Read my version in the San Francisco Chronicle’s GreenState. 

Will exemption from the largest levies in the legalized world and a half-pound stash allowance popularize obscure government IDs?


Want to avoid paying sky-high taxes on California cannabis?

Got a qualifying condition to use the botanical herb medicinally?

Need to carry a half pound of pot?

Get a California Medical Marijuana Identification Card.

California’s historic cannabis taxes, announced last week with other final regulations governing cannabis from cultivation to sales, increase the currency of an obscure, voluntary government program that could save you bongloads of money and provide you legal protection to possess eight times the recreational limit.  

Come January and the start of California’s merged medical and adult-use markets, medical cannabis consumers can still use printed-on-paper recommendations and made-in-office plastic authorization cards from doctors to shop at dispensaries. Like other adults, medical cannabis consumers can shop at recreational pot stores when they open.

But you’ll need a county-issued issued card linked to a state database if you want to partake of the perks available only to official card-carrying medical cannabis consumers:

Exemption from paying the largest state levies in the legalized world and the legal protection to possess up to 8 ounces of pot, 7 ounces more than recreational users are allowed to carry.

Starting Jan. 1 (or more likely Jan. 2 given dispensaries’ holiday closures, and even later for most recreational shops given local lawmakers’ plodding pace), levies on cannabis will include a state excise tax (15 percent); a state cultivation tax ($9.25 per ounce of cannabis flowers, $2.75 per ounce of leaves); and state and local sales tax (ranging from 7.25 percent to 10.25 percent depending on city and county rates).

But flash your California Medical Marijuana Identification Card and you’ll pay no state taxes — saving $31.50 off the upcoming out-the-door price of a $100 budget ounce of flowers .

Cards cost $100 annually ($50 for low-income recipients of state Medi-Cal health care and free for indigent recipients of county health care) and can pay for themselves in a few purchases depending on your cannabis needs, even when you add in the annual cost of the required doctor’s recommendation.

In addition to getting you in dispensary doors and saving you money on taxes, a Medical Marijuana Identification Card gives you legal cover if police wonder why you’re carrying more than 1 ounce of pot (the recreational limit vs. the 8 ounces California law allows medical cannabis users). Want to smoke a joint on the steps of the state Capitol or anywhere else it’s legal to smoke cigarettes, and, therefore, medical pot per California law? Your California Medical Marijuana Identification Card is your passport.

Authorized by SB 420 in 2004, the Medical Marijuana Identification Cards program was administered by the California Department of Public Health until earlier this year, when Gov. Jerry Brown terminated the state’s role in a trailer bill that streamlined cannabis regulations. The state now only maintains a database for point-of-sale and law enforcement verification.

County health departments process applications and collect fees. Brown’s trailer bill capped fees at $100. Fees previously varied by counties — eg: $70 in Del Norte, $120 in San Francisco, $153 in Los Angeles, $230 in Ventura, $279 in Mariposa.

Until now, the price of the ID cards and privacy fears — many people do not seek medical cannabis recommendations from doctors because they do not want their cannabis use noted in any records for employment or personal reasons — are why you may not have heard about California Medical Marijuana Identification Cards.

The Marijuana Policy Project estimates there are 758,000 medical cannabis consumers in California, or 19.4 percent of the state’s 39 million population. As the governor’s office noted, only 2 in 10 Californians eligible for Medical Marijuana Identification Cards apply for one. According to California Department of Public Health stats, 6,051 Medical Marijuana Identification Cards were issued in fiscal year 2016-2017, down from 6,667 the previous year and well below 12,659 in 2009-2010, the 14-year-old program’s peak year.

Will exemption from the largest cannabis levies in the legalized world and a half-pound stash allowance spark a rush on these obscure government IDs?

Interested in acquiring your California Medical Marijuana Identification Card now? It can take up to 35 days to receive your card. Get an appointment at your county health department and apply for yours by Nov. 27 if you want to start saving on the first day of highly-taxed pot sales of the new year and the new era.

How to Get California Medical Marijuana Identification Cards

Find your county health office: Click here for a list of health department offices in California’s 58 counties.

Make an in-person appointment: Call and make an appointment. No walk-ins will be accommodated. No streaming video sessions offered. You can’t fill out a form online. Office hours vary by county. Some offer all-day service throughout the business week but many have odd service hours. In San Francisco, for example, appointments are available 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Ask: Some counties may charge additional fees above the $100 limit. Inquire about any additional fees when making your appointment.

What to bring: Current doctor’s recommendation authorizing medical cannabis use. Valid government-issued identification. Proof of residence. Proof of Medi-Cal or county health assistance, if necessary. Cash. No credit cards, debit cards or checks accepted.

Smile: Your photo will will be taken for your card.

Rest assured: Your application materials will be returned to you. County health departments keep no identifying information and only your photo and card expiration are transmitted to the state.

Wait: Your card will be mailed to your home address. Processing time can take up to 35 days once the application is accepted.

How to renew: Return in a year and repeat all the steps.

Know this: As Santa Cruz County notes on its health portal, each state and local law enforcement agency can chose whether to recognize California Medical Marijuana Identification Cards.

Sample Card

Here’s what appears on Medical Marijuana identification Cards:

  • Cardholder photo.
  • A unique user identification number issued by California Department of Public Health.
  • Expiration date (one year from issuance).
  • Name and telephone number of the county health department that approved your application.
  • An Internet address that give dispensaries, retail stores and law enforcement immediate access to verify your card’s validity.