How to Get a Medical Marijuana Card in California

 California Health and Safety Code 11362.5 is better known as Prop. 215, the California Compassionate Use Act (“CUA”). The CUA was passed into law by voter approval in 1996.1 It allows you to legally possess, cultivate or transport marijuana in California if:
  1. The marijuana is used to treat a serious medical condition2
  2. It is for personal medical use only
  3. You have the recommendation or approval of a California-licensed physician3

The act also exempts primary caregivers who possess, transport or cultivate marijuana for the patient's personal medical use.4

In November of 2016, California voters passed Proposition 64. Prop 64 which legalized the use of recreational marijuana for people over 21 in California as of January 1, 2018. It also authorized Californians to sell recreational marijuana under state-issued licenses.

Over time, medical marijuana users in California may find it simpler to meet their medical marijuana needs through the legal recreational marijuana market. However, there are still several advantages for patients in using medical rather than recreational marijuana, including:

  • People with a medical marijuana identification card (“MMIC”) are exempt from sales taxes on the purchase of medical marijuana;
  • Unlike recreational weed, medical marijuana is available with a doctor's recommendation to people under 21 (and subject further to parental consent for people under 18); and
  • High CBD / low-THC strains of marijuana may be more readily available at a medical marijuana dispensary.

Do I need a California medical marijuana card?

You do not need a medical marijuana identification card (“MMIC”) in order to gain the benefits of Prop. 215.

However, a California medical marijuana card offers protection against arrest to patients and their caregivers.5

How does the California medical marijuana program work?

When you receive an MMIC, your unique ID number is entered into a web-based registry.

Law enforcement officials and others can use your number solely to verify the validity of a qualified patient or primary caregiver's MMIC.  The registry does not provide them with any personal information.

How do I obtain a medical marijuana card in California?

You must apply for an MMIC in person at the health department of the county in which you live.6 As of July 20014, they are available in every California county except Sutter and Colusa.

The county offices have different days and hours of operation.  Most require an appointment.  It is recommended that you call or check the website for your specific county's program. Click here for the phone numbers and addresses of California county medical marijuana program offices.

What documents do I need to submit along with my MMIC application?

You will need to bring with you the following documentation:

  1. A copy of your doctor's recommendation
  2. A valid government-issued photo ID (California Driver's License, California state ID Card, US Passport, or Veteran's Administration ID Card)
  3. A photo taken at the county's program office
  4. Proof of residency in the county.  The document must show your name and physical address (not a PO box).  The following are generally accepted:
    • Rent or mortgage agreement
    • Utility or cellular phone bill
    • California DMV motor vehicle registration
    • California voter registration
    • Bank statement
    • Automobile, property, life or health insurance documents

Check with the office in your country to confirm what documents they accept as proof of residency.

How much does a California medical marijuana card cost?

The fee for an MMIC varies by county.   Medi-Cal beneficiaries receive a 50 percent reduction in the application fee, upon proof of participation in the Medi-Cal Program.

Examples of the full registration fee as of July 2014 include:

  • Alameda: $103
  • Fresno: $107
  • Imperial: $110
  • Los Angeles: $153
  • Orange County: $150
  • Riverside: $153
  • San Bernardino: $173
  • San Francisco: $120
  • San Diego: $166
  • Santa Barbara: $108
  • Santa Clara: $150
  • Ventura: $221

How does a primary caregiver get a California MMIC?

The patient must apply for a primary caregiver card.  It costs the same as a patient MMIC.  Both the patient and the caregiver must appear at the county office to obtain a primary caregiver MMIC so that the caregiver can be photographed.

A primary caregiver card can be obtained separately from a patient MMIC.  It is not necessary to apply for them at the same time.

What information appears on a California medical marijuana card?

Your MMIC will contain:

  • Your unique user identification number
  • The date on which your card expires
  • The name and telephone number of the county program that approved your application
  • The internet address for verification of the MMIC's validity
  • A photo of you
  • Whether you are a patient or a primary caregiver

Your medical marijuana ID card will contain your photograph in order to prevent its fraudulent use.  However, it will not contain your address or phone number, or any other personal information.

Can someone track me down through the California registry?

The California medical marijuana registry does not contain any personal information.  It contains only your unique user ID number.

When someone enters in your ID number, the only information they will be given is whether or not the number is valid.  No personal information – such as your name, address or social security number – will be provided.  Police, employers and others cannot track down patients through the registry.

How long does it take to get a California MMIC?

