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Medical marijuana cards to become digital next month

(Deposit Photos/Uros Poteko)

(Deposit Photos/Uros Poteko)

Starting in December all Arizona-issued medical marijuana cards will be digital. 

The new cards stem from a bill Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, sponsored and Gov. Doug Ducey signed at the end of the Legislative session requiring the Arizona Department of Health Services to provide digital, rather than physical, medical cards.

SB 1494 also allows marijuana patients to renew their state-issued cards every two years, instead of annually. As the law previously stood, patients had to pay a $150 annual fee to DHS on top of charges paid to their doctor for a recommendation. That came together as a last-minute amendment from Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson.

So beginning on Dec. 1, DHS will email all patients their cards in a PDF, and if users want a physical copy, they can print one out themselves. The department already alerted all medical marijuna patients on November 6 that this change is coming. 

The email, which was obtained by Arizona Capitol Times, gives patients a three-step process on how to make sure their registered email address is up to date because that is how patients will receive their digital cards. 

“If your email is not updated prior to December 1st, 2019 you can still use your physical medical marijuana card,” the email said. 

Chris Minnick, a spokesman for DHS, said the digital cards will only apply to new applications after Dec 1, so all users with a physical card that has not yet expired will get to keep it until the renewal period. That date for renewal will also depend on when the card was validated due to Gowan’s bill. 

All cards validated before the 2019 general effective date on August 27 of this year will expire one year to the day of the date printed. All cards validated on or after Aug 27 will last for two years. 

While DHS says this change is to “better serve Arizona,” not everyone is on board. 

Mikel Weisser, the executive director of Arizona NORML, said going fully digital is not the best idea. 

“Not everybody in the world uses the internet,” Weisser said. A lot of medical marijuana patients are over the age of 60 and are not digitally adept, he said. 

Nearly a quarter of Arizona’s 210,000 medical marijuana patients are over the age of 60, according to the most recent data from DHS’ medical marijuana program. 

Weisser said he is a big fan of releasing a digital option on top of a physical card because it helps people who may lose or misplace their card and makes it easier to access your own data instead of having to go to a dispensary for that information. But having digital only cards raises the possibility of not having a working phone, or cell service on some roads if a patient is pulled over for any possible reason and asked for their medical marijuana card.

Gowan’s bill also set up a 12-member committee made up of representatives from dispensary owners, a cannabis testing association, a cannabis trade group, cultivators and those who manufacture edibles, a patient, a designated caregiver, a health-care provider who specializes in drug treatment disorders, and a representative of the Department of Public Safety, all appointed by the DHS director.

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