Although medical cannabis laws vary from state to state, the steps to become an authorized medical marijuana patient are generally the same. For patients who wish to use cannabis to help manage their medical symptoms and conditions, what do they need to do before visiting a medical dispensary, and what should they know once they’re at a dispensary so they feel confident about choosing the right products? Let’s find out.

Step 1: Check Your Medical Cannabis Qualifying Conditions

Note: In many states, you must be a resident to receive a medical cannabis card that is valid within that state. Some dispensaries will accept valid, out-of-state cards—check this list to find out which states have reciprocity laws.

As with any prescribed medication, you’ll need a reason for a doctor to recommend medical cannabis. Each state has a specific set of ailments that can be legally treated with cannabis. These are called “qualifying conditions,” and you can find out which ones your state has approved here.

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Common approved medical conditions include cancer, pain, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, and multiple sclerosis—however, in most states, the list of qualifying conditions is considerably lengthier.

You may live in a state with both medical and recreational cannabis laws, and you might wonder, “What’s the difference?” One requires a doctor-written authorization; the other simply needs a valid ID that shows you’re over age 21. They may be two sides of same coin, but having a medical authorization comes with certain benefits a patient should be aware of.

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Step 2: Get Your Medical Cannabis Card

Once you’ve determined that you qualify for a cannabis authorization in your state, it’s time to locate a doctor permitted to prescribe cannabis. Ask your doctor if he or she is comfortable recommending medical marijuana, or if you can receive a referral to a medical professional who issues authorizations. (You can also check Leafly’s doctor locator to see if there’s a provider nearby.)

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Step 3: Find a Cannabis Dispensary Near You

Note: Remember to bring your medical cannabis card with you to every dispensary visit. Most shops will need to check it upon entry, even if they have your authorization already on file. 

With your medical card in-hand, you’re now ready to explore dispensaries near you. Use Leafly’s store locator tool for a bird’s eye view of stores nearby—just be sure to filter for medical dispensaries if you live in a state with separate recreational and medical licensed stores.

Explore Dispensaries Nearby

Every patient has unique needs and deserves an experience that caters to them specifically. Shop around a bit until you’ve found a store with a staff, atmosphere, and product selection that really appeals to you. Peruse Leafly’s dispensary reviews for some crowd-sourced opinions, and consider adding your own after you’ve finished shopping.

You can also take our word for it and subscribe to Leafly’s newsletter, where we drop recommendations for shops, strains, and other products.

Step 4: Learn the Cannabis Basics

Once you’ve surveyed the neighborhood for local dispensaries, it’s a good idea to educate yourself on some of the different strains and products they have available. When treating a medical condition, it’s particularly important to learn about strains, delivery methods, and dosing.

Luckily, Leafly has an answer to almost every cannabis question you might have. Here are a few of the most common, along with a resource chock-full of answers.

Budtenders are there to take your questions, but when shops are bustling, you may feel pressured to get through your questions quickly. Get to know the very basics and you’ll have a better chance of a positive experience and effective symptom relief.

You can also run a quick Leafly search of your condition to learn more about what strains and cannabinoids are best suited for your symptoms.

Step 5: Choose and Pick Up Your Products

Now that you’re more familiar with cannabis strains, dosing, and consumption methods, let’s take another look at your local dispensary’s menu. You can sort this menu by product type, such as:

  • Flower (“I want to smoke or vaporize it for quick relief.”)
  • Concentrates (“I need a potent concentrate.”)
  • Edibles (“I want long-lasting relief.”)
  • Pre-rolls (“Roll it for me, please!”)
  • Other (“They make cannabis lotions, sprays, suppositories?”)

Every strain and product delivers a unique experience, so be adventurous and try a few different types and brands, and see which are most effective at treating your symptoms.

A few more nice-to-know tips before you go include how much cannabis you’re allowed to buy in your state and in Canadawhere you’re allowed to consume it, and what to do if you accidentally get a little too high.

Lead Image by Mathew Sumner/AP