Q: How many states have enacted medical marijuana laws since 1996?

A: Fifteen states and the District of Columbia — Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Complete summaries of each of these state laws may be foundhere. In 1996, Arizona voters approved a medical marijuana law, but the measure never took effect. District of Columbia voters also approved an initiative in 1998 with 69 percent of the vote. Maryland’s legislature passed a medical marijuana affirmative defense law in 2003. This law requires the court to consider a defendant’s use of medical marijuana to be a mitigating factor in marijuana-related state prosecution.

Q: Does the May 14, 2001 Supreme Court Ruling (U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative) affect these laws?

A: No. The legal use of medical marijuana by patients in these states is not challenged by this decision. The Court’s decision applies only to the manufacture and distribution of marijuana under federal law. The question of whether patients may legally use marijuana in states where such use is permitted was not at issue in this case.

Q: May physicians legally prescribe marijuana?

A: No. Although a handful of states have legislation authorizing doctors to prescribe marijuana (These laws were all passed in the late 1970s and early 1980s in expectation that the federal government would eventually reschedule marijuana.), doctors in these states may not legally do so without violating federal law. Federal policy dictates that physician who prescribes marijuana or other Schedule I drugs to a patient may be stripped of his or her 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: May physicians legally recommend marijuana therapy to a patient?
A: Yes. On September 7, 2000, U.S. District Judge William Alsup ruled inConant v. McCaffrey that federal authorities may not sanction doctors who recommend marijuana to patients.

Q: May a state board of health legally distribute medical marijuana?
A: Yes, however the marijuana must come from the federal National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Between 1978 and 1986, NIDA distributed medical marijuana to six state research programs. NIDA presently dispenses marijuana for a San Mateo County, California medical research program and a California state program.

Q: May a state 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 legislature reschedule marijuana for medical purposes under state law?
A: Yes, although this is largely a symbolic gesture. Rescheduling marijuana statewide does not protect patients from criminal prosecution under federal law or allow doctors in that state to legally prescribe the drug.

Q. Is there federal legislation pending to legalize marijuana as a medicine?
A: For the latest on state and federal medical marijuana legislation, visit NORML’s Take Action center.