Medical Cannabis and the Reciprocity Question

Do you possess a valid driver’s license issued by your state? If so, you can legally drive on that license in any other state. States recognizing one another’s driver’s licenses is a legal concept known as reciprocity. Reciprocity is practiced in a variety of different ways. The million-dollar question for medical cannabis users is whether it applies to cannabis purchases and possession.

The simplest way to answer that question is with a clear ‘maybe’. A small number of states practice reciprocity. Most do not. But there is a wild card: legal recreational consumption alongside medical cannabis.

Why It Is Even a Question

The whole question of reciprocity exists because marijuana is still federally illegal. Even though states have taken steps to decriminalize cannabis, both medically and recreationally, there is nothing they can do to change federal law.

This matters because most states protect themselves by not allowing cannabis to be transported across state lines in any form. Take Utah. The highly conservative state allows medical cannabis. But patients from other states cannot carry cannabis medicines into Utah. They also cannot purchase in Utah and take their medical cannabis home.

Transporting cannabis across state lines is a federal crime. It is also enforceable by the DOJ under the constitution’s interstate commerce clause. States are taking their chances when they decriminalize cannabis. Practicing reciprocity only heightens their risks.

3 Possible Outcomes for Visitors

So, what are the possible outcomes for a medical cannabis user visiting another state? In the absence of breaking the law by carrying cannabis across state lines, there are really only three possibilities:

1. Full Reciprocity

A patient might get lucky and discover that the state he is visiting recognizes medical cannabis cards from other states. Such a scenario would be the best case a patient could hope for. Georgia offers limited reciprocity for certain low-dose THC products. Arkansas offers full reciprocity with the completion of a state form.

2. No Reciprocity

A second possibility is no reciprocity. With this possibility there are two additional options. The first is obtaining a medical cannabis visitor card. According to Salt Lake City’s Beehive Farmacy, Utah is one of the states that offers them. An out-of-state visitor could apply for up to two cards per year, with each one being valid for 21 days.

Without a visitor card, the only other possibility is that a visitor is out of luck. Visiting a state with no reciprocity and no visitor cards means a patient cannot legally buy and possess medical cannabis within that state’s borders.

3. Recreational Marijuana

The third possibility is visiting a state with legal recreational marijuana. Even without medical cannabis reciprocity, a patient of legal age could still visit a recreational dispensary to make purchases. The one downside is not having access to medical-grade products. But if it is a choice between recreational marijuana and nothing at all, the choice is actually pretty simple.

Federal Action Could Change Everything

The reciprocity question will continue being part of the medical cannabis landscape as long as there are conflicts between federal and state law. The only solution to the reciprocity issue is for Washington to fully legalize cannabis and not allow states to regulate it. That would be a hard sell.

Federal legalization would likely lead to a regulatory framework similar to what currently exists for alcohol. Such a framework would allow states to continue issuing medical cannabis cards and simultaneously offer universal reciprocity. Will it ever happen? I have my doubts. But anything is possible in a country that seems to be more accepting of cannabis with each passing year.

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