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Frequently Asked Questions


420 Staff
Q: Voters in how many states have passed medical marijuana initiatives?

A: Six: Alaska, Arizona, California, Maine, Oregon and Nevada. Arizona and California voters approved medical marijuana laws in 1996. Voters in Alaska, Oregon and Washington approved laws in 1998. Voters in Maine approved their law in 1999.

In 1998, Nevada voters approved their proposal, but the state constitution requires two votes before an initiative becomes a law. Nevada voters will return to the polls this November. District of Columbia voters approved an initiative in 1998 with 69 percent of the vote, but Congress overrode the law.

Colorado voters will vote on an initiative in November.

Q: How many state legislatures have passed medical marijuana laws?

A: Thirty-four state legislatures and the District of Columbia have passed laws recognizing marijuana's medical value. Twenty-three of these states have current medical marijuana laws. However, all of these laws are now dormant because they conflict with federal law, or are reliant on the federal government to supply the state with marijuana. Federal officials are no longer supplying marijuana to states.

Q: Can physicians legally prescribe marijuana?

A: No. Presently, a handful of states have legislation authorizing doctors to prescribe marijuana. These include Virginia, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire among others. However, doctors in these states may not legally do so without violating federal law. Federal policy dictates that any physician who prescribes marijuana or other Schedule I drugs to a patient may be stripped of his federal license to prescribe drugs and prosecuted. In addition, physicians will not prescribe marijuana because there are no legal state supply sources from which a patient could attain the drug.

Q: Can physicians legally recommend marijuana to a patient?

A: Yes, at least one federal court has ruled that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows doctors to legally recommend marijuana to a patient. Federal officials may not sanction doctors who discuss marijuana therapy with a patient in compliance with state law.

Q: May a state board of health legally distribute medical marijuana to patients?

A: Yes, although the marijuana must come from the federal National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Between 1978 and 1986, NIDA supplied marijuana to six states to distribute to seriously ill patients in state certified programs. NIDA no longer gives marijuana to states for medical purposes, and recently denied requests from the Massachusetts and Washington state boards of health for medical marijuana.

Q: Can states authorize medical marijuana clinical trials without federal approval?

A: No. All medical marijuana research must meet NIDA approval and receive funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Q: May a state legislature reschedule marijuana for medical purposes?

A: Yes, although this is a largely symbolic gesture. Rescheduling marijuana statewide does not protect patients from criminal prosecution or allow doctors to legally prescribe the drug. Patients in Iowa, New Mexico, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia, all continue to face criminal penalties for marijuana despite the Legislatures of those states passing laws rescheduling marijuana for medicinal use.

Q: May a state legislature legally enact a law exempting medical marijuana users from state criminal marijuana penalties?

A: Yes. States may do so without being in conflict with federal marijuana prohibition. Ohio's Legislature enacted the first formal medical marijuana exemption law on July 1, 1996. State initiatives passed in Alaska, California, Oregon, and Washington mandate similar exemptions for medical marijuana patients.
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