California Marijuana Employees Must Have a Doctor’s Cannabis Card to Work

Although pharmacy employees do not need to take Adderall to legally dispense prescription stimulants, all employees at medical marijuana dispensaries have to be medical marijuana patients to work in the industry. For many in the medical marijuana industry, this requirement is not only outdated, but absurd.  The California marijuana laws does require cannabis workers to have a cannabis card according the tenants in California medical marijuana.

Legal experts often refer to this requirement as nothing more than a remnant of the medical cannabis laws that were originally meant to offer protection from federal law, which still forbids the distribution and use of marijuana. Criminal defense attorneys are quick to point out that anyone working in a medical cannabis club without a qualifying California medical marijuana card could land themselves in serious trouble.



According to the executive director of an Oakland cannabis club dispensary, this makes it impossible to hire the best person for the job. By requiring that all employees use medical marijuana themselves it severely limits the dispensary’s ability to be professional and provide their patients with the highest quality care.

Proposition 215

Originally passed by voters in 1996 by California voters, Proposition 215 (also referred to as the Compassionate Use Act) established “patient collectives”, or nonprofit groups who were allowed to bypass the federal ban on the cultivation and use of marijuana by limiting the distribution and consumption to fellow patients and/ or their caregivers. In order to qualify as a member of a collective, a person had to have a doctor’s recommendation. (According to medical marijuana regulations, a physician may not prescribe it, but he/ she can “recommend” it.

Cannabis Clubs Become Sophisticated Retail Operations

Through the years, the medical marijuana industry in California has expanded from homegrown clubs to sophisticated retail operations, such as Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, which is considered to be one of the largest medical cannabis dispensaries in the world. While the “face” of the industry has changed, the nonprofit setting and patient requirement has remained the same.

In the fall of 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a collection of bills that will regulate every part of the industry, from shipping and quality control to taxation and licensing. Under the new law, businesses are no longer required to be nonprofit collectives. In November, the state is expected to include recreational marijuana use by adults on the ballot. If it passes, users will no longer be required to have a doctor’s note.

Unfortunately, we still don’t know how quickly these changes will take place. The regulations do not actually go into effect until 2018 and federal law still considers marijuana an illegal substance.

This is why lawyers say it is so important for anyone in the industry to have a medical marijuana card. For example, if you were to get pulled over while delivering medical cannabis or get caught in a federal raid at a dispensary, this card would be the first thing you want to show officers. Without it, you are not instantly afforded the benefit of an affirmative defense, which is essentially an excuse for violating the law.

More than 20 states have followed suit since California led the way for medical marijuana use by passing similar laws. In Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, the substance is also legal for recreational use.

Interestingly other states do not usually require employees to also be patients. According to a Seattle area lawyer, the rule actually undermines the herb’s medicinal claims. After all, it you are in good health and able-bodied, it is impossible to say you are using marijuana legally used as a medication. However, you technically have to be using medicinal cannabis (or at least have a card) to work at a dispensary.

It’s Confusing

There are plenty of hoops to jump through. For example, Candace Wiggins is a receptionist at an Oakland office that offers consulting advice on opening a cannabis business doesn’t need a medical marijuana card. However, she also works as an office manager at StashTwist, a Berkeley delivery service, According to the law, she is required to have a medical marijuana card to work at StashTwist.

It is worth noting that a number of people in the industry have reportedly gotten their medical marijuana card not because they need it, but because they want to work in this industry.



It’s a Catch-22

Wiggins, who has a history of depression, has pointed out that since she began using medical marijuana (in order to work in the industry), she has been able to completely wean herself off all antidepressants. In fact, she admits that she was actually shocked by how much medical marijuana had helped her, a fact she would not have known if the law did not require her to get a card. She also admits that she would be somewhat hesitant to take advice on the subject from cannabis club workers who did not actually use the products themselves.  Some of the budtenders use cannabis cards for anxiety, back pain, ADD/ADHD, and potentially even HIV & cancer.

The Nursing Aspect

Magnolia Wellness, an Oakland-area dispensary, noted that it can be hard to find registered nurses because of the requirement. In fact, the dispensary can’t even interview a potential job candidate in person at the dispensary who doesn’t have a patient card. Fortunately, the dispensary was able to find a RN who also had a patient card.

Marijuana Cards are Easy to Get

According to Michael Ray, director of Blood Farms and a board member of the California Cannabis Industry Association, it is actually quite easy to get a prescription card. He is quick to point out that there are plenty of legal substances that don’t require a doctor’s recommendation that kill millions of people every year.

When asked, Amanda Reiman, manager of marijuana law and policy at the Drug Policy Alliance in Berkeley, there are plenty of people who use cannabis for serious health problems, such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, the large majority use it for “therapeutic” reasons as opposed to actual medicinal purposes.  For patients in the Golden State, you can a California medical marijuana doctor in your citiy.

Making Do

Currently, it is not clear how long it will take to transition to the new regulatory laws. Until that time, the California industry will simply have to make do in the meantime while following the old rules.

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