Medical Marijuana Prescription or Recommendation: What is the Difference? Does it Matter?


By Joan Eberhardt

In the United States, doctors do not prescribe medical marijuana. They can, however, depending on state law, recommend or certify that a qualifying patient would benefit from medical marijuana. While it might seem like they are the same thing, a doctor sees that a patient might benefit from medical marijuana for pain and symptom relief, legally, the meaning is very different. Learning the difference can help a patient with a medical condition that is not being treated effectively with traditional drugs or therapies, speak with his or her doctor about obtaining a recommendation for medical cannabis.

Patients can be their own best advocates, by educating themselves and working with their doctor, or with patient advocates in their area. The best possible first step would be to research what medical conditions are eligible for medical cannabis in your state. States like California have lax medical marijuana laws, allowing for patients with a wide variety of ailments to obtain treatment, but in other states, like Illinois and Alaska, they have fairly restrictive programs. Here is an up-to-date list of medical marijuana laws, state-by-state. Once a patient has determined that they are eligible under their state’s laws to use medical cannabis, educating themselves, and their doctor, about the benefits of medical cannabis is the next best tool.

Because cannabis is listed as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law, doctors are hesitant to prescribe it, because doing so would put them in violation of the laws that govern their medical licenses. A doctor who loses their license, effectively loses their livelihood because they cannot practice medicine. In 2002, a federal court ruled that a doctor can, however, recommend a patient use medical marijuana, and that the government cannot revoke that doctor’s license, because they recommended it, and did not prescribe it. Recommending that a patient use medical marijuana is considered free speech, and therefore protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

After a doctor has agreed that a patient can benefit from cannabis for treatment of pain or symptoms of a chronic condition, that doctor will recommend medical marijuana as part of their treatment. They can recommend a patient for medical marijuana under conditions that comply with state laws, a workaround that allows patients access to better tools for treatment of pain or chronic symptoms, while allowing doctors a legal way to treat patients without putting their medical licenses at risk.  For example, in Illinois a doctor certifies the diagnosis of a debilitating condition or terminal illness for a qualifying patient, who is seeking to apply for a medical cannabis registry identification card.

California’s medical laws are some of the most forgiving in the nation, to the extent that a patient can obtain a medical marijuana recommendation and delivery of marijuana, in under an hour without leaving his or her house. Other states, however, require a patient to obtain medical cannabis from state- or privately-owned dispensaries. This can be as easy as visiting the dispensary in your neighborhood, consulting with a designated care provider, or traveling great distances to visit a state-owned dispensary. Other states allow patients to grow their own medical marijuana, often in limited quantities. 


Have you spoken to your doctor about obtaining a medical cannabis recommendation? What was that experience like? Please tell us in the comments below and share it with others so they know the difference!

2 thoughts on “Medical Marijuana Prescription or Recommendation: What is the Difference? Does it Matter?

    1. In order to actually obtain a medical marijuana recommendation as usual, you will need to visit your doctor. If you reside in California and would like to visit with a doctor via video chat through an official online recommendation program, visit (state certified).
      If your doctor does recommend medical marijuana for you, the next step is easy! You’ll immediately receive an official document to show your eligibility for the medical marijuana program. Although the document itself will suffice, it is recommended you get the card so you can always carry it with you for convenience in purchasing cannabis products from a dispensary or delivery service. It’s also important to keep the card or letter on your person in case you need to show proof of your MMIC to a police officer or other authority figure.

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