State Medical Marijuana Laws
Comparison of all state medical marijuana programs with contact information. Prepared by the Network for Public Health Law as of May 2012.
"State Legalization of Recreational Marijuana: Selected Legal Issues." Congressional Research Service, April 2013.
Analysis of CO Amendment 64 (rec use initiative) by Colorado State University, April 2013.
"Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base," Institute of Medicine, 1999.
Treatment Research Institute's (TRI) policy position statement regarding medical marijuana.
ProCon.org's resources on medical marijuana. Medical Marijuana ProCon.org presents laws, studies, statistics, surveys, government reports, and pro and con statements on questions related to marijuana as medicine.
"Exposing the Myth of Smoked Medical Marijuana," U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
"State-by-State Medical Marijuana Laws: How to Remove the Threat of Arrest," Marijuana Policy Project, 2011.
Statement by ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske regarding Federal guidelines for medical marijuana prosecution.
"How to Become a Legal Medical Marijuana Patient," Americans for Safe Access.
"Marinol: The Legal Medical Use for the Marijuana Plant," U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
Updated September 2013
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, for a total of 20 states and the District of Columbia with public 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. The primary exception is Maryland, whose statute simply allows for medical purposes as a defense against arrest and prosecution of marijuana possession, but does not provide a means for patients to actually obtain the drug. As of April, 2011, people in Maryland with a debiliating medical condition cannot be prosecuted for non-public use or possession of one ounce or less of marijuana.
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.
*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.
** As of 4/22/13: Maryland's law allows for medical marijuana use as a legal defense in court. Possession of more than one ounce of marijuana and public consumption for medical reasons is still illegal. 2013 bill allows caregivers to be included in the affirmative legal defense category. HB 1101 legalized a medical use RESEARCH program and was signed by the governor on 5/3/2013 as Chapter 403.
*** 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.