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© 2017 MERRY JANE. All Rights Reserved.

Californians, You Should Probably Keep Your Medical Marijuana Cards in 2018

California's cannabis program remains up in the air less than two months before launch. The safest bet might be to remain a patient, even within a legal climate.

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Everyone’s anticipating the rollout of California's adult-use cannabis program in 2018, but medical marijuana patients may want to hold onto their recommendations just a little bit longer. Come January 1st, Californians likely still won't be able to ditch their medical cards and simply buy weed from a retailer.

Even in an adult-use market, having a medical marijuana recommendation will come with its own set of benefits, like reduced prices — adult-use weed is expected to cost 14 to 20 percent more than medical — and access to a greater number of dispensaries.. But that's not all: medical marijuana patients can purchase cannabis starting at age 18, rather than having to wait until they're 21. Moreover, having a medical recommendation on your person means you have the right to carry medical cannabis freely, without trouble from law enforcement. Otherwise, under Prop 64, you can only carry up to an ounce in public.

"With 482 municipalities in California and 58 counties, essentially all of them have to make the decision themselves whether they'll allow adult-use dispensaries, so if they don't allow for recreational licenses and someone in the county wants to get cannabis, they'll only be able to get it if they have a [medical] recommendation," explains Dr. Perry Solomon, chief medical officer at HelloMD.

What's more, he explains, medical patients can maintain relationships with their doctors in order to learn about the kind of cannabis they should take for their particular conditions. "You're essentially at the whim and knowledge of the budtender [in a dispensary], but if you're older, middle aged, or what not and you know nothing [about cannabis], you won't get much of an education. Is it worth $49 to get advice for your medical conditions, in privacy without people hanging around, in a HIPAA-compliant, medically oriented setting?"

Nonetheless, not every patient is keeping tabs on California's messy rollout of its adult-use market — and once their medical recommendations expire, they may not know better to renew them. Solomon suspects he eventually may lose business, but so far it’s holding steady.

"People are renewing [their recommendations] at regular rates and nothing I've seen compels me to tell them not to," says Los Angeles medical marijuana doctor Dean Weiss. "I think one way or another they'll save money."

In fact, the prices on adult-use cannabis are expected to be so exorbitantly high, due to heavy taxes, that even the black market is expected to see a boost.

"To just keep your [medical] rec is probably good advice," echoes Susan Soares, organizer behind The State of Cannabis. She says her own recommendation doesn't expire, and she suggests other medical marijuana patients ask their doctors to write the same clause on their own recommendations. Most people's medical cannabis recommendations expire after a year (for some, even less), but there's nothing written into California’s current medical law that mandates an expiration date, says Soares (however the Medical Board of California does advise doctors to follow a one-year limit). If your personal physician or another doctor who doesn't specialize in medical marijuana writes your recommendation, it might be worth a shot to ask them to have it not expire. But Soares also cautions that the question of renewing your recommendation, in and of itself, is premature.

With less than two months to go, the Golden State still has not released final regulations for its cannabis program, which will implement similar rules across both the adult-use and medical markets. There's a great deal of speculation and worry as to how they will play out, including one rumor that everyone will need to renew their medical marijuana recommendations come January 1st anyway. Like everyone else in the freshly legal cannabis industry, including business owners, manufacturers, and cultivators, so too will patients and everyday consumers have to wait and see how to move forward with adult-use pot in California.