Article written by
Tina MagrabiSenior Content Writer
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
The laws around medical cannabis use can be confusing, but it’s important you know your rights as a card holder. There are ways for a registered medical marijuana patient to get arrested for possessing cannabis bought from a licensed dispensary in a state where medical marijuana is legal.
Usually, a medical marijuana cardholder falls foul of the marijuana police by exceeding possession limits or consuming cannabis in some manner or place prohibited by law, such as shared with friends in a moving vehicle.
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Can I Get Arrested and Charged if I Don’t Have My Medical Card or Certificate?
Yes, you can be arrested if you are found in possession of marijuana without your card, in states where recreational cannabis use is not legal. Even if you are carrying legitimate, medical products, beneath the state possession limit, without your card (or certificate), you cannot prove that you can legally carry marijuana.
Explaining the absence of a medical marijuana card while carrying medical cannabis products to a busy cop can be an awkward encounter at best and potentially worse. This is why states which don’t have a card system can be difficult to navigate and if your state does offer cards, we recommend you keep it with you at all times.
The South Florida Sentinel warns Floridians: “If stopped with a cannabis product in their car, medical marijuana patients must be able to produce a valid medical marijuana card. Refusing to show the card to police is a violation of the law —a second-degree misdemeanor.”
If charged with a violation, conviction can be avoided by producing a valid Florida medical marijuana registry card at a court appearance and this goes for many other states too. However, you still have to deal with the fact that you’ve been stopped by the police and charged, even if these charges are dropped.
The Clark Law Offices of Okemos, Michigan, inform potential medical marijuana clients that, “It would seem obvious that if you have a medical marijuana card somewhere, even if it is not on you, that the police should not be able to arrest you if they found legal amounts of medical marijuana on your person.”
“However,” the Clark Law Offices go on, “in 2011 The Michigan Court of Appeals, in The State of Michigan v. Nicholson ruled that if you do not possess your card at the time of arrest then you can be arrested. It also ruled that if you do not possess your card at the time of prosecution then you can be prosecuted.”
The realities of being ticketed or detained if you can’t produce your medical marijuana card appear to be murky.
If attorneys specializing in cannabis law are unclear what Constitutional rights remain in place when the medical marijuana card is somewhere else, don’t expect the police who’ve stopped you to recognize when they’ve stepped over the line between your rights and their prerogatives. The best way is to know your own state laws, and to always carry your card or certification.
How to Avoid Getting Arrested Without Your Medical Card
Think of your medical marijuana ID as your stay out of jail free card.
The failsafe way for a registered medical cannabis patient to evade the hassle of being charged by police for cannabis possession without a medical cannabis card is do not leave home without your medical cannabis card.
But sometimes things get lost or forgotten. So we recommend you prepare for being caught without your card.
- Make copies of your medical cannabis card and any other registration documentation. Do it now.
- Place copies of your medical cannabis documentation in your car and in your significant other’s car.
- Stash copies of your card in the pocket of your favorite hiking jacket, in your backpack or in your purse.
- Use your smartphone to take clear readable photos of your medical cannabis card, front and back.
- Store the photos on your phone in a spot that is easily accessible and separate from your camera roll.
Sticklers for the law will point out that printed copies of a medical marijuana card or photos of medical cannabis documentation on a phone are not the same as a government issued medical marijuana card.
In many states, however, medical marijuana cards are delivered by email and printed out by the patient. In Arizona, medical marijuana cards are issued digitally and presented on the phone for purchasing medical cannabis and to verify medical marijuana registration.
At the least, producing a reproduction of a valid medical marijuana card illustrates that you are a registered medical cannabis patient. Establishing this fact may dissuade a police officer from charging you with an offense that will only be dismissed.
How To Avoid Encounters With Law Enforcement
Common sense and mindfulness are keys to reducing a medical marijuana cardholder’s interactions with police.
Americans for Safe Access, a cannabis advocacy organization dedicated to advancing legal medical marijuana therapeutics and research, suggests a four point discipline to stay out of sight and out of mind from law enforcement.
- Use Common Sense: Don’t use cannabis where you will be detected. Do not drive while medicating. Carry only as much cannabis as you need. Be conscious of the distinctive cannabis odor and minimize it.
- Be a Good Neighbor: People who live near you may disagree with your right to use medical cannabis products. Find a way to be on good terms with these people. Be conscious of your neighbors’ rights, privacy and property. Disputes with neighbors are one of the most common reasons for police being summoned to private homes.
- Use Medical Marijuana Sensibly: Be responsible and follow doctor direction. Do not over medicate. Again, do not drive while medicating, and lay off operating heavy machinery or engaging in hazardous tasks.
- Travel Safely: If medical cannabis products are in your car, keep them out of sight. The medical cannabis products are safest locked in the car’s trunk. Airports and airplanes are under federal jurisdiction, and a medical marijuana card may offer no defense against charges of possession or transportation.
What to do if You’ve Been Stopped Holding Marijuana Without a Card
When you’ve been stopped by police with marijuana, the next steps depend on the circumstances.
If police detain a medical marijuana cardholder for using medical cannabis in an unapproved manner, such as while in public, while in a moving vehicle, or sharing with another cardholder, it doesn’t matter if the medical marijuana ID card is present or not. Medical marijuana ID cards do not protect against prohibited cannabis use.
If the police have found marijuana in your possession, and you are not in violation of medical marijuana regulations, identify yourself as a medical marijuana cardholder. Tell the officer you have misplaced your medical marijuana card.
Be polite and cooperative within your rights, in the way you would if you had the card on hand, only more so. Do what you can to minimize chances the encounter will become adversarial.
A police officer never wants to hear a civilian say, “I know my rights.” Don’t say those words. But do make sure that you know and exercise those rights.
If a police officer has reasonable suspicion that a person has been involved in a crime, the officer is authorized to detain that person. The officer may interpret your possession of cannabis products and your inability to show any medical cannabis registry ID, in a jurisdiction where adult use recreational marijuana is illegal, as reasonable suspicion that you are involved in a crime. It is the officer’s choice whether or not to prolong the encounter.
Detention is meant to be short term. The detainee is not to be moved. Officers will have the right to pat you down and inspect your bag or backpack to ensure you are carrying no weapons. Officers are not authorized to go into your pockets unless they feel a weapon.
In most situations, it’s inadvisable to volunteer information to cops.
If officers ask you questions or request that you empty your pockets, reply without being combative that you do not consent to being searched. Do not resist or put up a fight if the cops search you anyway. Repeat that you do not consent to this search.
Ask if you are being detained. If the answer is no, politely take your leave and walk away. Say nothing else.
If the officers confirm that you are being detained or arrested, ask why. Repeat the answer and ask the officer to verify it. Try to remember it.
Inform the officer, again without being combative, that you wish to remain silent and you want a lawyer.
If an officer attempts to start up a conversation, remain silent.
Being detained because you have forgotten or misplaced your medical marijuana card is not the end of the world. As long as your cannabis use and possession is within the limits of your state’s medical marijuana regulations, this situation will clear up in due time.
With a little luck, being taken into custody will not be part of this story when you tell it later.
If you do end up taking a ride in a black and white, use the time to practice one deft memory trick that might help you to never again forget to bring that medical cannabis card along wherever you go. Repeat after me: “If I don’t have my card with me, I can’t buy cannabis.”
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