If you’re 21 years or older and live in one of the 33 states with legalized medical marijuana laws, you can access marijuana for medical reasons if you have a qualifying health condition. And in 11 of these states, including Washington, recreational adult use is also legal, so you don’t even need to visit a doctor in order to purchase and consume cannabis products.
But if you’re under 21 and have a qualifying condition, you can still get and use medical marijuana. In most medical use states, minors can get medical marijuana if they have an adult willing to act as their caregiver or designated provider and are also entered into the state medical marijuana database.
The idea of giving cannabis to minors may cause some serious pearl-clutching to some with anti-drug views, but medical marijuana has been shown to benefit some kids with cancer, autism, epilepsy, or other life-threatening illnesses.
So how does it work in Washington?
First, a recommendation from a healthcare practitioner licensed in Washington to authorize the use of marijuana to medical patients is required. Medical doctors, physician assistants, osteopathic physicians and naturopathic physicians are among those allowed to provide authorization. In some cases, physicians may be reluctant to provide these recommendations, as they still don’t know the full effects of minors using marijuana.
Next, a minor will need an adult willing to be act as their caregiver/designated provider. The caregiver must be at least 18-21 years old (some states differ) and be willing manage the well-being of a minor diagnosed with a chronic or debilitating medical condition – usually a parent or guardian – who can enter a medically-endorsed cannabis retailer to purchase products.
In Washington, patients must be at least age 18, have an authorization form from a doctor, and a valid photo ID. You do not need a designated provider to be entered into the Medical Marijuana Authorization Database. You can even enter a medically endorsed store to get your recognition card and purchase from these stores yourself; in other states, this is not the case.
Even after a minor has a medical marijuana recognition card, there might be other legal hurdles.
In some states, parents who have provided medical marijuana to their children have been reported to the authorities, school officials or a state’s Child Protective Services.
There is also a limit on when and where parents/providers/caregivers can administer the drug to minor patients. Some states do not allow schools to authorize using or possessing medical marijuana on premise, so children must leave school grounds to take their medicine during the day. In other cases, schools may allow cannabis on site, but school staff cannot administer it for legal reasons, which can be a hardship for working parents.
California, Illinois, Florida, Colorado, and Washington are just a few states that have passed laws that allow parents to administer medical cannabis to their child at school. In California specifically, the laws only pertain to certain school districts.
In these states, approved forms of cannabis for minors are limited to oils, edibles or lotions, which can be absorbed quickly. In addition, cannabis cannot be stored on school grounds and a caregiver can only administer product in a designated area. In some states, where marijuana is not prohibited on school grounds, we are seeing lawmakers pursuing similar laws to allow cannabis administration to students.
Colleges and universities are also struggling to address medical marijuana. In most cases, these schools still prohibit its presence on school grounds and even require employees to remain drug free, for fear of losing state or federal funding.
With the continued legalization of medical marijuana and the expansion of medical laws, parents and guardians will hopefully begin to see more options to provide care for their children – but must still be ready that some areas of society is slow to accept its normalization, legal or not.
For more information about medical authorization for minors in Washington, visit doh.wa.gov/MedicalMarijuana.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.