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Marijuana for Medical Purposes

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Marijuana is a plant that grows in most parts of the world and contains certain components, cannabinoids, with psychoactive and other effects on the human body. Due to the active effects cannabinoids such as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) marijuana has been used by humans for a very long time for recreation and as an herbal medicine. Marijuana is consumed into the body either by smoking or ingestion the plant’s stems, leaves, and calyxes. Marijuana use started in the 2700 B.C in China when Emperor Shen Nung discovered that marijuana had some healing properties. Shen Nung recommended marijuana for treatment of malaria, gout, absentmindedness, and muscles stiffness. In recent years, research by medical professionals has shown significant evidence that the contents in marijuana are effective in the treatment of certain conditions such as nausea, vomiting, appetite loss, pain, and glaucoma (Mack & Joy, 2001).

Patients who have AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency virus), cancer, and other diseases use medical marijuana under the advice or permission of medical doctors (Mack & Joy, 2001). They are advised to use medical marijuana only after conventional treatments have failed to help them feel better. But some of these patients use medical marijuana for recreation and to get high. From such misuse of marijuana, there is a growing debate on legalization of medical marijuana. Law enforcers are aiming at controlling the illegal use of marijuana while medical professionals and health experts are struggling to decriminalize marijuana for medical use.

Bases of the Law

In the past, marijuana was a legal substance both under the federal and state laws. But by 1937, the recreational use of marijuana was far beyond previous years. The Congress had passed an act, the Marijuana Tax Act, this was to regulate and stop marijuana use in the United States. This act imposed a large excise tax on growers, manufacturers, and importers of marijuana. However, the Supreme Court in 1969 declared the act was unconstitutional since it was prohibiting marijuana use by making an unfriendly environment. After the Supreme Court declaration, the Congress passed the Controlled Substance Act to repel to the Supreme Court ruling. The Act classified marijuana as a substance that can highly be abused and has no records for its use in medical field. Marijuana was categorized as a schedule I controlled substance. After the Act, no significant changes to this Act have occurred. The states, however, have adopted laws that legalize the use of marijuana (NCSL).

The State of California was the first to authorize the use of marijuana. The state allowed marijuana to be used for medical purposes. In 1996, voters voted for Proposition 215 which permits the cultivation and possession of marijuana under the recommendation of a doctor for the purpose of use as a medicine. According to National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) twenty eight states, the Districts of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam had adopted policies that allowed the public medical use of marijuana and programs to control this use (Internet). These policies also provide a legal defense for patients who use marijuana under a doctor’s recommendation, permit access to marijuana either through cultivation or licensed dispensaries, and allows some kind marijuana products or extract to be used through smoking or vaporization. 

Current Law

States that legalize marijuana use have developed a program called the Medical Marijuana Program (MMP). Patients who use marijuana under a physician’s prescription are required to enroll in this program. The program is used to establish the legality of medical marijuana, provide information on program eligibility, keep track of enrolled patients and protect the enrolled patients from prosecution by the federal law which prohibits marijuana use. For patients to enroll in the MMP, patients must fill an application form with an attachment of a doctor’s recommendation for the patient to use marijuana and also pay an enrollment fee. The members of the program are given an identification card that allows them to get access to marijuana from licensed dispensaries in the different states. The various state laws, also allow patients and licensed dispensaries to grow marijuana for patients enrolled in the MMP.

Even in the presence of the state laws that legalize medical marijuana, the federal law is the supreme law, and therefore the federal government can prohibit the use of marijuana even in states that have laws that legalize its use for medical purposes. The Supreme Court in 2005, ruled that patients may be prosecuted under the federal government law even if they used marijuana in states that legalize marijuana. In 2013, the United States Department of Justice made a change to their marijuana enforcement policy. The Justice Department required the states with legalized use of marijuana to create strong enforcement efforts to ensure marijuana is not misused in these states. The Justice Department also retained the right to challenge laws set by the individual states (Mack & Joy, 2001).

Effect of the Law

Legalizing Marijuana for medical use has an effect on a budget of states. For the states to adopt and implement the Medical Marijuana Programs (MMP) they need to increase their budgetary expenditure. Medical marijuana legalization has also led to declining in excessive drinking, reduced opioid overdose and crime reduction. According to Morris et. al. states that adopted the medical marijuana legalization between 1990-2006 saw a reduction in crimes such as aggravated assault, robbery, and homicide (Morris et. al., 2014). With legalized marijuana use, police spend more time in non-drug related crimes and improve police efficiency in dealing with crime.

Medical marijuana laws have effects on the non-medical use of marijuana. These laws may increase illegal use of marijuana, especially among the young people since marijuana is readily available either from enrolled patients or the licensed dispensary. In public, when marijuana is legalized, a wrong message is sent, and people increase their use of recreational marijuana (Pacula, 2012).

Future of the Law

Before Marijuana is accepted in the U.S for its medical significance, and the medical marijuana law passed marijuana has to satisfy certain requirements. The chemical structure of marijuana compounds must be known, its efficacy and safety proved, experts must approve its use, and scientific evidence must accept its medical use. The federal laws are a hindrance to research on the importance of marijuana since the laws prohibit possession and also one has to get legal permission to study marijuana in the United States regardless of whether it is for medical purposes. Marijuana which is taken mostly by smoking also poses a health risk to the users,


The legalizing of marijuana use, cultivation, and supply in states is continuing to progress, with more compassionate laws being passed and additional states are adopting medical marijuana laws. The future laws regarding marijuana use seem to be very different from the present laws. Therefore, the effects of these policies must be understood by lawmakers and enforcers, public health officials and medical practitioners to predict the consequences of the new laws to be passed.

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