

Skip forward to 2020, things have changed slightly for medical marijuana patients, but not to any great extent. Medical cannabis patients in California are still exempt from paying state sales and use taxes, and the amount of cannabis medical marijuana patients can possess and grow is more generous (up to 8 ounces of dried cannabis flower, not including leaves and stems, and 6 mature or 12 immature plants if growing unless stated otherwise by their recommending physician). Medical cannabis patients also have access to a greater number of both products and dispensaries, as not all jurisdictions in California have allowed for the operation of recreational cannabis dispensaries. Only 161 of California’s 482 municipalities have allowed for recreational storefronts or establishments to be allowed to operate.

Regardless of the legal recreational market, there are good reasons to get a medical marijuana card. Here’s how and why.

How Do I Get a Medical Marijuana Card and Physician’s Recommendation in California?

Medical marijuana card qualification and physician's recommendation.
Click the picture above and start your medical marijuana card qualification process!
  1. Register with your email and enter the virtual waiting room.
  2. Be seen by a physician in minutes – ensure your camera and microphone are on so the doctor can see and hear you.
  3. Should you qualify, you will receive your medical marijuana recommendation letter in your inbox immediately. A hard copy of your recommendation letter will be sent to your address within 5-7 days.

This process takes around 10 minutes in total, although it can be quicker in some cases! We think it can be done in three.

Once you have your recommendation letter, you will be given a unique 7-character patient ID code that is registered to the California Medical Marijuana Program. You can enter a medical marijuana dispensary immediately after getting your recommendation letter.

When entering a dispensary, you will have to show this letter/email to the receptionist, who will verify the number and let you in once the rec is confirmed genuine. Recommendation letters are usually valid for one year. It is recommended you laminate your hard copy rec letter to protect it from damage.

A physician’s recommendation letter from Leafwell starts from $49, subject to change.

What ID Do I Need to Qualify for a California MMJ Card?

A California state photographic ID and proof of residency. If you don’t have California-issued identity, out-of-state or out-of-country government-issued photographic identification is acceptable. You don’t necessarily need to be a resident of California, but having a California address helps. Any supporting medical reports and/or your medical records documenting your condition will help as well.

You must be aged 18 or older to apply for a medical marijuana card for yourself. You may be able to get a medical marijuana card for a younger patient if you are a Caregiver for a child with a serious condition. Please call us if this is the case. Caregivers must be aged 18 or older and must be the Primary Caregiver for the patient.

A Primary Caregiver is defined as a person who consistently provides for the housing, health, or safety of a person who needs medical care or assistance (the patient). Caregivers will often need to take courses to qualify as caregivers, especially if they are providing specialist care.


You Suffer From a Condition That Merits Medical Marijuana

Are you suffering from chronic pain? Are you being prescribed a cornucopia of nasty opioids, benzodiazepines and/or high-spectrum NSAIDs? Do you want to avoid or escape the cycle of addiction such medications can bring? Then getting yourself a medical marijuana card and trying cannabis might help. Though we cannot guarantee cannabis will work for your pain or condition, it is worth noting that no pain medication is guaranteed to work, and cannabis is a lot safer than opioids and many other medications, where there is a possibility of overdose.

If there’s an alternative to the current addictive and potentially dangerous opioids being prescribed to control pain, you owe it to yourself to try something that takes death via overdose off the table. It is also worth remembering that not all of the cannabis plant’s active constituents (in particular, cannabinoids and terpenoids) are necessarily psychoactive, yet could still potentially have significant therapeutic benefit. Much more research needs to be done in this area in order to get more definitive answers.Medical Marijuana Image

Proposition 215 affords patients suffering from the following conditions legal protection under California Medical Marijuana Law:

  • Anxiety
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Chemotherapy Side-Effects
  • Chronic Pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Glaucoma
  • Migraine Headaches
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Radiation Therapy Side-Effects
  • Any chronic or persistent medical symptom that causes serious harm to the patient’s physical or mental health if not alleviated, or a condition that limits the patient’s ability to carry out one or more major life activities (e.g. eating, movement), as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990.

California is perhaps one of the most “open” states when it comes to the sorts of conditions one can get recommended for. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Unipolar Depression and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) are other conditions you could potentially get an MMJ card for. Those who suffer from schizophrenia or schizoid personality disorder may want to avoid THC, although CBD may be potentially useful as an antipsychotic. Those with bipolar disorder (aka “manic depression”) may potentially find cannabis useful at certain points, but care must be taken with regards to THC (again, CBD may be a useful antipsychotic) and dosage during both manic and depressive stages.

