A Brief Guide to the Responsibilities of Medical Marijuana Caregivers

According to See Change LLC, over 20-million Americans have conditions that could benefit from medical marijuana. Of that number, around a million have received prescriptions from their physicians. The gap between those two figures implies that the medical marijuana industry is set to explode. To help with the upcoming demand, several states allow licensed medical marijuana caregivers to provide pot directly to patients.

A license typically costs a few hundred bucks, but there are several requirements that aren’t heavily publicized. Shirking or remaining ignorant of these requirements can get you in trouble. States use various verbiage to describe the position.  Michigan, for instance, uses the term “primary caregiver.” In Colorado, the term is “medical marijuana caregiver.” This article will focus primarily on Colorado’s statutes.

This is not an exhaustive list of requirements and restrictions, and the specifics vary from state to state. However, this guide will give you an idea of what to expect.

First, a distinction: supplying pot for medical use involves growing or acquiring strains of medical marijuana for individuals who have received a prescription from their doctor. “Medical use” further involves the storage and delivery of medical marijuana paraphernalia.

You are not allowed to grow marijuana for marijuana’s sake, and you definitely aren’t allowed to make a profit. However, you can recoup your costs, and you can include the time you spent on your grow operation in your estimation of “costs.” This isn’t considered profit, and you can come out ahead. For obvious reasons, you should keep very detailed logs.

Recent Hearings

As evidenced by the recent hearings in Denver on the responsibilities of caregivers, the system is still a work in progress. At one hearing in late 2014, parents of children with severe epilepsy spoke passionately about caregivers, claiming that they provide lifesaving medication. The hearing was held to further define the role of a medical marijuana caregiver, and to create a concrete restriction on the number of patients a caregiver can have at once.

Fortunately, Colorado health authorities voted against further restrictions in that regard. Denver caregivers were reminded that they are not dispensaries. That is to say, the role of caregiver as defined by state law goes beyond merely providing patients with pot.

A Word of Caution

As a medical marijuana caregiver, you can purchase marijuana legally without fear of prosecution. However, marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, and the DEA prosecutes the sale of marijuana aggressively. In addition, there are strict limitations placed on caregivers regarding exactly how and when they can possess and transport marijuana. For these reasons, you should never transport marijuana—medical or otherwise—across state lines.

If you do transport marijuana in a moving vehicle, refrain from sampling your product while on the road. While smelling like marijuana is not a crime, it does give police probable cause to search your vehicle. According to former Texas interdiction officer Barry Cooper, readily agreeing to a search can defuse police suspicion to the point that the officer may not bother. Use this tip at your own risk—or better yet, don’t travel with your pot if you can help it.

Colorado Medical Marijuana Caregiver Requirements and Limitations

You must register all grow sites with the department of revenue of your state. While this may seem a bother, you will at least have an official record of your legal grow site in the event that the DEA is active in your area. In Colorado, you can call 303-205-8421 for more information on how to register.

Colorado caregivers must be at least 18 years of age. In Michigan, the minimum age is 21. If you are a physician, you cannot deliver to or administer medical marijuana to your own patients. In Colorado, qualifying patients are barred from being caregivers. The law specifies that a caregiver cannot be his or her own patient and that a caregiver cannot have a primary caregiver of his or her own. In Arizona, you can supply yourself with medical marijuana as long as you are both a qualifying patient and caregiver. You cannot take from your own supply if you are not a qualifying patient.

Most importantly, you must demonstrate responsibility for an individual’s well-being that goes far beyond delivering medical marijuana. In other words, you can’t just grow and deliver pot. Other services that you can—and should—supply includes transportation, shopping, meal preparation and housekeeping. You should also play an active role in scheduling medical appointments, whether those appointments are related to medical marijuana or not. You must be able to demonstrate these activities at any time, so keep detailed logs.

It’s important to note that as a designated caregiver, you aren’t allowed to delegate the delivery of medical marijuana to a third-party. This limitation is designed to prevent caregivers from “scaling up,” or turning the operation into a for-profit business. Also, note that in Colorado, caregivers aren’t allowed to transport medical marijuana except for patients who are homebound or who are under the age of 18.

Don’t take a patient’s word on this. Their registration card should say “homebound.” This indicates that the recommending physician has made the determination that the patient qualifies for homebound status, and it’s the only legal representation of such. Furthermore, you should always carry a copy of the patient’s registry card with you whenever you transport medicine to them. You can use a copy of the patient’s application as proof of relationship for 35 days or until they receive a card. It’s a good idea to mark out confidential information, but note that you must leave the name and date of birth clear.

When you take on a new patient, always insist that he or she submit a Change of Patient Records form. This will allow police to quickly verify the relationship if you’re ever stopped. It’s also a good idea to ask your patient to provide you with copies of any paperwork related to medical marijuana consumption.

Colorado caregivers are only allowed to care for five patients at a time. You can petition the state for a waiver if you know of a patient who is in dire need. You must clearly state how granting the waiver will positively affect the patient’s “health, safety and welfare.”

Colorado maintains a registry of volunteer caregivers. Joining this registry can help you find patients much more quickly. Submitting a Voluntary Caregiver Registration will allow doctors to access your contact information.