MEDICAL CANNABIS IN THE UNITED STATES: As of April 2015, 23 states and Washington D.C. have legalized cannabis for medical use with seven states pending legislation.


In the United States, there are important legal differences between medical cannabis at the federal and state levels. At the federal level, cannabis per se has been made criminal by implementation of the Controlled Substances Act, but as of 2009, new federal guidelines have been enacted.

“It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana, but we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal.” – U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

California passed an initiative to allow medical cannabis in 1996. In the intervening years, multiple states have passed similar initiatives. A January 2010 ABC News poll showed that 81 percent of Americans believed that medical cannabis should be legal in the United States. Most recently, in April 2015 Georgia became the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana not including DC; however the marijuana cannot be smoked.

On December 16, 2014, Congress and the Obama Administration “quietly” ended the federal prohibition on medical marijuana.

by Lokal_Profil
Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons
1 Includes laws which have not yet gone into effect. 2 Mississippi has only legal non-psychoactive medical cannabis. * Cannabis remains a Schedule I substance under federal law as of 2015. * Some cities and Indian Reservations have legalization policies separate from their surrounding states. * Cannabis is illegal in all Federal enclaves.

Timeline Of Medical Marijuana Legalization In
The United States of America
(State-Level Legalization)

1996: California

1998: Alaska, Oregon, Washington

1999: Maine

2000: Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada

2004: Montana

2006: Rhode Island

2007: New Mexico, Vermont

2008: Michigan

2010: Arizona, New Jersey

2011: Delaware, Washington, D.C.

2012: Connecticut, Massachusetts

2013: New Hampshire, Illinois

2014: Maryland, Minnesota

Total states: 23

  • The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 makes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the sole government entity responsible for ensuring the safety and efficacy of new prescription and over-the-counter drugs, overseeing the labeling and marketing of drugs, and regulating the manufacturing and packaging of drugs. The FDA defines a drug as safe and effective for a specific indication if the clinical benefits to the patient are felt to outweigh any health risks the drug might pose. The FDA and comparable authorities in Western Europe, including the Netherlands, have not approved smoked cannabis (partly because of the problems related to smoking per se and the inherent crudeness of it as an effective and dosed delivery mechanism) for any condition or disease. Indeed, the FDA has not approved medical cannabis in any form for any indication.
  • Cannabis remains illegal throughout the United States and is not approved for prescription as medicine, although 23 states— Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington—as well as the District of Columbia approve and regulate its medical use. (The Federal government continues to enforce its prohibition in these states.)
  • Two American (for-profit) companies, Cannabis Science Inc., and Medical Marijuana, Inc., are working towards getting FDA approval for cannabis based medicines (including smoked cannabis). Cannabis Science Inc. wants to have medical cannabis approved by the FDA so anyone, regardless of state, will have access to the medicine. Also, there is one non-profit organization, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) working towards getting Cannabis approved by the FDA for PTSD.
  • Cannabis remains a U.S. federally controlled substance, making possession and distribution illegal. Those seeking to acquire medical cannabis may have to resort to the black market in order to obtain the product if their state does not allow the existence of legal dispensaries. However, in some states—such as Colorado—legal dispensaries are plentiful, and there is no need to resort to the black market.
  • Researchers face similar challenges in obtaining medical cannabis for research trial. Recently, the FDA has approved a number of cannabis research clinical trials, but the Drug Enforcement Administration has not granted licenses to the researchers in these studies.
  • Cannabis was listed in the United States Pharmacopeia from 1850 until 1942. The United States Federal government does not currently recognize any legitimate medical use, although there are currently four patients receiving cannabis for their various illnesses through the Compassionate Investigational New Drug program that was closed to new patients in 1991 by the George H. W. Bush administration. Twenty three U.S. state laws, as well as the District of Columbia, currently allow for the medicinal use of cannabis, but the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Federal government has the right to regulate and criminalize cannabis also in these states, even for medical purposes.
  • The term “medical marijuana” post-dates the U.S. Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Enacted by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, the tax act made cannabis prescriptions illegal in the United States. Since the creation of the DEA, the agency has spent over US$100 billion trying stop the flow of illegal drugs into the United States. States that have legalized marijuana have seen an increase in revenue though taxation. For example, in 2008, the state of Hawaii made over US$10 million through taxation of medical marijuana.


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