The key to being a successful medical marijuana advocate is effective communication. Specifically, advocates must be able to: 1) convey the most important arguments in support of medical marijuana laws, and 2) respond to arguments made in opposition to medical marijuana laws. Whether you are engaging in personal discussions, participating in public debates, conducting media interviews, or corresponding with government officials, it is critical that you are prepared.
This document will provide you with the most persuasive talking points and strongest rebuttals to employ when communicating about medical marijuana. We recommend you keep it handy when conducting interviews or engaging in public debates. You are also welcome to convey the information verbatim or simply use it as a general guide when carrying out advocacy activities.
NOTE: Statistics can change rapidly and there are constant developments surrounding the issue. If you would like to confirm whether a given piece of information is current, or if you would like to suggest additions or revisions to this document, please contact the Marijuana Policy Project communications department at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last updated: November 16, 2020
These are the key points to convey when given the opportunity to make our case.
These are responses to arguments frequently made by opponents.
Marijuana has no medical value.
Medical marijuana is opposed by the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, and other medical organizations.
Medicine should be based on science, not politics or public opinion.
Medical marijuana is already available to some people.
Medicine should be prescribed, not recommended.
There are already drugs available that work better than marijuana.
Marijuana is already available in the form of a prescription pill.
We can make synthetic forms of other useful cannabinoids.
If the prescription pill form doesn’t work, we should just develop other forms of delivery.
There is a marijuana spray that makes the crude plant unnecessary.
The FDA says that marijuana is not a medicine and medical marijuana laws subvert its drug approval process.
Marijuana is too dangerous to be used as a medicine; there are 10,000 studies showing marijuana is dangerous.
Medicine should not be smoked, and smoking marijuana is more harmful than smoking tobacco.
Marijuana is bad for the immune system.
Marijuana contains over 400 chemicals, including most of the harmful compounds found in tobacco smoke.
Marijuana’s side effects (e.g., increased blood pressure) negate its effectiveness in fighting glaucoma.
Marijuana use can increase the risk of mental illness, including schizophrenia.
Medical marijuana laws send the wrong message to teens.
We can’t allow patients to grow marijuana, especially in homes with children.
Medical marijuana laws are full of loopholes.
Medical marijuana laws basically legalize marijuana for everyone.
Medical marijuana laws only pass because of well-funded and/or misleading campaigns.
Medical marijuana laws confuse law enforcement officials.
Medical marijuana dispensaries are out of control or magnets for crime.
Medical marijuana is just a Trojan horse for broader legalization.
People aren’t actually arrested for medical marijuana.
Nobody is in prison for using/providing medical marijuana.
The government is making it easier to do medical marijuana research.
State medical marijuana laws violate federal law.
The courts have ruled marijuana is not medicine and states cannot legalize medical marijuana.
1 Quinnipiac University Poll, “Republicans Out Of Step With U.S. Voters On Key Issues, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Most Voters Support Legalized Marijuana,” February 23, 2017: 13.
2 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. “The health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids: The current state of evidence and recommendations for research,” (2017).
3 Institute of Medicine, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1999), 159.
4 “Completed Studies,” Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, University of California, San Diego. http://www.cmcr.ucsd.edu/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=41&Itemid=135
5 Abrams, D., Jay, C., Shade, S., Vizoso, H., Reda, H., Press S., Kelly M., Rowbotham M., and Petersen, K., “Cannabis in painful HIV-associated sensory neuropathy: A randomized placebo-controlled trial,” Neurology 68: 515-521.
6 Wilsey, B. et al., “A randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover trial of cannabis cigarettes in neuropathic pain.” The Journal of Pain 9(6): 506-521.
7 Ellis, R.J. et al., “Smoked medicinal cannabis for neuropathic pain in HIV: a randomized, crossover clinical trial,” Neuropsychopharmacology. Published online ahead of print, August 6, 2008.
8 Abrams D., et al., “Cannabis in painful HIV-associated sensory neuropathy: A randomized placebo-controlled trial,” Neurology 68 (2007): 515-521.
9 Wallace, M., et al., “Dose-dependent effects of smoked cannabis on capsaicin-induced pain and hyperalgesia in healthy volunteers,” Anesthesiology 107(5) (2007): 785-796.
10 Wallace, M., et al., “Effect of smoked cannabis on painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy,” The Journal of Pain 16(7) (2015): 616-627.
11 Wilsey, B., et al., “Low-dose vaporized cannabis significantly improves neuropathic pain,” The Journal of Pain 14(2) (2013): 136-148.
