The 'Medical Marijuana' Grey Zone — The Problem of State to State Definitions

A contributing factor to the disparities in state laws is the lack of evidence surrounding potential health benefits
A contributing factor to the disparities in state laws is the lack of evidence surrounding potential health benefits

On April 17, Pennsylvania became the latest state to pass medical marijuana legislation, which will take effect this month. And recently Ohio's House of Representatives has passed a plan to permit medical marijuana in the state.

Research suggests that marijuana – or more specifially compounds in marjuana – may have potential as a treatment for epilepsy and chronic pain, among other conditions. However, more research is needed to fully understand any potential health benefits from the substance.

As of this writing, 41 states have legislation that permits medical marijuana in some form. However, the law in Texas is not considered functional, because it requires a physician to prescribe marijuana. Since marijuana is illegal under federal law, doctors can't prescribe it. They can only recommend it to patients. Louisiana's law had the same flaw, but the state's House of Representatives just voted on new legislation that should correct this problem

As the director of the Research Institute on Addictions at the University at Buffalo and a researcher who studies social factors in the development of addictions, I follow many of the emerging trends in substance use.

When New York state passed legislation allowing for medical marijuana late in 2015, I began to collect information on the ways that the states were approaching this controversial issue.

As medical marijuana laws become more common in the U.S., it's good to understand what, exactly, these state laws allow – and what they don't. States are trying to strike a balance between access to medical marijuana for patients who might benefit, while also ensuring that these laws don't become a backdoor to full legalization. And, as I have found, there is a lot of variation in terms of what states mean by “medical marijuana.” This can affect whether and how patients can access it and what conditions it can be used to treat. 

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