State Medical Marijuana Laws

State Medical Marijuana Laws


NCSL Contact

Updated April 8, 2014

In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, making the Golden State the first in the union to allow for the medical use of marijuana. Since then, 19 more states, and the District of Columbia have enacted similar laws. To date, a total of 20 states and the District of Columbia allow for comprehensive public medical marijuana programs.  As of 4/8/14, the Maryland bill--not counted in the 20 state total-- has not been signed by the governor, but is included in the chart below as a legislatively passed measure. Recently approved efforts in Alabama and Mississippi allow only for "low THC, high cannabidiol (CBD)" products to be used or allowed for legal defense. Those programs are not counted as comprehensive medical marijuana programs.

Medical Uses of Marijuana

In response to California's Prop 215, the Institute of Medicine issued a report that examined potential therapeutic uses for marijuana. The report found that:
"Scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic value of cannabinoid drugs, primarily THC, for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation; smoked marijuana, however, is a crude THC delivery system that also delivers harmful substances. The psychological effects of cannabinoids, such as anxiety reduction, sedation, and euphoria can influence their potential therapeutic value. Those effects are potentially undesirable for certain patients and situations and beneficial for others. In addition, psychological effects can complicate the interpretation of other aspects of the drug's effect." 
Further studies have found that marijuana is effective in relieving some of the symptoms of HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and multiple sclerosis.1

State Vs Federal Perspective

At the federal level, marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, where Schedule I substances are considered to have a high potential for dependency and no accepted medical use, making distribution of marijuana a federal offense. In October of 2009, the Obama Administration sent a memo to federal prosecutors encouraging them not to prosecute people who distribute marijuana for medical purposes in accordance with state law.

In late August of 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice announced an update to their marijuana enforcement policy. The statement reads that while marijuana remains illegal federally, the USDOJ expects states like Colorado and Washington to create "strong, state-based enforcement efforts.... and will defer the right to challenge their legalization laws at this time." The department also reserves the right to challenge the states at any time they feel it's necessary.

Arizona and the District of Columbia voters passed initiatives to allow for medical use, only to have them overturned. In 1998, voters in the District of Columbia passed Initiative 59. However, Congress blocked the initiative from becoming law. In 2009, Congress reversed its previous decision, allowing the initiative to become law. The D.C. Council then put Initiative 59 on hold temporarily and unanimously approved modifications to the law.

Before passing Proposition 203 in 2010, Arizona voters originally passed a ballot initiative in 1996. However, the initiative stated that doctors would be allowed to write a "prescription" for marijuana. Since marijuana is still a Schedule I substance, federal law prohibits its prescription, making the initiative invalid. Medical marijuana "prescriptions" are more often called "recommendations" or "referrals" because of the federal prescription prohibition.

States with medical marijuana laws generally have some form of patient registry, which may provide some protection against arrest for possession up to a certain amount of marijuana for personal medicinal use. 

Some of the most common policy questions regarding medical marijuana include how to regulate its recommendation, dispensing, and registration of approved patients.  Some states and localities without dispensary regulation are experiencing a boom in new businesses, in hopes of being approved before presumably stricter regulations are made.  Medical marijuana growers or dispensaries are often called "caregivers" and may be limited to a certain number of plants or products per patient.  This issue may also be regulated on a local level, in addition to any state regulation. 



Statutory Language (year)

Patient Registry or ID cards

Allows Dispensaries

Specifies Conditions

Recognizes Patients from other states

State Allows
for Recreational Adult Use 


Measure 8 (1998) SB 94 (1999) Statute Title 17, Chapter 37

Yes No Yes    
Arizona Proposition 203 (2010) Yes Yes Yes Yes  
California Proposition 215 (1996)  SB 420 (2003) Yes Yes No    
Colorado Amendment 20 (2000) Yes Yes Yes  

Amendment 64 (2012)

Task Force Implementation

Recommendations (2013)
Analysis of CO Amendment 64 (2013)
Colorado Marijuana Sales and Tax Reports

Connecticut HB 5387 (2012) Yes Yes Yes    
Delaware SB 17 (2011) Yes Yes Yes  Yes  
District of Columbia Initiative 59 (1998)  LR 720 (2010) Yes Yes TBD     
Hawaii SB 862 (2000) Yes No Yes    
Illinois HB 1 (2013) Eff. 1/1/2014 Yes Yes Yes No  

Question 2 (1999)  LD 611 (2002)  

Question 5 (2009)   LD 1811 (2010)

LD 1296 (2011)

Yes Yes Yes Yes  
Maryland (4/8/14-pending signature of the governor)

HB 702 (2003) SB 308 (2011) HB 180/SB 580 (2013)  HB 1101- Chapter 403 (2013)

SB 923 (2014- sent to governor 4/8/14)
HB 881- similar to SB 923



Yes Yes 


Massachusetts Question 3 (2012)
Regulations (2013)
Yes Yes Yes    
Michigan Proposal 1 (2008) Yes No Yes Yes   
Montana Initiative 148 (2004) SB 423 (2011) Yes No** Yes No  
Nevada Question 9 (2000) NRS 453A NAC 453A Yes No Yes     
New Hampshire HB 573 (2013) Yes Yes Yes

Yes, with a note from

their home state,  but

they cannot purchase

or grow their own in NH.

New Jersey SB 119 (2009)  
Program information
Yes  Yes  Yes     
New Mexico SB 523 (2007) 
Medical Cannabis Program
Yes  Yes  Yes     

Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (1998)

SB 161 (2007) 

Yes  No  Yes     
Rhode Island SB 791 (2007)  SB 185 (2009) Yes  Yes  Yes  Yes   
Vermont SB 76 (2004) SB 7 (2007) SB 17 (2011) Yes  Yes Yes     

Initiative 692 (1998) SB 5798 (2010)

SB 5073 (2011)

No  No  Yes    Initiative 502 (2012)

*The links and resources are provided for information purposes only. NCSL does not endorse the views expressed in any of the articles linked from this page.

** While Montana's revised medical marijuana law limits caregivers to three patients, caregivers may serve an unlimited number of patients due to an injunction issued on January 16, 2013.

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