12 “Medical Cannabis in the Treatment of Chronic Pain,” The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, September 29, 2015.
13 Ware, M., et al., “Cannabis for the Management of Pain: Assessment of Safety Study,” The Journal of Pain 16(12) 2015: 1233-1242.
14 Sarfaraz et al., “Cannabinoids for Cancer Treatment: Progress and Promise,” Cancer Research 68 (2008): 339-342.
15 Sylvestre D., Clements B., Malibu Y., “Cannabis use improves retention and virological outcomes in patients treated for hepatitis C,” European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology 18 (2006): 1057-1063.
16 Naftali, T., et al., “Treatment of Crohn’s Disease with Cannabis: An Observational Study,” Israel Medical Association Journal 13(8) (2011): 455-8.
17 “In the Matter of Marijuana Rescheduling Petition,” DEA Docket No. 86-22, September 6, 1988.
18 American College of Physicians, “Supporting Research into the Therapeutic Role of Marijuana,” 2008.
19 Hoeffel, John, “Medical Marijuana Gets a Boost From Major Doctors Group,” Los Angeles Times, November 11, 2009.
20 Elders, Joycelyn, “Myths About Medical Marijuana,” Providence Journal, March 26, 2004.
21 Adler, Jonathan N. & James A. Colbert, “Medicinal Use of Marijuana — Polling Results,” New England Journal of Medicine 368 (2013): 30.
22 “Partial List of Organizations with Favorable Medicinal Marijuana Positions,” State-By-State Report, Marijuana Policy Project, 2016.
23 Institute of Medicine, 159.
24 Institute of Medicine, 3-4.
25 Institute of Medicine, 153.
26 Baker, David, et al., “The Therapeutic Potential of Cannabis,” The Lancet Neurology 2 (May 2003): 291-298.
27 American College of Physicians, “Supporting Research into the Therapeutic Role of Marijuana,” 2008.
28 Izzo A.A., et al. “Non-Psychotropic Plant Cannabinoids: New Therapeutic Opportunities From an Ancient Herb,” Trends in Pharmacological Sciences 30(10), 2009: 515-527.
29 Mechoulam R., et al., “Cannabidiol — Recent Advances, ” Chemistry and Biodiversity 4 (2007): 1678-1692.
30 “Report on the Possible Medical Uses of Marijuana,” NIH medicinal marijuana expert group, Rockville, MD, National Institutes of Health, August 8, 1997; notes 8, 89.
31 Institute of Medicine, 7.
32 Abrams, D.I., et al., “Vaporization as a Smokeless Cannabis Delivery System: A Pilot Study,” Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, April 11, 2007.
33 Earleywine, M., Barnwell, S.S., “Decreased Respiratory Symptoms in Cannabis Users Who Vaporize,” Harm Reduction Journal 4 (2007): 11.
34 GW Pharmaceuticals, “Product Monograph: Sativex,” April 13, 2005, 27.
35 Harris, Gardiner, “FDA Dismisses Medical Benefit From Marijuana,” The New York Times, April 21, 2006.
36 Radley, David C., Finkelstein Stan N., and Stafford, Randall S., “Off-label Prescribing Among Office-Based Physicians," Archives of Internal Medicine 166 (9), 2006: 1021–1026.
37 Institute of Medicine, 5.
38 American College of Physicians, “Supporting Research into the Therapeutic Role of Marijuana,” 2008.
39 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. “The health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids: The current state of evidence and recommendations for research,” (2017).
40 Sidney S., et al., “Marijuana Use and Mortality,” American Journal of Public Health 87(4), April 1997: 585-590.
41 Carter, Gregory T., et al., “Medicinal Cannabis: Rational Guidelines for Dosing,” IDrugs 7(5), 2004: 464-470.
42 Guarino, Mark, “Prescription drug abuse now more deadly than heroin, cocaine combined,” Christian Science Monitor, October 7, 2013.
43 Fontana, Robert J., “Acute Liver Failure including Acetaminophen Overdose,” Medical Clinics of North America 92(4), 2008: 761-794.
44 Letter from Beverly Urbanek, Research Associate of the University of Mississippi Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (601-232-5914), to Dr. G. Alan Robison, Drug Policy Forum of Texas, June 13, 1996.
45 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. “The health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids: The current state of evidence and recommendations for research,” (2017).
46 Institute of Medicine, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1999).
47 Sidney, et al., “Marijuana Use and Cancer Incidence,” Cancer, Causes, and Control 8 (1997): 722–28.
48 Hashibe, et al., “Marijuana Use and the Risk of Lung Cancer and Upper Aerodigestive Tract Cancer: Results of a Population-based Case-control Study,” Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention 15 (2006): 1829–34.
