Friends, family and complete strangers often express to me their interest in the benefits of medical marijuana, but hesitate when I ask them if they have considered becoming a medical marijuana patient. Their hesitation often has to do with the doctor approval process, navigating the application or their fear of being placed on some government blacklist. All of which are totally understandable — between the paperwork, annual cost and legal gray area of federal prohibition versus state law, it’s easy to see how anyone could be intimidated by the process. So here is a simple guide to help those interested take the first steps toward obtaining a medical marijuana patient card.
Check with a doctor
If you have a good relationship with your primary care doctor or a specialist, they are probably aware of your health issues and previous treatments and may be more willing than you think to approve your use of medical marijuana. Still, it is important for patients, especially those with more serious health issues, to have an in-depth conversation with a doctor before embarking on their medical marijuana journey, as some delivery methods or medicated products may not be suitable for everyone.
Some people might not have the established patient/doctor relationship — or even the health insurance — necessary to consult with a primary care or specialist about their desire to try medical marijuana, or the doctor may not feel comfortable approving it based on their limited relationship with a young patient (versus an older patient who may have many years of documented health issues). If that is the case for you, you still have options. There are several practitioners in Rhode Island and Massachusetts who specialize in medical marijuana and are qualified to approve your use of cannabis following a consultation appointment. These services are offered by CannaCare Docs, True Herbal Consults and B&B Consulting.
Keep in mind that you must have one of the state-approved qualifying debilitating medical conditions in order to apply for a medical marijuana license; chronic pain is commonly cited and PTSD has been recently added to the list in RI (check out the full list on the Department of Health website at health.ri.gov).
If you use one of the aforementioned consulting services, you will be able to fill out the application in the office during your appointment, and the staff on site can answer questions. You will decide whether you would like to appoint an authorized buyer to visit the dispensaries on your behalf or choose a caregiver who will grow your medicine for you. You also have the option to grow your own medicine at home, but you will need to indicate your desire to do so on your application.
Send money, receive letter, obtain photo ID
Finally, send your application (including practitioner form) and $50 to the RI Department of Health, and you will receive a return letter instructing you to have your ID photo taken at the Department of Health building on Capitol Hill. The medical marijuana office is only open for photos from 1 – 3pm, but they will print out your card in minutes and you will officially be a Rhode Island medical marijuana patient.
Shop, grow, medicate!
Now, all you have to do is decide where to get your medicine. If you are growing your own or relying on a caregiver, the process is a little more complicated, but you can always just walk into one of our three medical dispensaries — GreenLeaf in Portsmouth, Summit in Warwick or The Slater Center in Providence — to purchase flower, concentrates, edibles and more.
It is important to remember that changes in laws and regulations could affect patients. As the state moves to add more dispensary licenses (or not), protect a patient’s right to home grow (or not) and eventually create an adult-use system that will operate alongside our medical program, it is everyone’s responsibility to pay attention and stand up for our fellow patients and caregivers.