Q: How many states have enacted medical marijuana laws since 1996?
A: Twenty states -- Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington -- and the District of Columbia have passed laws providing for limited legal protections from arrest for authorized patients who use cannabis with a doctor's recommendation. Additionally, Maryland lawmakers in 2003 and again in 2011 approved legislation to eliminate fines and criminal penalties for citizens who successfully raise an 'affirmative defense' in court establishing that they possessed limited amounts of marijuana for medical purposes.
Q: Does the May 14, 2001 Supreme Court Ruling (U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative) affect these laws?
A: No. The legal use of medical marijuana by patients in these states is not challenged by this decision. The Court's decision applies only to the manufacture and distribution of marijuana under federal law. The question of whether patients may legally use marijuana in states where such use is permitted was not at issue in this case.
Q: May physicians legally prescribe marijuana?
A: No. Although a handful of states have legislation authorizing doctors to prescribe marijuana (These laws were all passed in the late 1970s and early 1980s in expectation that the federal government would eventually reschedule marijuana.), doctors in these states may not legally do so without violating federal law. Federal policy dictates that physician who prescribes marijuana or other Schedule I drugs to a patient may be stripped of his or her federal license to prescribe drugs and prosecuted. In addition, physicians will not prescribe marijuana because there are no legal state supply sources from which a patient could attain the drug.
Q: May physicians legally recommend marijuana therapy to a patient?
A: Yes. On September 7, 2000, U.S. District Judge William Alsup ruled in Conant v. McCaffrey that federal authorities may not sanction doctors who recommend marijuana to patients.
Q: May a state board of health legally distribute medical marijuana?
A: Yes, however the marijuana must come from the federal National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Between 1978 and 1986, NIDA distributed medical marijuana to six state research programs. Most recently, NIDA provided marijuana to a California statewide medical marijuana research program. The preliminary results of this research is available here. No additional state-sponsored research is pending.
Q: May a state authorize medical marijuana clinical trials without federal approval?
A: No. All medical marijuana research must meet NIDA approval and receive funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Q: May a legislature reschedule marijuana for medical purposes under state law?
A: Yes, although this is largely a symbolic gesture. Rescheduling marijuana statewide does not protect patients from criminal prosecution under federal law or allow doctors in that state to legally prescribe the drug.
Q: Can a state legally license the production and distribution of medical marijuana?
A: Presently, a handful of states, including Colorado, Maine, and New Mexico license producers and distributors of medical cannabis. Several other states are considering or are in the process of enacting similar programs. (See here for full details.) The present administration has given mixed signals to lawmakers regarding whether the Department of Justice would seek sanctions against those involved with such programs. However, as of this writing, the federal government has yet to prosecute any individuals involved with the state-licensed production or distribution of medical cannabis in any state that has sanctioned such activities.
Q. Is there federal legislation pending to legalize marijuana as a medicine?
A: For the latest on state and federal medical marijuana legislation, visit NORML's Take Action center.