Over the past decade, the number of states that have passed legislation related to medical marijuana and its use has increased dramatically. Indeed, while there are still many states that forbid the possession of marijuana regardless of its use, other states–from California to Florida–have given the OK to the drug (and some states have even decriminalized or legalized its use for non-medicinal purposes).
Understanding the laws in your state regarding marijuana and medical marijuana is important. The following provides a brief overview of medical marijuana laws throughout the United States:
Places Where Medical Marijuana is Legalized
According to the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), California voters passed Proposition 215 way back in 1996, making it the first state in the nation to allow for the use of medical marijuana. Today, there are a total of 29 states, as well as Washington D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico, that allow for comprehensive medical marijuana and cannabis programs. A program is considered to be comprehensive when it meets the following criteria;Protects those who use marijuana for medical purposes from criminal penalties;
- Allows access to marijuana in a variety of different forms, including cultivation in the home, purchase in dispensaries, or another system;
- Allows for people to use different strains of marijuana, not only low THC strains (low THC strains are permitted in an additional 17 states, but the NCSL does not recognize these states to have “comprehensive” programs in place); and
- Allows for the marijuana to be consumed (plant material or extract) by either smoking or vaporization.
But Isn’t Medical Marijuana Still Against Federal Law?
The federal government continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule I drug, in the same category as heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and peyote. As such, the distribution of marijuana, even for medical purposes, and even when it is allowed under state law, is a federal offense. The federal government has been asked (by former President Obama) to not prosecute those who distribute the drug for medicinal purposes.
However, that does not mean that distribution of marijuana will not be prosecuted by the federal government. Indeed, if convicted of a distribution crime, there is a mandatory minimum sentence that a defendant would be subject to, which could potentially change the course of the individual’s life.
Is Medical Marijuana Legal In My State?
You can look up whether or not medical marijuana is legal in your state by contacting your state government or searching online. If it is legal, however, you will need to familiarize yourself with your state-specific laws regarding how to get a prescription for the drug, what ailments can be treated by marijuana, where marijuana is distributed, where you can use marijuana, how much you can have on your person at a given time, whether or not you can grow your own plants (and if so, how many), and more. Failure to adhere to your state’s guidelines could result in civil or criminal penalties depending on where you live.
Marijuana Legislation Is Complicated, as Are Legal Actions Regarding Marijuana
Not only can medical marijuana be complicated from a criminal standpoint (not to mention marijuana use in general, not just medical marijuana), but from a civil standpoint too. Indeed, what happens if a person buys medical marijuana and it is ineffective? Or what if it has adverse side effects as a result of being a “bad batch?” Or, what if, as happened in Colorado, someone commits a heinous act during an alleged marijuana-induced hallucination – can the manufacturer or distributor be sued? Indeed, how do marijuana laws and product liability laws mesh?
For answers to all of these questions and more, working with an experienced attorney is an absolute must. If you have a medical marijuana-related concern that cannot be resolved–or shouldn’t be resolved–independently, contact the experienced attorneys at the law offices of Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. We have offices nationwide, and are skilled in many areas of the law. As the national conversation surrounding medical marijuana continues to develop, we’re staying ahead of new information and are ready to take action when necessary.