Medical Marijuana

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Marijuana for medical use has been legal in the US since 1986 as a chemical extract of THC. It is still sold under the brand name Marinol. However, the plant form is illegal at the national level and only decriminalized on a state by state basis. Currently, there are 16 states with permitted medical use for marijuana and 6 others working on legislation.

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It’s important to note that in no US State is marijuana completely legal. All states have some restrictions and violating these can lead to both state and federal charges being brought. The most liberal state may be Alaska. Personal home use has been in effect, regardless of medical need, since 1978. The legal justification was a right to privacy ruling on State Constitutional grounds.

The uses of marijuana in medicine (see introduction) date back to pre-history, and marijuana is mentioned as an herbal aid as long as 4000 years ago. It has been cultivated even longer, since before recorded human history.

Currently, each state regulates what uses medical marijuana can be prescribed for, but generally it is approved for the following conditions:

  • * Appetite loss due to chemotherapy
  • * Muscular dystrophy
  • * Chronic pain
  • * Anorexia
  • * Crohn’s disease
  • * Glaucoma

An example of qualifying conditions can be found for New Mexico here. Note that they are accepting petitions to add more diagnoses to the list. Each state law differs on which specific disease states qualify for the medical marijuana program in that state.

In many states, a separate license is required for physicians to prescribe medical marijuana and retail pharmacies typically do not dispense the drug. Since pharmacies are federally licensed by the DEA, they are restricted by federal law.

The conflict between federal and state laws on the medical use of marijuana continues to bring up legal questions. For example, in many states it is legal to use marijuana but the provisions to buy it may fall afoul of federal law. Employees who use the drug may be acting illegally in federally funded jobs, even though they are approved at the state level. Furthermore, since transportation between states is federally governed, there is no provision to market medical marijuana in interstate commerce. Adding to this mix of conflicting laws at the state and federal level, local communities also regulate (through zoning or taxation) what is approved in their areas.

Studies are ongoing about just what the overall effects (positive or negative) legalization of marijuana for medical use have been. Early estimates are that usage has increased dramatically, but how effective the drug has been when treating medical conditions remains under dispute.

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