Although “legalize marijuana” is a concise slogan that accurately conveys the sentiment of sensible supporters everywhere, the reality isn’t quite so straightforward. As much as we might like it to be, marijuana is far from an “all or nothing” deal. Between recreational use, medical marijuana, and decriminalization, there are many different options for forward progress. Furthermore, within each one of those legal statuses exist nearly countless permutations of rules, regulations, and policies. Medical marijuana is particularly complex.
Medical marijuana’s long journey to law
The campaign trail, with grassroots efforts from passionate non-profits and united citizens, is only the beginning of the long road to legalization. Like any piece of registration – especially a controversial one – every medical marijuana bill faces abundant red tape.
That’s why the question, “how many states have medical marijuana?” is a complex one. States may wait months between a favorable vote and when law actually goes into effect, and even longer to see manufacturers really established. Some states have programs that are fully accessible, while other programs allow access to non-psychoactive CBD products only, and others – like Kentucky – allow only clinical research.
What medical conditions qualify for medical marijuana?
Even when a medical marijuana program becomes fully accessible, there are still debates to be had. The lists of medical conditions that entitle someone to medical marijuana vary wildly from state to state. Of the 23 established and active medical marijuana programs, most recognize around a dozen conditions. Illinois is the most liberal, permitting an impressive 45 conditions.
Many conditions appear on multiple lists, like chronic pain, nausea, and symptoms related to cancer. The condition most likely to be recognized is epilepsy. Of the 38 states that have programs in varying levels of development, severe seizure disorders qualify in all but 2.
Even more differences between medical marijuana programs
The list of qualifying conditions is only the beginning. The discussion site ProCon.org provides a great summary of the different aspects of medical marijuana programs that are seldom agreed upon.
One such aspect is the status of and restrictions around patients growing plants at home. Of the 23 states with active programs, 15 of them allow patients to grow their own marijuana. As usual, though, restrictions apply. Nevada and Arizona only permit patients to grow if they can’t easily visit a dispensary. Massachusetts requires a “hardship waiver.” The quantity of plants that can be grown varies, too.
Some states seem to have a real problem with lighting up a joint as medicine. Minnesota and New York both require medical marijuana to be “non-smokeable.” As mentioned above, many states allow only low-THC oils to be used.
Although these differences in fine print can get overwhelming, it’s important to see the forest for the trees. Even if we can’t agree on how medical marijuana is best done, we’re still doing it. Perhaps one day, medical marijuana programs will be unified. For now, though, at least we’re trying.