Wild Cards

Are our old medical-marijuana ID cards useless now that anyone can buy legal marijuana? SF Evergreen investigates the new doctor’s orders.

As the clock ticked down to the Jan. 1, 2018 legalization of adult-use marijuana, SF Evergreen called all 30 dispensaries in San Francisco to ask if our California medical-marijuana ID cards would still be honored. We basically got  30 different, completely conflicting answers.

The California Bureau of Cannabis Control’s 264 pages of marijuana rules that went into effect on the first of the year were so badly written, even law-abiding dispensaries with teams of high-powered lawyers had no idea how to handle patients who came in with medical-marijuana cards.

Would they still be honored? Would cardholders be able to buy the more potent, high-THC products that are not available to recreational buyers? Do medical patients still have to pay the nearly 25 percent in sales tax charged to adult-use buyers? Marijuana dispensaries didn’t know, and overwhelmed state bureaucrats didn’t have the answers. 

The dust has now settled, the rules have been clarified, and we now know for sure whether your old medical-marijuana ID card is still useful for any discounts or special treatment. It is! But it also depends on what kind of medical marijuana ID card you have. 

Most of us have the type of card we acquired from a retail office or via a Skype session in which a physician did a short evaluation and charged $60 to $70. You’ll see a few advertisements for this kind of physician’s recommendation in this very issue of SF Evergreen. And these cards still entitle you to numerous goodies and privileges that recreational buyers do not get.

Card holders are still eligible for promotions like the popular “free joint on your first visit” deal or other sample handouts that, by law, recreational customers cannot get. Medical-marijuana card carriers can also purchase up to eight ounces of flower daily, whereas regular adult-use buyers can buy only an ounce a day.

Cardholders can also buy edibles containing more than 100 milligrams of THC, and far more potent tinctures and concentrates that cannot be sold to people who do not have medical-marijuana cards.

Yes, your dispensary may have told you otherwise during the first week or two of January. You might have showed up with a valid card and were still denied these high-potency products. That’s because some dispensaries were being overly cautious about the new  rules, as they didn’t want to get cited or fined.

These rules have now been clarified, and cannabis retailers better understand the legal expectations. But this clarification also comes with one big setback for cardholders.

Your standard medical-marijuana card won’t get you out of paying sales tax on cannabis anymore. Just as with recreational buyers, most medical-marijuana patients now have to pay the 8.75-percent sales tax. That’s on top of the new 15-percent excise tax you’re also paying in San Francisco, for a hefty total of nearly 25 percent.

There is one way out of paying the sales tax, and it requires having the other kind of medical-marijuana card: a state-issued card, considered the gold standard of medical-marijuana evaluations. These are issued by your county’s Department of Public Health, they cost $100, and they require a legitimate recommendation from your personal physician — not some “pot doc” you just chatted with on the internet.

Your doctor will have to diagnose you with a serious medical condition to merit that recommendation. Garden-variety complaints like anxiety, insomnia, or snoring are unlikely to do the trick. But that rigorous physician’s recommendation, and $100 to the health department, will get you a card that excuses you from paying sales tax on your medicine.

Confused? It gets worse. These rules are all temporary “emergency measures,” and a whole new different set of rules will go into effect on April 1. Until then, medical marijuana patients will have to wait to see what’s in the cards.