I’ve Got a California Doctor’s 420 Rec. Do I Need an MMJ Card As Well?

Not technically, no. You can get a standard recommendation letter alone for $49, which will allow you to enter medical marijuana dispensaries. However, we recommend getting both the recommendation letter and the medical marijuana ID card for $59, as some dispensaries prefer you have both. The photographic ID card will also help if law enforcement hassles you.

What’s a California Grower’s Recommendation?

Essentially, if you want the ability to grow more than 6 plants, you will need to get a grower’s recommendation. The price of 99 plants is $199 per year. For 50 plants, $150 per year. For 25 plants, $99 per year. This does not include the doctor’s medical cannabis recommendation letter and MMJ card. So, if you were looking to get a physician’s medical marijuana rec, MMIC card, and grower’s recommendation for 25 plants, it would cost you a total of $158.


More About Growing Cannabis Plants as a Medical Marijuana Patient in California

Whether you’re a medical marijuana patient or not, the maximum number of plants a person without a Grower’s Recommendation Card can grow is 6 plants – this might not be enough for a patient with specific health needs. A Physician’s Attestation is needed to grow more than 6 plants.

The Grower’s Rec also gives a bit more “breathing room” should you wish to grow your own cannabis – you might not need 99 plants, but you might need more than 6! Having such a card will also cover you if you are growing in cycles, so having 6 – 12 plants in vegetation stage (immature plants) and 6 plants in the flowering stage (mature plants) won’t prove to be a problem with the protective measures a Grower’s Rec provides.

Technically, the legal amount of cannabis plants a person can grow on their private property at any one time is 6 mature and 12 immature plants. This is for both medical and recreational marijuana users. Again, a medical marijuana user may be allowed to “grow as much as is needed”, but law enforcement may consider large amounts “excessive”. Therefore, it is probably best to keep within a safer range if growing for yourself, and only ever growing the amount you need personally. We all know the law can be a bit of an ass! Don’t become another statistic. Get your Physician’s Attestation if you need more than 6 plants, want to hunt for a particular phenotype of cannabis, or need several different strains of cannabis for your condition.

Regardless of the type of recommendation you have, you will have to renew your rec and card yearly. Should you order a medical marijuana card alongside your recommendation letter, you will get your ID card alongside your hard copy rec letter in the mail, which should arrive in 5-7 days’ time once qualified. Also, if you are renting a place and wish to grow for medical reasons, the landlord has no obligation by law to allow you to do so.

Has Anything Changed Since 2017/2018/2019? Has Recreational Marijuana Affected Medical Marijuana in Any Way?

Essentially, both “Yes” and “No”. The process of getting a medical marijuana card in 2020 is pretty much exactly the same as the process of getting a medical marijuana card in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Recreational marijuana laws do not affect the protections afforded to medical marijuana patients by Prop. 215 and SB420. If anything, it means that, if a medical marijuana patient is caught by law enforcement with less than an ounce of dried cannabis “flower” or “buds”, or 8 grams of concentrate (e.g. hashish, wax, shatter) on their person, they will no longer have to route around for their MMJ card and/or rec letter. Whether anything will change with regards to the culture surrounding the “recreational” and “medical” side of cannabis remains to be seen.

However, there are some ways in which legalized recreational sales have affected medical marijuana patients. Many compassionate care programs that have been running throughout the state for years and who have been supplying cannabis for patients cannot operate in the same ways they used to, as there is no way to officially license their products and services. Grower’s co-operatives have also been affected by the change in laws, and the permits held by such people are temporary and will soon reach their end date if they haven’t already. Steep taxes have also had a dramatic impact on the ability of cultivators to donate to medical patients. Therefore, the donation process that was around prior to recreational sales being legalized has been made illegal, and those who do so legally with licenses face massive costs.

In many ways, patients’ rights have been strengthened; in others, perhaps some of the changes have proven more restrictive. It is perhaps best to quote the California Department of Health on this:

“Proposition 64 (The Adult Use of Marijuana Act, 2016) made the following changes to the Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program (MMICP):

It extended privacy protection to patients who hold a Medical Marijuana Identification Card (MMIC) issued under the Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA). Health and Safety Code Section §11362.713 provides for privacy rights of patients by ensuring that all patient information is deemed “medical information,” under California’s Confidentiality of Medical Information Act.
It continued the MMIC, limited the maximum fee to $100 per card, limited the Medi-Cal maximum fee to $50 per card, and allowed for a fee waiver for indigent patients.
It granted new custodial and parental rights protections for patients as follows: “The status and conduct of a qualified patient who acts in accordance with the Compassionate Use Act shall not, by itself, be used to restrict or abridge custodial or parental rights to minor children in any action or proceeding under the jurisdiction of family or juvenile court.”
Qualified patients or their primary caregivers are exempted from retail sales tax on medical cannabis, medical cannabis concentrate, edible medical cannabis products, or topical cannabis if they present a valid MMIC issued by CDPH at the time of purchase.

