Every one of the 38 medical cannabis states allows individuals to qualify if they suffer from pain. However, the language varies significantly from state to state. Some states grant medical providers the discretion to recommend cannabis for any medical condition, while others allow anyone with chronic or severe pain to qualify. On the other end of the spectrum, vast numbers of pain patients are still left behind due to some states’ narrow definitions of what type of pain qualifies. These include requirements that the pain persist for months before qualifying and/or pushing patients to first try other, more dangerous treatments without success.
The below chart includes the state-by-state language for what type of pain qualifies for cannabis, starting with the least restrictive and ending with the most restrictive. In addition, 23 states have enacted laws allowing any adult 21 and older to use cannabis — Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. (Some have not taken effect yet.) They are noted with an * symbol.
Any condition qualifies if a physician believes cannabis may alleviate it
California*, Maine*, Oklahoma, New York*
“Chronic, severe, intractable, or debilitating pain”
(In Illinois, patients also qualify with a “medical condition for which an opioid has been or could be prescribed by a physician based on generally accepted standards of care.”)
Illinois*, Minnesota*, New Jersey*
“Moderate to severe chronic pain”
“A disease, medical condition, or its treatment that is chronic, debilitating, and produces … chronic pain”
“A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces … severe, debilitating pain”
“A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition, or treatment [for such conditions, which produces] … severe pain”
In Colorado, cannabis can also be recommended in lieu of an opioid.
Colorado*, Hawaii, Maryland*
“A medical condition or treatment for a medical condition that produces … severe pain”
“A chronic or debilitating disease or its treatment that produces … severe pain”
“Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain”
“Intractable pain,” which “means a pain state in which the cause of the pain cannot be removed or otherwise treated with the consent of the patient and which, in the generally accepted course of medical practice, no relief or cure of the cause of the pain is possible, or none has been found after reasonable efforts. It is pain so chronic and severe as to otherwise warrant an opiate prescription.” The law also includes "Any condition ... an authorized clinician, in his clinical opinion, considers debilitating to an individual patient and is qualified through his clinical education and training to treat."
“A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition or its treatment that produces … severe and chronic pain”
“A chronic medical condition that causes severe, persistent pain” or “A chronic medical condition that is normally treated with a prescription medication that could lead to physical or psychological dependence, when a physician determines that medical use of marijuana could be effective in treating that condition and would serve as a safer alternative to the prescription medication”
“A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition, or its treatment, that produces … debilitating, chronic pain”
“severe chronic pain”
“Pain that is either... chronic and severe or intractable”
“pain lasting longer than two weeks that is not adequately managed, in the qualified medical provider's opinion, despite treatment attempts using: (i) conventional medications other than opioids or opiates; or (ii)physical interventions”
“Severe chronic pain that is persistent pain of severe intensity that significantly interferes with daily activities as documented by the patient's treating physician”
Severe, debilitating pain “that has not responded to previously prescribed medication or surgical measures for more than 3 months or for which other treatment options produced serious side effects”
Delaware*, North Dakota
A condition causing intractable or chronic pain “in which conventionaltherapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or has proved ineffective”