Unfortunately, children can be stricken with adult-sized illnesses: treatment-resistant seizure disorders, cancer, terminal illness, and many other conditions don’t discriminate by age. 

While legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes might be helpful for adults who rely on medical cannabis, it does nothing to help children who are suffering with chronic illnesses or their parents and caregivers.

When it comes to chronically-ill children and medical marijuana, participating in a medical marijuana treatment program is essential to getting access to medical cannabis.

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Age Requirements Make a Medical Card Necessary

Like most controlled substances, including cigarettes and alcohol, recreational marijuana use is limited to adults only, starting at either age 18 or 21 depending on state regulations.

In fact, some states refer to their legal recreational policies and programs as “Adult Use Marijuana” on their official government websites instead of calling them recreational.

This means that getting medical marijuana for children is still illegal if you don’t have a medical program in your state and a medical card for your child who is under 18. Most parents want to set a responsible example for their child in following laws. Plus, they can’t risk the fees, legal expenses, and other problems involved in a marijuana violation. Even if they believe that medical marijuana will help their child, they can’t afford to take the risk.

Quality Requirements of the Patient

Participating in a medical program, which includes getting a medical marijuana card, has benefits for the patient that go beyond staying in compliance. A state medical treatment program leads states to create medical purchasing systems that are designed to ensure quality control of products. 

Artisanal weed designed for fun and relaxation doesn’t have to meet rigorous standards for CBD and THC content. But if you are using cannabis for medical reasons, knowing the exact amount of chemical you are getting is important to ensure the best therapeutic response.

Unless you are growing and testing your own quality CBD products, you also want to have qualified and reputable dispensaries available that have been vetted and licensed by state regulators. Ensuring quality products and service are part of a state’s overall medical marijuana program.

How Old Do You Have to Be to Get a Medical Marijuana Card?

Fortunately, as awareness about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis grows, state medical marijuana programs are increasing. And many of those states extend this benefit to minors who have a qualifying condition that is treatable by cannabis. 

Minors can’t do it independently – their parents or adult guardians must apply for cards on their behalf and apply for required caregiver cards. In states where recreational weed isn’t legal until age 21, patients who are 18-20 may be able to get a medical card independently.

The parent/primary caregiver must purchase, store, and administer the natural cannabis medication. Minors are not allowed to enter the medical marijuana dispensaries or manage their own marijuana. 

These caregiver cards are sometimes reciprocated in other states and may make the caregivers and patients eligible for temporary licenses in some states during visits and vacations, which allows treatment to continue even when your family is traveling.

Using medical marijuana for kids means that your child does not have to wait until he or she is an adult to start treating medical conditions holistically with natural medicine. And as a parent, you don’t have to make hard choices between helping your child and following cannabis laws.

However, the answer to “Can a minor get a medical cannabis card in my state?” still varies. You will need to check your state’s rules and regulations to see what your exact options are where you live.

How to Get a Medical Card Under 18

After determining whether you state offers marijuana medical programs for children, you’ll need to understand the exact rules in your state. Here are some factors you may need to consider.

Varying Medical Qualification & Treatment Considerations: Since children are still growing and developing, using any medications or therapeutic treatments has to be weighed even more carefully than for adults. And since not everything is known about the effects of cannabinoids on brain development, states tend to take a conservative stance, creating medical programs that only allow marijuana in limited circumstances, when potential benefits are seen as far outweighing potential risks.

In some states, this means that only a small number of conditions can be treated, limiting the qualifying conditions that allow you to access a card for your child. Other states may require that other treatments have been tried first and failed. For example, if your child has epilepsy, you may need to show that you have tried traditional anti-seizure medications, and that the medications weren’t effective.

The level of medical monitoring and treatment required is understandably more intense as well. Some states require two physicians to sign off before someone under 18 can get a medical marijuana card. Others may require that the treating physician be a licensed pediatrician instead of a general practitioner. And additional follow up and monitoring may be required as well. Some states require in-person visits, and some allow telehealth.

Treatment of children may also be limited to CBD (cannabidiol) only, which is the case for adults in some states as well. CBD does not produce the psychoactive “high” experience that THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) causes.
Identification Verification & Background Checks: Just like any other application for medical marijuana, a minor’s medical card is going to require identification verification. This will be required for both the caregiver and the minor. You may need to obtain an ID for your child or provide proof with a birth certificate. Caregivers may also be required to undergo background checks. You may also have to provide proof of residency in the state where you are applying.

The basic steps:

  • Check the rules of your state regarding medical cards for minors
  • Determine if you child’s medical condition and treatment history qualifies in your state
  • Work with your child’s medical providers to fulfill the state’s requirements for medical documentation
  • Complete the state applications for both the minor and caregiver cards
    • Includes identification and residency verification, background checks where required, and applicable fees

Some Interesting State Facts

Since California’s laws are less strict than many states, people often ask if they can get a medical marijuana card for a minor in California. Minors in California must have the approval and participation of their parents or guardians until they are 18, but between 18-20 they can get their own card independently (recreational marijuana is legal at 21.) 

One of the more interesting state developments occurred in Illinois, where “Ashley’s Law” was enacted in 2018 due to the efforts of Ashley Surin and her family. The law allows parents to administer medical cannabis on school property, and it also allows specially trained school nurses to administer or oversee the administration by the child. This law applies to products that are edible, applied as a patch, etc., (not smoked). Ashley was twelve years old, and an early battle with leukemia had left her with debilitating, treatment-resistant seizures as a side-effect of the chemotherapy. CBD treatments helped her seizures and gave her a chance to be a normal kid. Read more about Ashley, her family and school, and the law here.