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What is the prognosis for medical marijuana?

What happens to medical marijuana, those ID cards and our pot doctor’s medical records when weed becomes legal? SF Evergreen investigates the subject.

Maybe you don’t want to throw giving away your medical marijuana card even when marijuana becomes legal to buy for anyone over the age of 21. That medical marijuana ID card still has some value even when licensed dispensaries in San Francisco start selling non-medical, recreational cannabis to every adult in the entire city on January 5, 2018.

“Medical marijuana” will continue to exist as a legal concept, and “patients” will be treated differently than random stoners going to the pharmacy for some Grandaddy Purp. Patients with a card are still legally classified as purchasers of medicines. They are taxed less, can buy more products and can still get free samples, such as the popular “Free joint on your first visit” deal not available to recreational customers.

These rules have all been drawn up by the California Bureau of Cannabis Control in an insanely bureaucratic, 264-page set of regulations co-authored by the Department of Food and Agriculture and the Department of Health. These complex new rules have even the most reputable pharmacies and their sharpest attorneys scrambling to understand the law’s most confusing details.

“The rules are clunky, expensive and cumbersome,” says Debby Goldsberry, executive director of the Magnolia pharmacy. “The ban is far from over and proponents need to stay focused on creating workable regulations.”

Fortunately, these rules are a lot simpler for us everyday cannabis consumers. The new laws classify marijuana buyers into two categories: recreational and medicinal. But there is still some confusion about what a drug buyer is, and your card may not give you all the drug buyer benefits.

All San Francisco pharmacies should be recreational friendly, thanks to a November 28 Board of Trustees decision to take over existing medicinal cannabis pharmacies for recreational sale. But pharmacies still need state-level permits, and not all of them will have them by January 5.

Recreational or “adult” buyers can only buy one ounce of cannabis per day in a given location. Medical buyers can buy up to eight ounces. I personally can’t imagine smoking an entire ounce in a day, let alone eight. But it’s nice to have that option!

Medical cannabis customers can also purchase much more potent tinctures, own larger quantities of concentrates, and pay less tax on their purchases than adult-use customers.

But the regulations are insanely vague about what “medicinal cannabis customers” are. There are actually two types of doctor’s recommendations: the card you may have obtained from a retail medical marijuana clinic or through a Skype session, and an official state-issued card obtained through your county’s health department. .

The state-issued card costs $100 and exempts you from paying sales tax of almost 10 percent. (You still have to pay 15 percent excise tax on your weed.) Adult buyers pay both taxes each time, a combined total that’s close to a 25 percent surcharge on their marijuana purchases.

But with a regular medical marijuana card, you won’t get all the benefits of the card issued by the Department of Health. A regular card will take you to a licensed medical marijuana dispensary, but you may not get the full range of medical benefits like tax cuts, free samples, or the eight-ounce shopping spree.

One thing is certain: Medical marijuana doctors will keep their stores open and they will continue to issue those cards. SF Evergreen spoke to several stores in San Francisco that issue medical marijuana cards, and they all insist that they remain open after Jan. 5.

And your medical records kept with those doctors are still private and safe, even if the stores eventually go out of business. All medical records, even your medical pot recommendation, are protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

HIPAA requires all medical records to be protected and kept confidential. These protections still apply even if the doctor or company goes bankrupt. And doctors have a pretty compelling case for making sure those records remain private, as they risk being fined as much as $50,000 each time they leave a single medical record unprotected.

All of these new California marijuana laws are considered “emergency regulations,” and they were enacted so that pharmacies could be ready by the January 1, 2018 deadline imposed by Prop 64. Your pharmacy’s license is only valid for 120 days, after which point that it should be re-applied under a revised set of rules and regulations.

In other words, once everyone figures out how to implement the new marijuana laws, the laws will all change again.

For a complete list of which San Francisco dispensaries will be licensed on Jan. 5 to sell adult marijuana to anyone over the age of 21, check out sfweekly.com.

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