At present, marijuana is legal in up to 30 states plus Washington D.C. for either recreational or medicinal use. However, it is federally illegal, so in theory, the government could one day decide to arrest everyone in possession of weed in Colorado for example, even though it is legal within the state for recreational purposes.
At the time of writing, there are 21 states where cannabis is only legal for medicinal use, and you need a medical marijuana card (MMJ) if you wish to treat an ailment with weed. Since each state is allowed to develop its own rules, you won’t be surprised to learn that is much easier to get your MMJ card in some states than in others.
Although the majority of states have relaxed their cannabis laws with decriminalization the main act, there are still 20 states where possession of weed is completely illegal. In Alabama for example, first offense possession is a misdemeanor but further offenses are classified as felonies. In Idaho, possession of between three and sixteen ounces is a felony with a prison sentence of up to five years as the penalty!
Aside from states where it is clearly against the law to use weed for any purpose, several locations have legalized cannabis for medical use but make it extremely tough to qualify. In these states, you can expect to jump through a lot of hoops and complete enough paperwork to kill several trees. In this article, we look at the hardest and easiest state to gain your MMJ Card.
Toughest State – Louisiana
Although medical marijuana was legalized in 2015, there hasn’t been a great deal of enthusiasm thus far. Governor Bobby Jindal signed HB 149 which was supposed to set out the framework of how weed would be dispensed for medical patients. However, it took until May 2018 for the state government to provide licenses to nine dispensaries. Southern University and Louisiana State University are the only locations in the state where it is possible to grow medical weed.
Even now, the state’s Board of Medical Examiners is still trying to license physicians who are interested in recommending medical marijuana. There is little sign of the state’s doctors getting involved either. By the end of 2017, over two years after the announcement, only six physicians in Louisiana had signed up for the program! By May 2018, the number had barely increased, to 11, and only 15 physicians had even applied.
The limited number of access points means medical patients are finding it hard to purchase cannabis. There are also severe restrictions on the number of medical conditions that ensure an applicant is eligible for an MMJ card in the first place. Qualifying conditions include:
- Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Crohn’s Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Severe Muscle Spasms
The lack of participating physicians is guaranteed to cause a problem because each licensed doctor is only allowed to work with a maximum of 100 patients. At present, this means that a little over 1,000 Louisiana residents have a chance of getting an MMJ card. Also, doctors are not allowed to recommend marijuana as medicine for more than 90 days at a time. Patients must return to their physician to renew their recommendation. Obviously, patients can only receive approval from one of these licensed doctors.
The Department of Health in Louisiana has awarded licenses to just nine dispensaries. These dispensaries are spread out across nine regions in the state. For example, H & W Drug Store, LLC, serves Region 1 which includes St. Bernard, Orleans, Jefferson, and Plaquemines parishes. For a lot of MMJ cardholders, this means a long drive each time they want to purchase medical Mary Jane.
Even the patient possession limits are strict. Once you receive approval, you are only allowed a 30-day supply of ‘non-smokable preparations of marijuana.’ Although the state has increased the number of qualifying conditions, Louisiana still ranks as the worst legal state for MMJ cardholders.
Easiest State – New Mexico
Although Illinois’ program ranks higher, it forces applicants to pass a criminal background check. There are no such issues when looking for an MMJ card in New Mexico. You need to fill in the New Mexico Department of Health’s ‘Medical Cannabis Program’ form which is only four pages long and pretty easy to complete.
Medical cannabis has been legal since 2007, so the state has had plenty of time to implement a common-sense program. When Governor Bill Richardson signed the bill into law, he said: “This is for medicinal purpose, for… people that are suffering. My God, let’s be reasonable.”
New Mexico has steadily been increasing its number of dispensaries to meet demand as the program receives hundreds of patient applications each day. Even so, the state strives to approve each completed application from eligible patients within 30 days of receiving the form.
There is a lengthy list of qualifying conditions, over 20 at the last count including:
- Huntingdon’s Disease
- Cachexia/Wasting Syndrome
- Painful Peripheral Neuropathy
- Ulcerative Colitis
The state’s program is far from perfect. Criticisms include patient protection in areas including housing & employment and child custody. However, New Mexico’s program scored 90/100 in the Americans for Safe Access 2017 report for ‘Access to Medicine.’
Final Thoughts on Getting Your MMJ Card
Oklahoma is the most recent state to legalize medicinal cannabis, and its program is already regarded as one of the better ones. However, we believe that New Mexico is arguably the easiest state to qualify for your medical marijuana card.
Louisiana is on the other end of the spectrum. Unfortunately, very few state physicians seem interested in becoming licensed to approve MMJ cards. With so few physicians, a set limit on the number of patients each one can see, and few dispensaries for a state its size, Louisiana has an awful lot of work to do to improve its medical marijuana program.