Why Should I Get a California MMJ Card and Rec Letter Now That It’s Legal?

There are some significant economic benefits of getting a medical marijuana card in California. For one, it saves you having to pay the sales tax that will be applied to recreational marijuana users. The percentage of saving will vary from area-to-area as different locales have different tax regimes, but it could be anywhere from 5% to 15%. There are more extreme tax projections, with some speculation of taxes on cannabis going as high as 45%. Should this be the case, getting a medical marijuana card will save you plenty of cash.

Secondly, dispensaries often have sales and offers exclusively to medical marijuana patients. Sadly, this could be lower-quality and/or mislabelled cannabis on some occasions, so always check the cannabis properly. The cost of the card is often compensated for by the savings in tax over the course of the year, at least in California.

Another advantage of having a medical marijuana card is that your possession limit is significantly higher than the 28.5 grams of bud for recreational users. Although no possession limit is specified for a medical marijuana patient (“whatever amount is necessary for personal medical use” – a doctor may recommend more, depending upon the patient’s needs), it is perhaps wise to keep it to 8 ounces or less on your person (which is likely to be rare unless you’re moving home, or if you are a terminal or cancer patient who needs to carry high amounts of cannabis concentrate), even for a valid medical marijuana patient. This is because police can still arrest you if they feel the amount you have in your possession is “excessive”.

We here at Leafwell are all about keeping safe and sensible. Keep to whatever your local laws are with regards to possession limits and the like. Don’t travel with excessive amounts wherever possible. Never, ever, ever cross state lines with cannabis in any form on your persons, even between two legal states, and even with a valid medical marijuana card. This is a federal crime.

If you are growing, keep it out of plain sight and in an enclosed space. Look after your cannabis well, and keep it out of the reach of children and pets. Treat it as you would any other medicine, and hopefully, the cannabis will help treat you well in return.


Can I Sell Any Excess Medical Marijuana I Grow?

It is advisable you keep your personal use personal. Unless you are part of a cooperative, it is not advisable to sell any excess produce, and even then you could potentially get into trouble! Monetary proceeds may be taken as evidence of a felony. Should you wish to sell cannabis legally, you will need the appropriate business licenses and the like, which we cannot provide (though others can). There are also a lot of problems with how money made from the sale of cannabis and cannabis-related products are processed by banks.

Interestingly enough, there is no legal penalty or incarceration period for “gifting” a person aged 21 or over an ounce or less of cannabis. Technically, though, if someone is caught doing this by a law enforcement agent, a $100 fine may still be applicable. So, although you cannot sell cannabis for remuneration without the appropriate licenses, you may give it away to those of the appropriate age. Of course, it is perhaps best to do this at your discretion and to gift cannabis to someone who is open-minded towards and may find benefit from using it. The fact that there is a potential $100 fine for gifting someone with an ounce or less of cannabis seems to infer that such activity is not entirely legal. Our “Free the Weed” motto seems all the more relevant here.

What About Caregivers? How Does the Change in California’s Cannabis Laws Affect Them?

Again, not much has changed in terms of medical marijuana laws for Caregivers. Caregivers can still apply for a medical marijuana card on behalf of the patient they are looking after, and they are subject to the same laws as any other medical marijuana patient. Caregivers cannot use medical marijuana if they don’t have a recommendation for themselves.

Caregivers may possess up to 8 dried ounces of cannabis, and grow up to 6 mature plants or 12 immature plants for each patient they are the primary Caregiver for. One person may be the Primary Caregiver for many patients (many limit it to 5 maximum), as long as all the patients live in the same county or city as the Primary Caregiver. Caregivers ought to think about obtaining a Grower’s Recommendation Card, especially if they are growing for more than one patient.

A US Marihuana Tax Stamp from 1937
Marijuana was already taxed at one point in US history!

Are There Any Other Advantages to Having a California MMJ Card?

It could be argued that those with a valid medical marijuana card have a lot more legal precedent protecting them. There are a greater number of laws that could be seen to protect patients, in comparison to those who use cannabis recreationally. The “adjustment” period over the first several months or so of 2018, when licenses were given out, kinks in the law are ironed out and regulatory pressures have started to be applied has not completely finished yet, and many municipalities and jurisdictions are still having “teething” problems.

