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Ask a Budtender: Is Cannabis Covered by Health Insurance?

Haley Hansen

by Haley Hansen

September 28, 2022 08:00 am ET Estimated Read Time: 6 Minutes
Ask a Budtender: Is Cannabis Covered by Health Insurance?

Question: I live in a state with legal cannabis and started shopping at my local dispensary a few times a month. I’m grateful the dispensary is there, but I’m honestly surprised by how costly everything is! It’s rare for me to leave without spending $200 or more. Is cannabis covered by health insurance? I’m confused about why my health insurance premium doesn’t cover at least some of my monthly costs because I use cannabis to manage my mental health. Please advise! 

Cannabis Coach Haley’s Answer: I’m glad you have access to legal cannabis in your state; that’s a step in the right direction for sure. I’m not sure where you live, but for me here in Illinois, I pay more than double what my friends in California pay for the same exact product. So I know what you mean about the expenses adding up quickly—there can be some serious sticker shock involved with dispensary shopping.    

As the cannabis industry gets bigger and more widespread, the hope is that prices will go down. Right now, however, many folks feel like dispensary prices are way too high. While it’s true that the cost to start a dispensary or cannabis cultivation center is very high, the customer often gets left holding the bill a lot of the time. So what are some ways you can lower your monthly spending at the dispensary? Can it be covered by your insurance company?

As a budtender, this topic comes up often, and I’ve got some ideas that could help you save money and still get the products you need!  

Health Insurance and Cannabis

To answer part of your question right off the bat, cannabis is not covered by health insurance in the United States at this time.  Even if you’re a medical cannabis patient and your doctor has signed off on a medical cannabis card for you, your cannabis purchases will not be covered by health insurance. 

This is from my local Department of Public Health website:

 “At this time, health insurance, Medicaid, and Medicare do not cover medical cannabis costs. All registered patients are responsible for the application fee and the cost of purchasing medical cannabis.”  

I had several customers attempt to use their Health Savings Account or get reimbursement from their employer, but I’ve personally never seen a successful attempt for medical cannabis. Some employers will allow reimbursements for CBD products (since CBD is federally legal in the U.S.), but they will not cover medical cannabis reimbursements.  

This may change in the future once cannabis becomes more available and widespread, but since cannabis is still federally illegal, no insurance companies have jumped on the opportunity to cover the costs for their members yet.  

Get Your Medical Cannabis Card 

So, then, how can you save money at the dispensary? I always always always suggest getting your medical cannabis card if that’s an option in your state. Not sure what the cannabis laws are in your state? You can read up on the latest policies in your state on Veriheal’s website. Right now, 37 out of 50 states in the U.S. have some sort of medical cannabis program, so you never know what options might be available in your area! Head to this article to find out if your state offers medical cannabis for mental conditions.

Because I’m a medical cannabis patient, I’m able to shop from a menu that has a bigger cannabis selection and lower prices than folks who are buying from the recreational cannabis menu. In Illinois, I only pay a 1% tax, while folks without a medical cannabis card will have a 10-25% tax added to their bill! Check out these articles for more information on medical versus recreational cannabis:

Here’s a real-world example: Instead of buying an eighth that costs around $50, my jar of cannabis could be closer to $70 once I add on the additional taxes. Those costs can really add up over time, especially when you consider your whole year’s worth of purchases!

Whenever folks are on the fence about signing up for a medical cannabis card, I say this: If you’re going to be purchasing cannabis at least 2-3 times a month or if you’re planning on spending over $100 a month, it’d be worth looking into a medical cannabis card. 

Your card will more than pay for itself because you’ll have lower taxes and more products to choose from, and in some states, medical cannabis cardholders can also grow their own cannabis plants at home! For those of you with a green thumb, this is really the way to save money: Avoid the dispensary altogether and create your own home-grow setup. 

Talk With Your Budtender 

This last piece of information comes from personal experience: Be open with your budtender and let them know you’re looking to reduce cost as much as possible. This is information they would want to know when helping you pick out products.  

Keep in mind that the budtender does not set the prices and often has little control over the day-to-day operations of the dispensary. There are strict rules about budtenders offering discounts or giving away free products. If your budtender knows you’re on a budget, though, they may be able to point you towards products that meet your needs while still being mindful of cost.  

Whenever I had customers who let me know they were on a budget, I liked to know exactly how much they were working with for the trip and hook them up with products that fit that budget.  

If you come in with $100, and you’re hoping that $100 will buy you a month’s worth of cannabis, I like to know that information so maybe I can recommend a daily edible instead of smoking flower every day, which can get pricey. Or this might open up a conversation about how to make your own edibles instead of buying pre-dosed edibles. There are all kinds of tips and tricks your budtender may have up their sleeve. Remember that they’re buying cannabis on a budget too!  

Hope this helps to give you some pointers! Maybe one of these days, cannabis will be a crucial part of healthcare and will be covered just like any other medication. That’s my hope! In the meantime, we’ll do our best to get the products we need and try not to burst the bank.  

If you have questions you’d like to ask a budtender, feel free to comment below or email—I’d love to hear from you and might pick your question next.  

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