Marijuana was classified as a Schedule I Controlled Substance in 1972 by the United States Congress. This was because, at the time, it was not seen as a substance with an accepted medical use. Over the last 16 years, however, proponents have argued that weed does have its uses for medical treatment.
Studies have shown that the use of medical cannabis can help to relieve the symptoms of cancer and the discomfort and nausea that come with chemotherapy, AIDS, pain, epilepsy, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis as well as other medical conditions. It is also used to stimulate the appetite of a person who is not eating for reasons other than actively trying to lose weight (cachexia).
Marijuana is considered a major cash crop. It is estimated that the industry pulls in tens of billions of dollars. While there is no concrete evidence of how much growers earn, there is a lot of potential for governments to reap the financial benefits of legal weed.
Right now there is a major tug-of-war between federal and state government in the legalization of marijuana. The Federal Drug Enforcement Agency is still cracking down on growers of medical cannabis because even though it has been decriminalized in several states, it still violates federal drug laws.
So far, seventeen states across the country, plus the District of Columbia, have enacted laws that allow for the legal medical use of cannabis.
Alaska: In 1998, Alaska approved Ballot Measure 8 with 58% of votes. It allows patients, or their primary caregivers, with written documentation from their doctor to possess, use and cultivate pot for their personal use. It cannot be more than one ounce of usable marijuana. They may also grow no more than six plants, three mature and three immature. Patients must be registered in a state registry and carry a valid ID card.
Arizona: Ballot Proposition 203 was approved in Alaska in 2010 with 50.13% of votes. Patients must register and have written certification from their doctor that they were diagnosed with a condition that will be helped with marijuana. Nonprofit dispensaries must also register with the state. In a two-week period, patients or their caregivers can get no more than 2.5 ounces of pot from a registered dispensary. Patients can only grow their own plants (up to 12) if they live more than 25 miles from the closest dispensary.
California: California was the first state to legalize the use of medical marijuana in 1996 with Ballot Proposition 215. Patients can use, possess and grow pot for their personal use with the recommendation of a doctor. Senate Bill 420 amended the proposition by limiting how many plants patients can grow and how much usable weed can be in their possession. They are limited to eight ounces of dried weed and no more than six matured plants, unless recommended by their doctor.
Colorado: In 2000, Colorado passed Ballot amendment 20 with 54% of the vote. It eliminated the criminal penalties associated with growing, using and possessing weed if a patient has written approval from their doctor. They cannot have more than 2 ounces of pot and six plants. Only three of the plants can be mature. Regulations for dispensaries were added in 2010 with House Bill 1284 and Senate Bill 109.
Connecticut: The law allowing medical marijuana in Connecticut was passed in 2012 with HB 5389 and will come into effect October 1. Patients must have a valid certificate of registration and be 18 or over. The amount a patient may have in their possession is defined as enough to last one whole month. There will probably be an amendment with a specified amount later on.
District of Columbia: The Council of the District of Columbia passed Amendment Act B18-622 in 2010. It allows qualifying patients and caregivers to possess up to two ounces of usable medical weed, but this amount may be increased to 4 ounces in the future. Limits have not been set on other forms of cannabis. In 2012, applicants for dispensary registration were announced.
Delaware: Senate Bill 17 was passed in Delaware in 2011, allowing patients 18 an older with doctor certification to use and possess medical pot. They can have up to six ounces. They may not cultivate their own marijuana.
Hawaii: In 2000, Senate Bill 862 was passed in Hawaii. It removed the criminal-level penalties for patients who possess, use and grow marijuana as long as they have a signed physician statement. Patients can have a total of seven marijuana plants- three mature, four immature- and no more than one ounce of usable marijuana per mature plant.
Maine: Ballot Question 2 was approved by 61% of voters in 1999. Patients may use, possess, and grow cannabis with the consent of their physician. They may have up to 2.5 ounces of usable weed. A registry for patients and caregivers was set in 2010 along with provisions for operating nonprofit dispensaries.
Michigan: Proposal 1, the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act was approved in 2008 by 63% of the vote. Patients with approved conditions are allowed to have no more than 2.5 ounces of usable weed and 12 plants that must be kept in a locked enclosure.
Montana: Montana voters approved Initiative 148 in 2004, which lets patients and their qualifying caregivers possess one ounce of usable cannabis, 12 seedlings no more than one foot tall and four mature plants.
Nevada: Ballot Question 9 was approved in Nevada in 2000 by 65% of the vote. Patients must have written certification from their physician to use medical pot to treat their condition. They cannot have more than one usable ounce of marijuana, plus four immature and three mature plants. A state registry was created to issue ID cards to those who qualify.
New Jersey: In 2010, New Hampshire approved Senate Bill 119. Patients are permitted to use and possess medical marijuana with a maximum amount of two ounces in a 30-day span. A registry for patients and physicians is in the process.
New Mexico: In 2007, New Mexico passed Senate Bill 523, called “The Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use act.” Patients permitted to use medical pot for treatment as approved by their physician can have no more than six usable ounces of pot, twelve seedling plants and four mature plants.
Oregon: Approved in 1998, Ballot Measure 67 was voted in with 55% of the vote. Patients must have approval from their physician for the legal use of medical cannabis. They must register with the state and can have no more than 24 ounces of usable pot, six mature plants and up to 18 seedlings.
Rhode Island: Senate Bill 0710, amended to the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act, was approved in 2006. Patients are limited to 12 plants or 2.5 ounces of usable weed. Caretakers may not have more than 24 plants and five ounces for qualifying patients. Compassion centers for distribution were allowed to be created in 2009 for the cultivation and dispensing of medical marijuana to registered caregivers and patients.
Vermont: The “Act Relating to Marijuana Use by Persons with Severe Illness” was approved by the General Assembly and put into effect in 2004. Patients cannot possess more than seven immature plants, two mature plants and two ounces of usable weed.
Washington: Ballot Initiative I-692 was approved in 1998 with 59% of votes. Patients and designated providers cannot have more than 24 ounces of usable weed and 15 plants. The state determined that this amount was suitable for a 60-day supply.
More and more states are looking to pass new laws that allow for the legal use of medical marijuana. As of June 2012, there are six states with pending legislation that will legalize medical pot: Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Eight additional states attempted to pass such laws in 2012 but they did not pass: Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
40 years ago, the thought of legal weed was not something the government would ever consider. As time passes and more Americans’ minds open to the idea of supporting these laws, there is a good chance that this movement will spread throughout all 50 states.