New dispensaries need to set up, and existing ones need to cope with a new influx of customers. There will no doubt be different issues at the local level that need to be looked at as well. Not every town and city in California want recreational marijuana, so there will still be some restrictions in different places. Having a medical marijuana card could make accessing cannabis a little bit simpler, well into 2020, and perhaps even beyond. Whether recreational cannabis laws will be sorted out by then, we shall have to wait and see. However, it looks as if having a valid medical marijuana card

There are also some reciprocity laws in place, meaning that other states in the U.S. recognize California-issued medical marijuana cards as valid. States like Maine, Rhode Island and New Hampshire recognize out-of-state medical marijuana cards but don’t usually allow out-of-state patients to purchase at one of their dispensaries without a Visting Qualifying Patient Form, or Reciprocity form (which is available in Maine). Nevada does not necessarily accept California medical marijuana cards as valid, but patients may still buy from the recreational market in Nevada. As there is no difference in the tax applied to medical patients and recreational cannabis enthusiasts in Nevada, having a valid card will not necessarily save you any money. Oregon has some similarities with California’s medical cannabis program, in that they allow out-of-state patients to apply for a medical marijuana card, even if they have no reciprocity laws in place. Vermont, meanwhile, recognizes valid, in-date medical marijuana cards from neighboring states.

A valid MMJ card does, however, provide some legal protection in other states with reciprocity, assuming you stay within local laws. However, you still cannot carry cannabis across state lines. This is the case even if you are traveling between two medically/recreationally legal states and you have a valid marijuana card. A doctor’s recommendation will not save you. The fact that you might be suffering from a serious medical condition won’t save you. Medicare will not save you. Even the Toxic Avenger will not save you. Cannabis is a schedule I drug, and until the law changes, it will be treated as such on a federal level.

I Don’t Like the State/Big Brother Keeping an Eye on Me

No information about patients is shared with law enforcement agencies. We are also HIPAA compliant here at Leafwell, and your medical data is kept secure and private. Both medical and recreational users have the same amount of government eye on them. The government would prefer to charge bigger companies than a singular cancer patient – more political and financial capital in it for them.

Cooperatives, dispensaries, and those handling large amounts of cannabis ought to be warier than a Crohn’s sufferer carrying a few grams and growing a couple of plants at home, although it is reasonable for anyone who finds therapy in cannabis to be wary of government to some degree. It’s still federally illegal, after all!

The Sign Google Hopes Will Be Everywhere
Big brother isn’t always watching us – it can’t afford to!

What About Health Insurance?

Insurance providers will not usually provide any monetary assistance in those looking to get a medical marijuana rec and/or card. In some instances, it may put your health insurance in jeopardy, especially if you work in a government department that requires drug testing. Cannabis is federally illegal, and employers may terminate cannabis users’ employment at their discretion, even if they have a valid medical reason and MMJ card. However, things are changing, and some employers have updated their policies.

Any Other Restrictions?

There are some restrictions that apply to both recreational and medical marijuana users alike. They include:

  • No smoking cannabis where smoking tobacco is not permitted.
  • No smoking of cannabis in public, unless allowed by public ordinance – doing so could land you a fine, especially if you are near a government building, public park, main street, or anywhere where there might be large congregations of children.
  • Using cannabis whilst driving is obviously illegal. You cannot legally drive when under the influence of cannabis, and any cannabis kept in the car with you must be kept locked away and out-of-sight. Passengers in the car are not legally allowed to consume cannabis whilst in a vehicle, either.
  • You cannot ingest cannabis within 1,000 feet of a school, daycare center, or youth center unless you are in a private residence and any cannabis smell or smoke is not detectable by children.
  • Any cannabis must be kept out-of-reach of children. Treat it as you would any other medication, and lock it away.
  • Your second amendment right to bear arms is also affected.


What’s the Total Amount of Cannabis I Can Carry as a Medical Marijuana Patient in California?

If you are a medical marijuana user, your doctor can technically recommend you “as much as is needed for your condition”. Recreational users can carry a maximum of 28.5 grams (just a little over 1 oz.) of bud/flower and a maximum of 8 grams of concentrate. However, for safety reasons, it is perhaps best for medical users to keep on the down-low in terms of amounts carried. Unless absolutely needed, it is probably best to carry smaller amounts when out-and-about.

If you are carrying both bud and concentrate, it is perhaps best to “split the difference”. You shouldn’t carry the maximum amount of both, as that would take you over the legal limit. This means that you have to take THC content into account, including when it comes to edibles, which are counted as concentrates.

