Marijuana Cards Not All Created Equal

California medical marijuana ID cards have wildly inconsistent designs, and many lack basic information that some dispensaries need.

Anyone with a medical cannabis recommendation knows that referrals come either as cheap but inconvenient letter-size physician’s recommendations, or higher-priced, sleek little marijuana ID cards. The card generally costs $20-$30 more, because it fits right into your wallet. But that higher-priced card often misses information that some dispensaries require for admitting patients.

A Marijuana ID card might look nice, but it’s not a legally valid document — unless one applies for it through a county health department and it was officially issued by the California Department of Public Health. Outside of direct physician’s prescriptions, most people get their marijuana ID card from a “card shop” with onsite referring doctors.

These are not official state-issued cards, and their appearances and layouts are inconsistent statewide. Some mimic the appearance of a driver’s license, maybe with marijuana leaf icons in the background. Others resemble flashy casino rewards cards, and make no attempt to emulate the appearance of state-issued ID.

But more importantly, many cards do not show the recommending doctor’s signature. And without the ability to scan and keep a physician’s signature on file, some dispensaries will send you home to retrieve your embossed and signed letter of recommendation — the cheaper document that seemed less useful.

Marijuana dispensaries don’t all have the same rules for admission, and it’s important to note that when they sign someone up, they’re not just admitting them to the dispensary: They’re technically registering people as members of their co-op or collective, which so far has been how the state classifies dispensaries.

Many dispensaries will wave new clients in on a first visit, as long their card seems legit. Others will ask people to sit tight for 10 minutes while they confirm your card’s validity, to ensure it is not just a clever homemade “fake ID.” But several dispensaries, like the Green Cross on Mission Street, are real sticklers for regulatory compliance, and insist on keeping your doctor’s signature on file.

“We require a doctor’s signature,“ Green Cross founder Kevin Reed tells SF Weekly. “For compliance reasons, it is important for us to do our due diligence as an organization and ensure we are allowing valid new members to our collective. We have adopted this more stringent policy to better protect our organization and ensure compliance with the state Medical Board.”

New clients can, of course, call the dispensary ahead of time and check before visiting to see if they need the letter or signature. Some dispensaries will also accept a smartphone picture of the letter, because this does meet their record-keeping requirements.

But if you’re in the market for a medical marijuana ID card in the next five months — and there’s a good chance these cards will be rendered obsolete when recreational sales become legal on Jan. 1 — you might want to ask your marijuana doctor if their card comes with a signature.

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