Criminal Law

When Can a Person Legally Use Medical Marijuana?

Depending on the laws in your state, you may be able to legally use medical marijuana for the treatment of certain medical conditions. Although marijuana remains a controlled substance under federal law, individual states have created their own legislation to make it legal and regulate its use for medicinal purposes.

That being said, there are still ways to use medical marijuana in a criminal way if you fail to abide by the laws in your state. Understanding medical marijuana laws can help you better understand how to legally use it within your state as regulations continue to change.

Medically Qualifying Conditions

Every state defines which medical conditions a patient must have in order to qualify for the use of medical marijuana. Although these lists differ from state to state, there are a number of medical conditions that most states include, like:

  • Cachexia
  • Cancer
  • Crohn's disease
  • Chronic pain
  • Glaucoma
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Migraines
  • Muscle spasms
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Nerve or spinal cord damage
  • Seizures
  • Severe nausea

Residency and Registration Requirements

Although each state takes its own unique approach to medical marijuana, there are some similar basic requirements that apply to most patients. These requirements can be found in your state's laws and regulations. You can likely access them on a website for the state agency or department that administers the medical marijuana program.


Governments are wary of people who wish to become medical marijuana "tourists," or people who cross state lines for medical use of marijuana.

Most states require a patient to be a resident of the state or live within the state where they are trying to use this treatment. Sometimes this requires showing proof of residency, like a driver's license, lease, health insurance card, or utility bill to prove you are a resident of that state.

Medical Documentation

Just like when you go to the pharmacy for medicine, most states require a patient to receive a prescription for medical marijuana from a doctor, other prescriber, or even a naturopathic practitioner. Other states require patients to receive a written statement, certification, or sometimes even verbal authorization from a prescriber when prescribing marijuana for medical use.

Additionally, a physician may be responsible for submitting paperwork or completing a form for a patient to receive a state-issued medical marijuana card allowing them to purchase from a marijuana dispensary.

Registering With the State

Depending on your state medical marijuana laws, you may have to register with the state department or agency that has oversight of the state's medical marijuana program. Since this is protected health information (PHI), this state maintains this information in a protected registry to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Medical Marijuana Card

Some states require users to have a medical marijuana card to purchase from a medicinal marijuana dispensary. Oftentimes, these cards have expiration dates, and you will be required to renew yours if you wish to legally consume medical marijuana. These cards also serve as a way to prove to law enforcement that you are lawfully using or possessing marijuana if they question you.

This also may be important if your state imposes different limitations on the amount of medical marijuana you can purchase versus recreational marijuana. Some dispensaries only serve medical patients and may require you to show your ID before going into the facility or making a purchase.

Limitations on Medical Marijuana Use

Although its medicinal use may be allowed under certain circumstances, using marijuana outside of the requirements in your state may be criminal. This means even if you are properly diagnosed and registered, breaking the law may still be possible, and you could find yourself facing criminal charges.

Patient Possession Limits

Knowing the amount of medical marijuana you may possess at one time in your state is important. Most states set a specific limit in the form of ounces. Others limit the amount of marijuana one patient may have based on the number of days worth of supply.

The form of medical marijuana is also controlled by state law. State statutes issues limitations for the amount you can possess in dried flower, oil, pill, or edible form. There are a few states that prohibit patients from personally growing or owning any plants, while others set limits on plant growth in general, as well as where growing may take place.

Out-of-State Patients

It's important to remember what may be legal in your home state may not be true for your neighboring state. Generally speaking, it is a crime to bring marijuana across state lines since it is still a controlled substance under federal law. Most states do not recognize non-resident medical marijuana cards or allow out-of-state visitors to purchase medical marijuana. However, a few states allow out-of-state medical marijuana users to purchase marijuana in a recreational capacity instead.