Sixteen 500 mg THC cartridge would be equal to approximately 8 g of cannabis concentrate. A 200 mg brownie would be equal to about a maximum of 40 brownies, whilst a 1000 mg (1 g) THC brownie would mean you could carry a maximum of 8 brownies. For 10 mg THC sweets or candies, you could carry up to 800 (or 80 packs of 10).

You therefore cannot carry a combination of an ounce of bud and 8 g of concentrate. You must take both amounts into account, so if you’re carrying a 14 g (28 half-gram joints), then you ought to be able to carry approximately 4 g of concentrates maximum, which is about 8 cartridges of 500 mg THC. Keep this in mind when buying bulk amounts, as it could potentially save you a lot of legal trouble. Anyway, for most people, even a small portion of a 200 mg THC brownie is more than enough!

Can’t I Just Buy Hemp-Derived Cannabidiol (CBD) Legally and Easily?

Whilst a well-made hemp-derived CBD product is potentially useful, there are still several issues with many hemp products. These problems include:

  • Inconsistencies in quality and labeling between companies – some are much better than others.
  • The quality of the hemp used to make hemp-derived CBD products is variable. Hemp is a plant used for industrial processes, such as producing fibers and phytoremediation (used to remove contaminants from soil).
  • There is little regulation of hemp-derived CBD products sourced from outside the United States or Europe.
  • Hemp plants are grown for fiber, whilst cannabis plants are actually grown for their cannabinoid content. This makes the cannabis plant a more ready source of a wider range of cannabinoids and terpenoids.
  • Related to the above, due to the relative lack of CBD in many hemp plants, harsher extraction techniques may be applied to get any CBD. This can increase the amount of plant waxes in the final product, which can potentially lead to urinary tract infections (UTIs), an increase in the frequency of headaches/migraines, and problems with one’s stomach and digestive tract.
  • Higher doses of CBD may be needed with hemp-derived CBD products, as several key cannabinoids and terpenoids may be missing and the “entourage effect” cannot effectively take place.
  • Though a well-made hemp-derived CBD product may be useful for some mild-to-moderate conditions, more serious conditions may well require cannabis-derived cannabinoids.
  • Some argument can be made that a well-grown cannabis farm will likely have fewer pollutants than a farm that grows hemp for industrial purposes. Despite it being federally illegal, a cannabis grower and/or company that takes pride in their work will likely produce a safer product than a company that uses industrial hemp.
Tincture Made at Home
Homemade Tincture

What Will the Future Bring for Medical Marijuana Patients Beyond 2020?

Nobody knows! If we did, we’d be Biff Tannen levels of rich. As more research comes out, and as more states legalizing cannabis puts more pressure on federal laws, expect to see cannabinoid and terpenoid concentrations specific to each person’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) and the condition they suffer from. Such highly personalized products will likely only be available to medical marijuana patients, at least at first, and especially as they are in most need of such medications.

California is one of the world’s most mature marijuana/cannabis markets, despite being it only legal for medical reasons since the passing of the California Compassionate Use Act 1996 and Prop. 215, and Senate Bill 420 (SB 420) in 2003. Be rest assured that the rest of the United States and much of the world will be looking at California to see how the market copes, as well as what regulatory procedures will be put in place to ensure consistent, safe products. California is a big state with lots of people in it. What happens here could well be copied elsewhere.

Seven-Fingered Cannabis Sativa Leaf
Leaf from a cannabis Sativa plant.

So, if you suffer from a qualifying condition and want to see how cannabis and can help, getting yourself a medical marijuana card would be of great help. Self-treating your pain, anxiety, depression or any other condition using the recreational market means you’ll likely be wondering in the dark for many years. Why not get doctors and scientists to help you, so you can get the most out of cannabis, medically-speaking? A medical cannabis card is your first step towards a greater understanding of both yourself and the power of this amazing plant. Visit our Ultimate Guide to Getting a Medical Marijuana Card for more information.

Leafwell - Medical cannabis card
Click on the picture above to learn more about getting a medical marijuana card and qualifying for medical cannabis in California.
Written by
Ruth Lemon
Ruth Lemon - Operations Manager

Ruth Lemon has worked in Cambodia and Australia, gaining experience in the non-profit sector, education and international development, and digital marketing. New to the cannabis sector, Ruth is helping Leafwell to scale without compromising the customer experience and seeks to create a frictionless customer journey. She now lives in the UK with her rescued Cambodian cat and believes Leafwell is improving access to and understanding of a valuable medical alternative.

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