Medical cannabis is a relatively safe and effective treatment option for a broad range of serious medical conditions. Support from the medical community, lawmakers, and the public — combined with a large and growing body of scientific research — has led to 38 states enacting effective medical cannabis programs. As a whole, these laws are working well and improving quality of life for Americans facing serious medical conditions.
Medical Cannabis Is a Safe and Effective Treatment Option
Millions of patients suffering from pain, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, seizure disorders, HIV/AIDS, and other ailments have found that cannabis provides relief from their symptoms. Although the federal government has made researching cannabis’s medical value uniquely difficult, hundreds of studies in both the U.S. and abroad have shown what these patients have found to be true: medical cannabis works.
Prescription drugs often come with far greater risks than cannabis. While more than 16,000 Americans fatally overdose on prescription opioids each year, it appears to be impossible to fatally overdose on cannabis. Research shows cannabis can allow pain patients to reduce or eliminate their use of opiates. Surveys of medical cannabis patients in Minnesota and Michigan found that more than 60% of pain patients who had been prescribed opiates were able to reduce or eliminate their use of opiates.
Many patients who find relief from cannabis simply do not respond to prescription medications. As the Institute of Medicine noted in its extensive report on medical cannabis, “there will likely always be a subpopulation of patients who do not respond well to other medications.” Studies have found that patients whose neuropathic pain did not respond to other medications found relief from cannabis.
Some opponents seek to limit medical cannabis access to oils or pills, but like any medication, doctors and patients should have access to all safe and effective options that exist. Smoking and vaporizing cannabis are much more effective delivery methods than pills for many patients, because they can assess the effect immediately and increase dosage in small increments. Manufactured edibles are another important option, because they are easier for some patients to ingest. With proper regulation, these products produce consistent effects with each treatment.
Federal Law Does Not Stand in the Way
Federal law does not prevent states from removing state criminal penalties for the medical use of cannabis. Nothing in the U.S. Constitution or federal law prohibits states from enacting penalties that differ from federal law.
Since late 2014, Congress’ appropriations acts have included riders to prevent federal funds from being used to interfere with medical cannabis laws.
A federal appellate court ruled that the federal government cannot punish — or even investigate — physicians for discussing or recommending the medical use of cannabis with patients.
There Is Overwhelming, Bipartisan Support for Allowing Medical cannabis
National polls consistently find 70-94% of Americans support medical cannabis.
Since November 2016, voters in Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah — all states where voters chose Donald Trump — approved medical cannabis initiatives.
Most states recognize the medical value of cannabis. In addition to the 38 state medical cannabis laws, 11 other states have passed laws that recognize the medical value of at least some cannabis preparations.
In February 2013, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that 76 percent of surveyed physicians would recommend medical cannabis to a patient.
The American Medical Association, the Institute of Medicine, and the American College of Physicians have all acknowledged the potential benefits of medical cannabis. In addition, several other major U.S. health organizations support access to medical cannabis, including the American Public Health Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of HIV Medicine, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the Lymphoma Foundation of America, the Epilepsy Foundation, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the state medical societies of New York, Rhode Island, and California.
Medical Cannabis Laws Are Generally Working Well
No state that has enacted medical cannabis legislation has later repealed it. In fact, after seeing that the laws were working and not causing problems, many states have expanded their programs to include more qualifying conditions and regulated dispensing, lower fees for patients, and more types of practitioners who can issue recommendations. (There have been some concerns that a couple of citizen initiatives initially did not include sufficient regulation, but that concern is not a reason to oppose well regulated laws. In most cases, laws have instead erred on the side of being overly restrictive and continuing to steer patients to opiates first.)
Medical cannabis laws do not lead to increased teen cannabis usage. In 32 of the 38 medical cannabis states, government surveys have produced before-and-after data on teens’ cannabis use. In 23 states, the data indicates overall decreases, 11 of which were outside confidence intervals. Only a single state’s data indicates an increase outside of the confidence interval. Other researchers and health experts have examined the data in recent years and have also found the data to be reassuring.
In states with medical cannabis laws, it is not uncommon for law enforcement to initially be wary of or opposed to the proposal; but post-enactment, they often recognize that it is not causing problems. For example, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association executive director, Dennis Flaherty, had strenuously opposed allowing medical cannabis. However, a year after enactment, he did not oppose adding intractable pain to the program. As a local paper reported, Flaherty said, “police are unaware of any problems with the current cannabis program and do not expect any now that pain will be included.”