Criminal Law

How Does a Person Become an Authorized Medical Marijuana Provider?

The rules for becoming an authorized medical marijuana provider vary by state. Some allow for the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries, clubs, cooperatives, or clinics, which provide marijuana to approved patients. However, some states greatly limit who is allowed to provide medical marijuana.

The state rules for dispensaries even change from county to county and city to city. Some localities have outright bans on the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries, even when it is legal under state law. It can be challenging to discover how to get a license to become an authorized medical marijuana provider.

Additionally, weed is still illegal under federal law, so it is important to get accurate and up-to-date legal counsel before becoming an authorized provider. State laws and regulations can be tricky to navigate. Doing the wrong thing can even lead to criminal drug charges.

Medical Marijuana Provider Terms

There are a lot of individual terms and participants in medical marijuana programs. This includes:

  • Patients
  • Growers
  • Property owners
  • Processors
  • Dispensaries
  • Health care practitioners
  • Medical marijuana caregivers

Depending on the state, these individuals may each have a role in possessing or providing marijuana for medical use. Patients may have a qualifying medical condition and a recommendation from a physician or health care provider to get a medical marijuana ID card. With an ID card, the patient with a qualifying condition can use, purchase, and possess medical marijuana.

Different states have different laws on qualifying conditions for their medical marijuana program. There may also be restrictions on the levels of THC and CBD in marijuana products. Once the patient qualifies, they may be able to get marijuana directly from their doctor, from a dispensary, from a qualifying caregiver, or by growing pot themselves.

Opening a Medical Pot Dispensary

Each state differs in regulating medical marijuana dispensaries. Dispensaries may be not-for-profit, collectives, co-ops, or for-profit businesses. The application process for certification can be complex and take a long time. States limit the number of dispensaries that can open, which may mean no new dispensaries can open until others close. Some of the restrictions and requirements may include:

  • Minimum distance from a school
  • Minimum distance from another dispensary
  • Zoning restrictions for where to establish commercial property
  • City or county prohibitions on dispensaries
  • High application fees
  • Lab testing requirements
  • Criminal background checks
  • Cannabis tracking system fees
  • Reporting requirements
  • Destruction and disposal requirements

Many states now also allow recreational pot. Some dispensaries only provide for medical patients, and others may be eligible to sell for recreational use or medicinal use. Businesses that sell for recreation and medicine may have to operate under different regulations than a strictly medical dispensary.

Caregiver Requirements

In some states, a caregiver can also buy and possess medical marijuana to provide to patients. For example, in California, the primary caregiver is the person who "has consistently assumed responsibility" for a medical marijuana patient, who has a qualifying condition or medical conditions permitting use of marijuana.

Patients may be able to designate up to two or three caregivers. Caregivers are protected from criminal prosecution for possession of medical marijuana. The primary caregiver still may need to have a card to buy, possess, and grow medical marijuana for treatment as it relates to the patient's medical condition.

Unauthorized Medical Marijuana Providers

If someone does not take the application steps to become an authorized provider and is found in possession of or distributing marijuana, they may face criminal penalties. Delivery of a small amount of marijuana may be an infraction or a misdemeanor. However, the sale, possession, or cultivation of larger amounts of pot may be a felony crime. There may be greater penalties for selling to a minor, dealing near a school, or having prior drug convictions.

Legal Advice for Providing Medical Cannabis

Medical cannabis laws can be confusing, and they are constantly evolving. California legalized cannabis for medical use back in 1996, but some states are still figuring out how to implement new medical marijuana programs. Because of the changing nature of these laws, it is important to get information from an experienced lawyer who is familiar with the state and local regulations.

Making a mistake in becoming a provider can lead to criminal and civil charges. These can include the closing of a business, causing serious financial harm.

There are several legal defenses available to criminal drug charges that can help you avoid a criminal record. If you have been accused of violating state drug laws involving medical cannabis, contact a criminal defense lawyer for advice.