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State Medical Marijuana Laws: Understanding the Laws and Their Limitations

Pacula RL, Chriqui JF, Reichmann DA and Terry-McElrath YM. Journal of Public Health Policy, 23(4): 411-437, 2002.

Although the federal government formally opposes the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, twenty-six states and the District of Columbia had laws enabling the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes under specific circumstances as of December 31, 2000. There is much confusion regarding the prevalence of medical marijuana laws, their history, and what the laws actually allow. This confusion is exacerbated by the level of variance in types of medical marijuana legislation supported by different medical, professional and policy advocate groups. For example, some medical groups promote state laws that allow physicians to discuss the medicinal value of marijuana with their patients and recommend it as a therapy (e.g., American Medical Association, American Society of Addictive Medicine). Other medical organizations support broader legislation that provides prescriptive access to medicinal marijuana (e.g., AIDS Action Council, American Public Health Association, and the American Academy of Family Physicians). Finally, there are policy advocate groups such as the Marijuana Policy Project and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) that only consider medical marijuana laws to be effective and real if they remove criminal penalties for patients who use, possess and grow marijuana with a doctor’s approval. State legislation has evolved supporting each of these positions over the past twenty years, but has resulted in a patchwork of state approaches with varying degrees of breadth and recognition. Voters, policy makers and advocates of various policy positions are in need of a comprehensive review of the various types of provisions currently in use, as well as insights into the policy implications of those provisions. This paper attempts to provide such a review. 

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