State Medical Marijuana Laws

March 14, 2004

, NBC 30 TV - Connecticut

The issue of legalizing medical marijuana has pitted individual states against the federal government. Although federal law prohibits any use or possession of marijuana, more than half of the U.S. states have enacted favorable medical marijuana laws since 1978. However, most of the laws are ineffective because of their contradiction to the federal prohibition. Currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia have laws on the books that recognize the drug's medical value, according to a Marijuana Policy Project report from June 2001.

Eight states have enacted effective laws allowing marijuana for medical purposes: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.



Another 12 states have Therapeutic Research Program laws. These laws allow patients to legally use medical marijuana through a state-run research program. However, none of these programs have been in operation since 1985 because of an increasingly cumbersome federal approvals process.

Ten states and the District of Columbia have laws that recognize marijuana's medical value, but don't protect users from arrest. Several allow patients to possess marijuana if obtained directly from a valid prescription -- but there isn't a legal supply of the drug to fill a prescription. Doctors are not allowed to prescribe marijuana, and pharmacies can't dispense it.

The federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 established five "schedules" into which all illicit and prescription drugs are placed. Marijuana is currently in Schedule 1, which defines it as having a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use in treatment. The U.S. government doesn't allow Schedule 1 substances to be prescribed by doctors or sold in pharmacies.

However, states have their own controlled substance schedules, which typically mirror the federal government's. But the states are free to place the substances in whatever schedules they see fit. However, the only significance for a state placing marijuana in a less restrictive schedule is that it simply recognizes the drug's supposed therapeutic use.

Click on the states in the map below to see their medical marijuana policies, based on information from NORML and the Marijuana Policy Project.




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