A few things have changed since Phoenix New Times published its original “Four Easy Steps” article back in 2013, when the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act was but three years old. Most importantly: Any patient issued a new card after August 27 gets two years of cannabis privileges instead of one, so it's sort of like the card cost has dropped by half.
Bluntly speaking, any Arizonan who consumes cannabis frequently should obtain one of these get-out-of-jail free cards, and yes, almost everyone could qualify for one. For non-patients, marijuana remains a felony in Arizona, and the now-popular concentrated marijuana products are classified as a Class Four felony — the same as heroin and misconduct with weapons. You will likely be hauled off to jail if caught with marijuana and don’t have a card. So read up, and learn how to gain your cannabis rights.
1. Find out if you qualify in Arizona: You may only qualify for a medical marijuana card if you have one of the following conditions: HIV/AIDS; hepatitis C; cachexia; cancer; chronic pain; glaucoma; multiple sclerosis; post-traumatic stress disorder; seizures; epilepsy; severe nausea; ALS; Crohn’s disease; or Alzheimer’s disease. Nearly 90 percent of patients claim to have chronic pain, either on its own or in conjunction with one of the other qualifying ailments.
2. Find a medical marijuana evaluator: Even if you qualify, you still need a doctor’s recommendation. MMJ doctors, usually naturopaths, can be found online or in newspaper advertisements. The visit will set you back anywhere from $75 to $150. If you don’t already have medical records proving you have a qualifying ailment, the doctor may refer you to another doctor, who will officially provide a diagnosis for an additional fee. Menstrual cramps? Sore from an old injury? You’ll qualify along with HIV and cancer patients.
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3. Submit your application: You can review the Arizona Department of Health Services guidelines at azdhs.gov/medicalmarijuana. Almost no one submits their own applications nowadays: The doc’s office will take your photo and upload it with other documents to the DHS. You’ll also need to sign a form promising that you won’t abuse or sell your medication. It will cost you $150, but if you qualify for food assistance, you’ll pay $75. It's worth repeating: New cards cover two years now, not one.
4. Get your medicine: Just go to one of about 130 licensed dispensaries in Arizona. Patients can receive a list of the stores. You can buy up to 2.5 ounces of medical cannabis every two weeks, (although most dispensaries won’t sell you that much in concentrates), and possess up to 2.5 ounces without fear of prosecution. You can grow your own cannabis only if you live farther than 25 miles from the nearest dispensary. You cannot drive under the influence of marijuana, and you need to be extra careful that you don’t get a DUI even if you’re sober. Patients cannot smoke in public, and a 2019 court ruling affirmed that smoking in a car in a public parking lot is prohibited. Keep your medication away from children.
The state medical cannabis card does not erase existing marijuana laws. Instead, it provides an affirmative defense against prosecution, provided you followed all of the rules. Step out of line, and you’re in felony territory. But typically, police will leave a cannabis consumer alone once they see a valid card. (Yes, jail is possible even if you’re only one day past the expiration date.)
About 200,000 Arizona patients now enjoy the benefits of the program, which include not being thrown in jail and not being forced to enter an expensive drug-treatment program to avoid felony prosecution. You think the card’s too costly? Good luck with Officer Friendly when she finds you shrouded in pot smoke without one.