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By Jean Lotus for UPI
Sept. 9 (UPI) -- Medical marijuana has been legalized in 33 U.S. states, but for the almost 3 million patients who want to travel outside of their home state, laws elsewhere can be a confusing patchwork of differing rules.
To help clarify those rules, Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana patient advocacy group, has released an interactive safe travel guide for patients who want to acquire medicinal pot in different states across the country.
"The laws change so frequently that it's really important. if you're going to visit another state, to look up what the laws are for that state," said Debbie Churgai, the organization's interim director. For medical marijuana patients, "traveling can be a difficult undertaking," she said.
Many states have decriminalized marijuana, or passed laws allowing the sale of recreational and medicinal marijuana. But it still is illegal on the federal level to transport any amount of cannabis across state lines, even if it is only a small amount for medicinal purposes.
That means patients might have to visit a dispensary in the state they're visiting to acquire the drug. Some patients take cannabis daily for qualifying conditions in their own state, such as cancer, glaucoma, muscular dystrophy or post-traumatic stress disorder. But use of medical marijuana for those conditions might not be approved in another state, even if medical marijuana is legal there, Churgai said.
"Every state and sometimes even every county can have a different law regarding cannabis, how much you can have and where you can take your medicine," she said.
Fifteen U.S. states have a reciprocity agreement to honor a medical cannabis card from another state, Churgai said, adding, "But in some states, such as Arkansas, you have to apply about two weeks before you go for a visiting ID card and pay a fee."
Also, some states have different rules on the quantities visitors are allowed to buy, often half as much as local residents.
The travel guide also offers tips such as how to store medical cannabis (in a odor-tight container in the trunk of a car) how to take medical cannabis on an airplane or train and what legal rights exist for medical cannabis patients.
Legal issues are more common that many people believe.
Phoenix cannabis lawyer Tom Dean said he has handled "many, many" cases of medical marijuana patients visiting from another state who ran into trouble with the law in Arizona, which legalized medical cannabis in 2010. Some of his clients have been arrested for possession of marijuana paraphernalia for having a vape pen, for example.
In Arizona, visitors who stay for fewer than 30 days can buy medical marijuana with their local state card, as long as their condition is approved in Arizona, he said. Their purchase limits are smaller than local residents, he said.
Dean recommends that visiting patients always carrying a copy of a doctor's recommendation, as well as a state registry ID card.
Typically, if a visiting medical marijuana patient is stopped for a traffic violation, the patients who get in the most trouble are those who "have marijuana or paraphernalia visible in the car, or who have been smoking in the car," Dean said.
Most states allow the marijuana smell to be "probable cause" to search a car in a traffic stop, Dean said. "My advice is always to identify yourself as a medical marijuana patient and to have paperwork with you," he said.