For many people who suffer from a debilitating illness or who are in chronic pain, medical marijuana has proven to be an effective remedy. Researchers estimate that over 5.5 million Americans are currently using medical marijuana for a variety of conditions, including MS, HIV or AIDS, cancer, chronic pain, IBS, and glaucoma.

It’s a shame this relatively harmless drug that can have such life-improving benefits was illegal, and therefore more expensive and risky to get a hold of, for so long. And now that its medical — not to mention recreational — use is becoming more broadly accepted, it should force us to reckon with the consequences of empowering the government to make other drugs and substances illegal.

But let’s start with marijuana, specifically in the bellwether state of Pennsylvania. Because it represents such a cross section of the country — big cities, and rural areas; part East Coast, part Midwest; the natural beauty of forests and rivers, and the philosophical beauty of the Liberty Bell — laws around medical marijuana there might foreshadow what happens in other states. If you’re thinking about trying medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, here are some tips for the present. And if you’re thinking about trying medical marijuana elsewhere, let this serve as a guide to prepare for what to do in the future.

What are medical marijuana laws in PA?

It is important to understand the rules governing the use of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania before you visit a dispensary. First, you will need to apply for a medical marijuana card. Medical marijuana became legal in Pennsylvania in 2018, after millions of lives were destroyed and countless dollars wasted because it was illegal. The first marijuana dispensaries opened that same year. 

After you are officially certified, you must register for a medical marijuana ID card. Pennsylvania has an online registry where you can register. The medical marijuana ID card costs $50, but you might qualify for a discount if you receive government assistance such as Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, or WIC. You will have to renew your medical marijuana card each year, and the state will remind you at least 30 days in advance before your card expires.

Only once your medical marijuana ID card arrives can you shop at a dispensary. There are dozens of marijuana dispensaries scattered throughout the state. You can possess up to a 90-day supply, according to the prescription your doctor has given you. In Pennsylvania, recreational use of cannabis is prohibited. As a medical marijuana patient, you can use cannabis flowers, creams, liquids or gels, oils, tinctures or ointments, or pills.

To do’s when buying medical marijuana in Pennsylvania

Do know the Pennsylvania possession limits

Remember, in Pennsylvania, you are limited to possession for medical use only, and you can have a 90-day supply on hand for your medical needs. You can be charged with unlawful possession if you have more than that amount. You can’t legally have or use cannabis for recreational purposes in Pennsylvania.

Do check regularly to see if you meet the requirements for MMJ

Pennsylvania allows people with specific medical conditions to have medical marijuana, as long as you have a medical marijuana card. The conditions are: ALS, some psychological conditions such as anxiety and PTSD; cancer, bowel diseases such as IBS and Crohn’s disease; brain and spinal cord issues such as Tourette’s syndrome, epilepsy, MS, neuropathy, Huntington’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease; chronic illness or pain, and terminal illnesses.

If you are cured of one of these diseases, you no longer qualify for the use of medical marijuana. One reason Pennsylvania wants you to renew your medical marijuana license is to ensure that you still qualify for medical marijuana use.

Do understand the difference between medical and recreational use

Pennsylvania distinguishes between the medical use of cannabis and the recreational use of cannabis. If you have a medical marijuana card issued by the state, you are allowed to possess cannabis for medical use. The state prohibits recreational use.

What not to do when buying medical marijuana in PA

Don’t use it without understanding PA laws

Pennsylvania has specific instructions regarding medical marijuana use. You cannot smoke cannabis in Pennsylvania, period. Instead, the state allows you to use cannabis in the following ways: cannabis flowers, creams, liquids or gels, oils, tinctures or ointments, or pills. While some states allow medical marijuana patients to vape, it is not allowed in Pennsylvania.

Don’t lose your MMJ certification

You need to be sure that your medical marijuana card and certification are stored in a safe place. If you lose it, you will have to pay an additional $50 and recertify with a doctor. If you are asked by law enforcement, you have to be able to produce your card.

Don’t assume that all MMJ dispensaries are the same

Some dispensaries are… let’s just say less law-abiding than others. Just because a place advertises itself as a dispensary doesn’t mean it’s cleared all the legal hurdles and is safe to buy from. So it’s important to choose a dispensary from the list of approved dispensaries.

For patients who qualify, medical marijuana is a life-giving medication. To be clear, no governor, congress, or bureaucratic agency is suited to determine who should qualify. Only individuals are thus suited, and so marijuana’s use should be the prerogative of individuals, and individuals only. 

Nevertheless, until such time that governments give up the power, or people take back the power to decide what goes into individual bodies, abide by these do’s and don’ts for Pennsylvania. And if you live in another state, be ready for similar, and let’s be honest, arbitrary restrictions even after medical marijuana becomes legal.

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This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.