Living with medical cannabis entails facing unique challenges, from the looming threat of arrest to potential discrimination in various aspects of life. Medical cannabis patients and their caregivers are entitled to specific rights under state law and limited protections under federal law.

However, cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, and laws vary from state to state, and even from county to county, leaving patients and providers vulnerable to arrest and prosecution if they are not in strict compliance with state laws. Stigma and discrimination also make patients targets for law enforcement encounters. Keep in mind, especially in this climate that the best law enforcement encounter is the one that never occurs.

It's crucial for individuals involved in medical cannabis to not only understand medical cannabis laws and regulations but also their rights. Armed with knowledge you can prepare to navigate these hurdles successfully.

Stay informed about cannabis laws in your state. Visit ASA's state law resources to stay up to date. 

While medical cannabis laws exist in many states, encounters with law enforcement can still lead to complications. Here are some tips to minimize such encounters:

  • Use Common Sense: Exercise caution when medicating, considering factors like safety and discretion to avoid attracting unwanted attention. Avoid consuming cannabis in plain view or near open windows. Refrain from driving under the influence of cannabis, as it can impair motor skills and lead to legal repercussions.
  • Be a Good Neighbor: Avoid potential conflicts with neighbors by being mindful and respectful of potential concerns including odor, visibility of plants, paraphernalia, etc. Building positive relationships with neighbors can help mitigate potential issues and prevent unnecessary law enforcement involvement.
  • Use Medical Cannabis Sensibly: Adhere to guidelines for sensible medical cannabis use, including following medical advice, being aware of dosage and potential side effects, and refraining from dangerous activities while under the influence of cannabis.
  • Travel Safely: Exercise caution when traveling with cannabis to avoid legal complications. Conceal cannabis securely, preferably in the trunk of your vehicle, and familiarize yourself with cannabis laws at your destination (see the ASA Patient's Guide to US travel).

In case of interactions with law enforcement, it's essential to be prepared to assert your rights effectively:

  • Maintain Updated Documentation: Keep copies of your doctor's recommendation, caregiver agreement, or identification card readily accessible. Inform trusted individuals about your medical cannabis use to enlist their support if needed.
  • Garden Safely: If cultivating cannabis, ensure compliance with legal requirements and maintain appropriate documentation. Practice discretion to avoid attracting unnecessary attention.
  • Create a Security Culture: Foster a community that values discretion and safety to minimize risks.

When dealing with law enforcement officers, remember to:

  • Keep your hands visible and avoid sudden movements.
  • Never touch law enforcement officers or their equipment—you can get injured and/or charged with assault and battery. Avoid passing behind them.
  • Exercise caution during questioning: answer only questions you are asked and do not offer additional information
  • Officers may not be up to speed on cannabis laws especially protections for out-of-state patients utilizing reciprocity protections.  
  • Asserting your rights is not being rude or hostile, be polite but remember you only have rights if you assert them  

When interacting with law enforcement officers, remain calm and polite while asserting your rights. Law enforcement officers may attempt to persuade individuals to waive their rights, so it's essential to clearly articulate and stand behind them. Often referred to as the "Magic Words," "I do not consent to a search" and "I choose to remain silent and want to speak to an attorney" must be invoked to activate these rights.

Here's a breakdown of different levels of engagement with law enforcement and how to assert your rights effectively:

  • Conversation: During casual encounters or friendly conversations with law enforcement, it's important to be mindful of your responses. If officers attempt to gather information without detaining or arresting you, politely inquire whether you are being detained or arrested. If not, you have the right to walk away. However, if you are being detained or arrested, this is where the Magic Words should be used!
  • Detention: Law enforcement officers can detain you if they have reasonable suspicion that you are involved in a crime. While you are detained, they may conduct a pat-down and search your belongings for weapons. Remember, you have the right to remain silent and request a lawyer and avoid providing any information beyond identifying yourself.

“I do not consent to a search.”

“I choose to remain silent and want to speak to an attorney”

  • Arrest: An arrest requires probable cause that you are involved in a crime. If you are arrested, officers may search you and your belongings thoroughly. Even in this situation, you have the right to refuse a search and assert your right to remain silent. Clearly state the magic words and do not answer any more questions.
  • Asserting Your Rights: Never consent to a search, regardless of the circumstances. Use the phrase "I do not consent to this search" to protect your rights. Be cautious about casual consent, such as leaving a car door open during a stop. Additionally, if law enforcement officers attempt to question you beyond basic identification, invoke your right to remain silent and request legal representation by saying, "I am going to remain silent. I want to see a lawyer."
  • Dealing with Interrogation: Law enforcement officers may employ various tactics, including manipulation and deception, during interrogation. Stay focused on protecting your rights by sticking to the Magic Words and do not provide any information beyond identifying yourself

Remember, knowledge is power, and understanding your rights is the only way to know who and when to assert them! Stay informed, be prepared, and prioritize your well-being in every interaction with the authorities.