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Medical marijuana cards go digital starting in December

Arizona Department of Health Services will roll out technological advancements for card holders


"The current physical cards will be gradually phased out." Illustration published on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019.

In a world of ever-evolving technological advancements, ASU students with medical marijuana cards can go digital before they go green. 

On Dec. 1, Arizona residents with medical marijuana cards will have electronic access to their card. In an effort from the Arizona Department of Health Services to increase patient access to medication, the digital cards will eventually phase out the physical copies. 

After Dec. 1, all medical marijuana cards that are reported stolen will be canceled and replaced with an emailed PDF version.

The switch is a response to a law that passed in June that requires ADHS to provide digital cards. The current physical cards will be gradually phased out.

Colby Bower, an assistant director at ADHS, said the electronic PDF will change Arizona’s medical marijuana climate in multiple ways. 

“What we really want this to do for patients is increase security and decrease the delay for patients to get their medication,” Bower said. 

Bower said the switch to digital could mean less spending and potential for human error for the department. Because all cards are mailed to recipients, human error can occur anywhere from writing the address to delivering the package.

He said ADHS spends more than $1 million per year on ink and printing supplies. 

Bower asked all medical marijuana card owners to ensure their on file email address is correct as they make the switch.

Going digital, Bower said, could greatly eliminate a lot of potential errors and make the process more secure. However, Bower said there is still work to do when modernizing medical marijuana in Arizona. 

“This is phase one and though it may not be the most elegant solution, we’ll be rolling out more advancements early spring,” Bower said. 

He said those advancements include making a patient portal where medical marijuana users could have a one-stop resource to access their information. 

Joe Aguilera III, a sophomore studying graphic information technology who has a medical marijuana card, said there are online resources that act as a patient portal, but he would appreciate a more official version from ADHS. He also said having more formal resources could reduce the stigma behind having a medical marijuana card. 

“To some people, it’s a really big deal and they don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “When you’re legally allowed to do something other people can’t, having an official portal and digital access to a card makes it feel more secure.”

Although technological advancements will greatly impact card-holders, it could also change the ways dispensaries interact with customers. 

Eva Sigersted, a patient educator at TruMed Dispensary, said an electronic card could make it easier to find patient information. 

“After years of working with patients, it’s always tough to see someone who has lost their card and you legally can’t do anything to get them their medication,” Sigersted said.

TruMed Dispensary is one of the closest dispensaries to the Tempe campus

Once a card has been lost or reported stolen and deactivated it cannot be used, even if it is found at a later date. She said she hopes the digital cards eliminate those situations, especially because patients have to pay a fee to get a replacement card. 

“I hope the digital switch will make things easier for the dispensaries and the patients,” Sigersted said.

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