Medical Marijuana Overview

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have enacted effective medical marijuana laws. These laws are working well and protecting patients.

A clear majority of the public and many prominent religious and medical organizations support seriously ill patients' right to use medical marijuana without risking arrest and imprisonment.

Marijuana's Medical Value

  • Studies show that many patients suffering with HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, cancer and chemotherapy, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and other debilitating illnesses find that marijuana provides relief from their symptoms.

  • "Nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety are all afflictions of wasting and can be mitigated by marijuana."
    — Institute of Medicine, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base, 1999

  • "ACP urges an evidence-based review of marijuana's status as a Schedule I controlled substance to determine whether it should be reclassified to a different schedule. ... ACP strongly supports exemption from federal criminal prosecution; civil liability; or professional sanctioning, such as loss of licensure or credentialing, for physicians who prescribe or dispense medical marijuana in accordance with state law. Similarly, ACP strongly urges protection from criminal or civil penalties for patients who use medical marijuana as permitted under state laws. ... Evidence not only supports the use of medical marijuana in certain conditions but also suggests numerous indications for cannabinoids."
    — American College of Physicians, Supporting Research into the Therapeutic Role of Marijuana, 2008

  • Available prescription drugs often come with far more serious side effects than marijuana, and many patients who find relief from marijuana simply do not respond to prescription medications. Smoking or vaporizing marijuana are much more effective delivery methods than pills for many patients; the drug works instantly, the dosage may be controlled by the patient, and there is no problem "keeping it down" since it cannot be vomited back up.

  • Cocaine, morphine, and methamphetamine may all be legally administered to patients — so why not marijuana, which has a far lower rate of dependency and on which no one has ever overdosed?

State Laws

  • Under state law, 23 states and Washington, D.C. currently provide legal protection for seriously ill patients whose doctors recommend the medical use of marijuana: Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Vermont. Twenty-two of those states issue ID cards to patients who provide their doctors' recommendations to a state or county agency.

  • Generally, these laws are working well and providing patients with relief and protection from arrest. Since 1996, when the first effective medical marijuana law passed, data have shown that concerns about these laws increasing youth marijuana use are unfounded. None of the 15 states with available data have experienced a statistically significant overall increase in youth marijuana use since the laws' enactment. Instead, several of the states have reported overall decreases.

The Issue of Federal Law

  • Because about 99% of all marijuana arrests occur at the state and local levels, state medical marijuana laws provide nearly complete protection to patients. Pres. Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have said that the federal government will not prosecute patients in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.
  • Federal law does not prevent states from removing state criminal penalties for the medical use of marijuana. Nothing in the U.S. Constitution or federal law prohibits states from enacting penalties that differ from federal law.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 ruling in Gonzales vs. Raich did not change states' ability to enact medical marijuana laws. The ruling simply maintained the status quo by affirming that the federal government may prosecute medical marijuana patients.

  • A federal appellate court has ruled that the federal government cannot punish — or even investigate — physicians for discussing or recommending the medical use of marijuana with patients.

Support from the Public

  • A May 2013 Fox News poll found that 85% of Americans think "adults should be allowed to use marijuana for medical purposes if a physician prescribes it.”
  • Voters in 11 states have enacted medical marijuana laws by statewide ballot initiatives. In Michigan in 2008, the medical marijuana initiative received 63% of the vote, more than the 57% Pres. Obama received in the state. In November 2010, Arizonans passed a medical marijuana law in an election that saw overwhelming Republican victories on every level of that state. Most recently, in November 2012, 63% of Massachusetts voters supported a ballot initiative to enact a compassionate medical marijuana program in their state. There, too, medical marijuana received a larger percent of the votes than Pres. Obama, who got 60% of the vote in Massachusetts.

Support from the Medical Community

American College of Physicians • Institute of Medicine • American Public Health Association • American Nurses Association • American Academy of HIV Medicine • Leukemia and Lymphoma Society • Lymphoma Foundation of America • American Medical Student Association • Epilepsy Foundation The state medical societies of New York, Rhode Island, and California

  • The American Medical Association "calls for further adequate and well-controlled studies of marijuana" and believes that "effective patient care requires the free and unfettered exchange of information on treatment alternatives and that discussion of these alternatives between physicians and patients should not subject either party to criminal sanctions." In 2009, the AMA recommended the federal government consider reclassifying marijuana to facilitate research. That same year, delegates voted down a resolution saying that “smoked marijuana should not be recommended for medical use." — These views stand in sharp contrast to the actions of the federal government, which has systematically hampered research and attempted (unsuccessfully) to bar doctors from recommending marijuana to their patients.

  • In February 2013, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that three-quarters of surveyed physicians would recommend medical marijuana to a patient when they were presented with a hypothetical case and arguments for and against medical marijuana.

Support from the Religious Community

United Methodist Church • Presbyterian Church • United Church of Christ • Episcopal Church • Unitarian Universalist Association • Union of Reform Judaism • Progressive National Baptist Convention

Support from the Press

The Economist • New York Times • USA Today • San Francisco Chronicle • Chicago Tribune • Washington Post • New York Daily News • Las Vegas Sun • Roanoke Times • Los Angeles Daily News • The Tennessean • Rocky Mountain News • Newark Star-Ledger • Los Angeles Times • New Haven Advocate • Providence Journal • Hartford Courant • Honolulu Star-Bulletin • Baltimore Sun • Daily Record • Sun Sentinel • Pioneer Press • The Oregonian • West Virginia Gazette • Scientific American

And many, many more …

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