Since 2015, when Prime Minister Trudeau committed Canada to full legalization of marijuana, the number of registered users of medical cannabis products soared from an estimated 24,000 to more than 330,000. And, for a nation of committed cannabis users (according to Statista—an international marketing research firm—41 per cent of Canadian adults confirm having used marijuana at some point in their lives), that appears to be just the beginning.
In the United States, the approach to legalization is more ambivalent. Though the federal government prohibits the use of cannabis in any form (recreational or medical), 30 states and D.C. have so far legalized its use to some extent (26 allowing limited use medicinally, nine allowing both recreational and medicinal use). But those numbers change from month to month as the trend toward outright legalization creeps along.
What does this mean for Canadians, particularly snowbirds, who rely on marijuana products and derivatives for controlling pain or other physical or mental symptoms, but who also spend extended periods in the US?
Let’s look at some key states where Canadians traditionally congregate in significant numbers at any one time.
In Florida, access to marijuana for medical purposes is tightly controlled and requires a Medical Marijuana Use Registry (MMUR) identification card issued by the state health department. Though there are numerous dispensaries with large inventories of cannabis-derived oils, tinctures, vape pens, and other delivery devices available to MMUR card holders, they are available only to Florida residents. In a late development, Florida governor Ron DeSantis just announced that a restriction on the smoking of medical marijuana will very soon be lifted so “lighting up” can be added to the list of therapies. (For more information, see Florida’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use.)
However, there is a provision allowing “seasonal residents” who spend at least 31 days in the state and return home to their own jurisdiction for the remainder of the year to access the registry. And according to a spokesperson for one of the major marijuana referral clinics in the state, Canadians simply need to provide proof of their Florida residency such as a lease document, local telephone or utility bill, or banking statement to meet that qualification. The state health department confirms those requirements.
To get the Florida MMUR card, you need to be assessed by a medical marijuana doctor certified in the state (a Canadian authorization won’t do) who explains the specific diagnoses for which marijuana products might be dispensed and recommends a range of product types and dosages that are most appropriate to your medical needs. The assessment is valid for 210 days and costs in the range of $250 US. The assessment is forwarded to the MMUR, which issues a permit (a driver’s license type document, valid for one year, at the cost of $75 US) which you can use to shop for medications that fall within the assessed range at any of the dispensaries across the state.
In Arizona, another high-density area for Canadian visitors and snowbirds, visitors with medical marijuana authorizations or cards from other jurisdictions can legally possess and use medical marijuana products but they can’t purchase any of from state-licensed dispensaries: only residents with state-issued cards can do so. Consequently, “sharing” with state cardholders is common and not frowned upon. (Find out more about the Arizona Medical Marijuana Card here.)
Obtaining a medical marijuana license in Arizona is possible for visitors spending at least 30 days in the state, but it requires an assessment by a local medical marijuana certified doctor and an application for a state license. Total costs are $300 US and the card is renewable each year for the same price (find out more).
One stark difference between Florida’s regulations and Arizona’s is that the latter’s allow only dried-leaf or smoke products—they prohibit extracts of marijuana such as the CBD oils, patches, and vapor devices, while those are the only products Florida permits.
And then there is California, which has legalized not only medical marijuana but recreational use and is possibly the easiest state (along with Nevada) in which to buy marijuana over the counter or medicinally. Despite the ease of getting cannabis products in California over the counter, some contend that there are advantages to having medical marijuana cards as they allow access to greater varieties of products, potencies, and tax-free prices, etc. MMJ cards are normally thought of as available only to California residents, but regulations on the distribution of cannabis are largely determined by counties, and proof of residency appears to be satisfied by a utility bill, bank statement, lease or similar document in many localities. So you still need to check the rules at your local county level.
Clear as mud? Confused? Get used to it until the US federal government relents and drops cannabis’ classification as a Schedule 1 controlled substance—which appears will happen sooner rather than later, as states continue to march to their own drum.
Until then, refrain from carrying any cannabis products across state lines (even between states that have legalized them) or through US airports (federal property), and don’t assume your Canadian medical authorization has validity in any state (it may, but don’t assume automatically it does). And pay attention to local laws—they can be contradictory, and troublesome if crossed.
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