Following receipt of your application and all necessary documentation, the county has 30 days to verify your application.  If any information or documents are missing, you will be contacted within that time.

Once your application has been verified, the county has another five days in which to make your medical marijuana card available to you.

How long is a California medical marijuana card valid?

MMICs are valid for one year.  They can only be renewed by repeating the application procedure. It will be necessary for you to obtain new medical documentation unless the document you have is still valid.  But either way, you will need to provide it when you apply for renewal.

A primary caregiver card expires when the patient's card expires, even if that is less than one year from the time it is issued.

Is an MMIC valid in other California counties?

The California medical marijuana registry is a statewide program.  Your MMIC is valid throughout the state.

Is an MMIC valid outside of California?

Other states have the discretion whether or not to recognize a California MMIC.  Contact the state you plan on visiting to find out whether they will accept it.

Does California accept medical marijuana cards issued by another state?

California does not recognize other state's medical marijuana cards.

Can a minor obtain a medical marijuana card in California?

Minors may receive California MMICs as either patients or primary caregivers.  However, unless the minor has proof of emancipation, the county is required to contact the minor's parent or legal guardian, or the person with legal authority to make medical decisions for the minor.  This is to verify the information on the application/renewal form.

Minors will need either a valid government-issued photo identification or a certified copy of their birth certificate.

Does a California MMIC protect me under federal law?

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law.  The U.S. government does not recognize state-issued MMICs.  As a practical matter, however, federal government policy is to not prosecute individual patients who comply with state laws regarding medical marijuana.7

For more information on obtaining a medical marijuana card, visit the California Department of Health, Medical Marijuana Program.

If you or a loved one has been arrested for a crime involving marijuana:

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California Medical Marijuana Card attorney
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To discuss your case confidentially with one of our criminal defense attorneys, please don't hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group. Our California criminal law offices are located in and around Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

Additionally, our Las Vegas Nevada criminal defense attorneys represent clients accused of violating Nevada's marijuana laws. For more information, we invite you to contact our local attorneys at one of our Nevada law offices, located in Reno and Las Vegas.

Legal References:

1 The Compassionate Use Act of 1996 is codified in Health and Safety Code 11362.5 and subsequent sections.

2 California Health and Safety Code 11362.7 defines a “serious medical condition" as:

  1. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)
  2. Anorexia
  3. Arthritis
  4. Cachexia [wasting syndrome]
  5. Cancer
  6. Chronic pain
  7. Glaucoma
  8. Migraine
  9. Persistent muscle spasms, including, but not limited to, spasms associated with multiple sclerosis
  10. Seizures, including, but not limited to, seizures associated with epilepsy
  11. Severe nausea
  12. Any other chronic or persistent medical symptom that either: 
    1. Substantially limits the ability of the person to conduct one or more major life activities as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-336)
    2. If not alleviated, may cause serious harm to the patient's safety or physical or mental health.

3 Under California Health and Safety Code Sections 11357 and Section 11358, laws prohibiting the possession and cultivation of marijuana do not apply to a patient, or a patient's primary caregiver, who possesses or cultivates marijuana for the personal medical purposes of the patient upon the written or oral recommendation or approval of a physician. However these laws and do not exempt the patient or the primary caregiver from possessing marijuana for sales under Health & Safety Code 11359 or sale of marijuana under Health & Safety Code 11360.

4 California Health and Safety Code 11362.5(e) defines a “primary caregiver” as an individual designated by the patient, who consistently assumes responsibility for the patient's housing, health, or safety.

See also People v. Mentch (2008) 45 Cal.4th 274 (“[A] defendant asserting primary caregiver status must prove at a minimum that he or she (1) consistently provided caregiving, (2) independent of any assistance in taking medical marijuana, (3) at or before the time he or she assumed responsibility for assisting with medical marijuana.”).

5 California Health and Safety Code 11362.71(e). No person or designated primary caregiver in possession of a valid identification card shall be subject to arrest for possession, transportation, delivery, or cultivation of medical marijuana in an amount established pursuant to this article, unless there is reasonable cause to believe that the information contained in the card is false or falsified, the card has been obtained by means of fraud, or the person is otherwise in violation of the provisions of this article.

6 Contact the county for further information if the patient is unable to do so.

7 See the Deputy Attorney General's Memorandum for selected U.S. Attorneys regarding Investigations and Prosecutions in States Authorizing the Medical Use of Marijuana, October 19, 2009.


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