49 Mark Kaufman, “Study Finds No Cancer-Marijuana Connection,” The Washington Post, May 26, 2006.
50 Sarfaraz, et al., “Cannabinoids for Cancer Treatment: Progress and Promise,” Cancer Research 68 (2008): 339–42.
51 Manuel Guzman, “Cannabinoids: Potential Anticancer Agents,” Nature Reviews Cancer 3 (2003): 745–755.
52 Institute of Medicine, 109.
53 Institute of Medicine, 126.
54 Abrams D., et al., “Short-Term Effects of Cannabinoids in Patients With HIV-1 Infection,” Annals of Internal Medicine 139 (2003): 258-266.
55 Di Franco, M.J., et al., “The Lack of Association of Marijuana and Other Recreational Drugs With Progression to AIDS in the San Francisco Men’s Health Study,” Annals of Epidemiology 6(4), 1996: 283-289.
56 Romeyn, Mary, Nutrition and HIV: A New Model for Treatment, Second Edition (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998), 117-118.
57 “Transcripts of Open Discussions Held on February 20, 1997, Book Two, Tab C, Pp. 96-97; Washington, D.C.: ACE-Federal Reporters, Inc.
58 Hall, W., Degenhardt L., “What are the policy implications of the evidence on cannabis and psychosis?,” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 51(9), August 2006: 566-574.
59 Power, R. A., et al., “Genetic predisposition to schizophrenia associated with increased use of cannabis,” Molecular Psychiatry 19 (2014): 1201-1204.
60 Hall, W., “Is Cannabis Use Psychotogenic?,” The Lancet, vol. 367, January 22, 2006.
61 Frisher, M., et al., “Assessing the Impact of Cannabis Use on Trends in Diagnosed Schizophrenia in the United Kingdom from 1996 to 2005,” Schizophrenia Research, Vol. 113, September 2009.
62 Proal, Ashley C. et al., “A controlled family study of cannabis users with and without psychosis,” Schizophrenia Research 152 (2014): 283-288.
63 Hasin, Deborah S, et al., “Medical marijuana laws and adolescent marijuana use in the USA from 1991 to 2014: results from annual, repeated cross-sectional surveys,” The Lancet Psychiatry, Vol. 2, Issue 7, 601-608.
64 Anderson, D. Mark, Hansen, Benjamin, and Rees, Daniel I., “Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Marijuana Use,” Institute for the Study of Labor, May 2012.
65 O’Keefe, Karen, et al., “Marijuana Use by Young People: The Impact of State Medical Marijuana Laws,” Marijuana Policy Project, June 2011.
66 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1991-2013 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/index.htm.
67 “Report to Attorney General Bill Lockyer, 11th Biennial California Student Survey, Grades 7, 9 and 11,” WestEd, 2006.
68 Skager, Rodney, Austin, Greg, and Wong, Mamie, “Marijuana Use and the Response to Proposition 215 Among California Youth, a Special Study From the California Student Substance Use Survey (Grades 7, 9, and 11), 1997-1998.”
69 General Accounting Office, “Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources, Committee on Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives. Marijuana: Early Experiences With Four States’ Laws that Allow Use for Medical Purposes,” Washington, D.C.: GAO, 2002, p. 32.
70 See: “Medical Marijuana Patient Numbers, Marijuana Policy Project, https://www.mpp.org/issues/medical-marijuana/state-by-state-medical-marijuana-laws/medical-marijuana-patient-numbers/.
71 “Study shows 70 percent of Americans take prescription drugs,” CBS News, June 20, 2013; Seth Motel, “6 facts about marijuana” Pew Research Center, April 14, 2015.
72 Marijuana Policy Project, “Proposition 215 10 Years Later: Medical Marijuana Goes Mainstream,” November 2006.
73 Chu, Yu-Wei Luke and Townsend, Wilburn. “Joint Culpability: The Effects of Medical Marijuana Laws on Crime,” February 2017: 1.
74 Ingold, John, “Analysis: Denver pot shops’ robbery rate lower than banks,” Denver Post, January 27, 2010.
75 Rodgers, Jakob, “Marijuana shops not magnets for crime, police say,” Colorado Springs Gazette, September 13, 2010.
76 United States Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Crime in the United States, 2019, September 2020.
77 Pub. L. 113-235, 128 Stat. 2130 (2014) (“2015 Appropriations Act”).
78 U.S. v. McIntosh 833 F.3d 1163 (9th Cir, 2016).