Cannabis has been used to treat medical conditions throughout the world for centuries. After it was made illegal on a federal level in the United States, a smear campaign targeting the plant ensued for 70 years, and people learned to fear it as a result.
Although, it remains a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it has no medicinal value in the United States, people are removing the Reefer Madness colored glasses from their eyes, and voters in individual states have been able to witness the medicinal value of this fascinating plant.
Currently, voters in 23 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for medical use. However, many have yet to realize the full potential of their programs, as is the case with the following eight states.
In 2011, Delaware legalized medical marijuana, but the state’s governor suspended the launch of the program for years. The U.S. Attorney’s Office had sent the state a threatening letter in 2012, and the governor feared federal intervention. Today, the state’s program limits each county to only one dispensary. There are 200 authorized patients who are still waiting for the first dispensary to open, though it will grow only 150 marijuana plants. Legislation to expand the medical marijuana program to include juveniles suffering from certain medical conditions is being considered in 2015.
In the second year of a four-year pilot program, Illinois legalized medical marijuana in 2013 but still lacks any operating dispensaries. Gov. Bruce Rauner started issuing licenses at the beginning of this year with the expectation that dispensaries will open by the fall. Fewer than 2,500 patients have applied for the state’s program, which currently does not allow people to grow marijuana at home.
Patients are awaiting the implementation of Massachusetts’ medical marijuana program, which was approved in 2012, and just overhauled in 2015. State regulations permit for patients certified by their doctors to grow the substance at home, but confusion about the state’s laws has led law enforcement to arrest some of these patients. To boot, a web of complex procedures for obtaining licenses has prevented any state-regulated dispensaries from opening. Further complicating the process, requirements on the amount of lead in marijuana have set an overzealous standard that even vegetables at the grocery store do not meet.
Only patients who meet one of nine qualifying conditions may apply for Minnesota’s medical marijuana program, which is one of the strictest in the country. Those who enroll will have to pay $200 a year to stay in the program. People are expected to be able to purchase the medicine in July, but only extracts such as pills and oils are permitted. Doctors are also reluctant to participate in the program because the actual dispensing of medical marijuana will be the responsibility of pharmacists.
The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services just approved licenses for three cannabis distributors in June, though the 2013 law mandated that at least two be approved by January of this year. Patients also face obstacles, as they must have one of five qualifying conditions. Because there is no process to apply for a medical marijuana card, patients who are covered by the law could face prosecution.
Despite New Jersey’s 2010 law that legalized a medical marijuana program, there are only three of six permitted dispensaries open today. Patients, who must meet one of nine qualifying conditions, are not allowed to grow plants at home and pay up to $500 for an ounce of marijuana. Licensing regulations have deterred doctors from getting involved with the program.
In early June, New York started accepting applications from potential medical marijuana providers. However, the program is fraught with arbitrary regulations that concern critics who say that any efforts on the state’s part will be too restrictive to be effective.
Patients with severe forms of epilepsy could receive treatment from cannabis oils low in the psychoactive cannabinoid THC and high in CBD, thanks to a bill signed in early June this year. In order to obtain the medicine, patients must have approval of two doctors and must have already tried two traditional medications for epilepsy without success.
Laws such as the one in Texas have been criticized because in many cases, the states lack the necessary regulations to get the medicine into the hands of the patients. In other cases, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I substance, meaning the states will not receive federal permission to distribute it.
A common theme found in these states is that – for a variety of reasons – effective medical marijuana policy reform still has a ways to go.