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Medical marijuana’s not getting any better – the time for RE-legalization is NOW!

  • by Russ Belville, NORML Outreach Coordinator March 3, 2010

    Author’s update: the graphics in the post below have been updated to correct some minor mistakes, such as dated information that left out Rhode Island and Maine’s dispensaries and Oregon’s recent acceptance of Alzheimer’s agitation as a qualifying condition. Also, I have outlined Oregon’s attempt at legalization through the OCTA petition as it could be reasonably said to be as far along or farther along than Washington’s I-1068. I regret my errors.

    Medipot States 2010 (March)

    Marijuana Law Reform in 2010 (March Update)

    With New Jersey recently becoming the 14th medical marijuana state, activists in marijuana law reform have been celebrating. After all, over 82 million Americans now live in states where medical use of marijuana is legal – that’s 27% of the US population! Last election, Massachusetts became the 13th decriminalization state, which means over 107 million Americans live in a state where possession of small personal amounts of marijuana no longer merit an arrest – that’s 35% of the US population.

    Medical Marijuana Stats 1

    Population of States with Medical Marijuana Laws

    Medical Marijuana Stats 2

    Population of States that have Decriminalized Marijuana

    However, after watching fourteen years of marijuana activism focused solely on those who use cannabis for medicine, I must warn activists that medical marijuana is not getting any better and the time for re-legalization of cannabis for all adults – even the healthy ones – is now.

    Comparison of five core rights found in existing medical marijuana law


    Medical marijuana was a great 20th century strategy to get the sick and dying off the battlefield in the war on drugs. It was the perfect vehicle to enlighten the public, who for so long have been indoctrinated into the reefer madness that classifies cannabis like LSD and heroin. But in the 21st century the idea that marijuana is only a medicine is beginning to take hold and governments and voters are crafting ever-more-restrictive medical marijuana laws. For the vast majority of cannabis consumers this threatens to move us from the category of “illegal drug users” to “possessors of medicine without a prescription” – a step up, perhaps, but still left facing criminal prosecution.

    California legalized medical marijuana in 1996. That initiative, Prop-215, established what is clearly the most liberal medical marijuana statute to date:

    • A doctor can recommend for any condition;
    • You needn’t have a “bona fide” doctor/patient relationship;
    • Dispensaries are allowed;
    • Self cultivation is allowed;
    • Patients are protected from arrest.
    Medical Marijuana Stats 4

    Comparison of plant and possession limits and qualifying conditions in medical marijuana law

    If we consider these five attributes of the law the baseline, then in the past fourteen years, all thirteen medical marijuana states that have followed have failed to achieve all five. Eight states only offer three or four of those liberties and the rest offer two or only one. Most disturbingly, the right of patients to grow their own medicine (or have a caregiver do it for them), which has been a bedrock principle in medical marijuana law, was taken away from patients in the most recent medical marijuana state, New Jersey. Bills that were considered but vetoed in 2009 in Minnesota and New Hampshire, and those moving forward in New York, Pennsylvania, as well as an initiative in Arizona, all sacrifice this core right.

    No Garden State

    New Jersey - The (No Medical Marijuana) Garden State

    A comparison of plant and possession limits also shows the decline from the original starting point in California, where 12 plants and 8 ounces are allowed. Oregon and Washington passed their laws next and have the highest statutory limits: 24 plants and 24 ounces in Oregon and 15 plants and 24 ounces in Washington. (To be fair, all the West Coast states started with lower limits or more vague limits that were modified by the legislature.) But since then, only one state has allowed more than 3 ounces (New Mexico with 6 ounces) and average number of plants allowed is a little less than ten.

    Medical Marijuana Stats 5

    The "Big 8" Conditions for which marijuana is recommended in the states

    Another decline in medical marijuana freedom appears when we look at the conditions for which medical marijuana protection is afforded in the various states. There are eight conditions which could be considered the “standard” ones: cancer; HIV/AIDS; seizure disorders, like epilepsy; spastic disorders, like multiple sclerosis; glaucoma; chronic nausea; cachexia; and chronic pain. Most medical marijuana states recognize all eight conditions; a couple (Vermont and Rhode Island) recognize seven of eight.

    Medical Marijuana Stats 6

    Other conditions recognized in state medical marijuana laws (not a complete list)

    The latest law in New Jersey, however, eliminated chronic pain, chronic nausea, and cachexia, making it the most restrictive list in the nation. The bill proposed but vetoed in New Hampshire required one to try all other remedies for chronic pain before trying medical marijuana. The vetoed Minnesota bill wouldn’t even allow cancer and HIV/AIDS patients to use medical marijuana unless they could show they were terminal (about to die). The lists in the latest proposed bills continue to become more restricted.

    Until we do have legalization for all, every medical marijuana law is going to fail to adequately serve all medical users and subject them to increasing restriction and scrutiny. Additionally, medical marijuana laws make patients an attractive target for criminals because prohibition maintains huge profits for stolen medical cannabis, as well as becoming targets for overzealous anti-marijuana cops and prosecutors.

    The reason the recent medical marijuana laws are losing ground is not a failure of the medical marijuana strategy, but rather due to its success. Medical marijuana has portrayed the herb as “powerful and effective medicine”. Well, what do we do with powerful and effective medicines? We keep them under lock and key. We require people to visit doctors. We strictly monitor prescription pads. We bust people who have them without proper papers.

    Rather than justifying the prohibitionists’ shibboleth of medical marijuana as “the camel’s nose under the tent” for legalization, I’m arguing it’s the opposite: that continuing the medical marijuana strategy further cements the “powerful and effective medicine” frame and takes us farther away from treating cannabis as a personal choice of relaxant. We’ll get to a point where the public accepts “powerful and effective cannabis medicine” and looks upon personal use like we look at someone getting fraudulent scrips for painkillers.

    If one of the West Coast states doesn’t pull off legalization soon, the pendulum is going to swing back the other way on marijuana. The economic incentives may fade if the economy recovers and then the tax & regulate argument fizzles. And if we are going to continue working on medical marijuana, the bills and initiatives need to get better, not worse. The way it’s looking now is that the Northeast and upper Midwest are going to institute chronic conditions-only, 2 oz limit, strict registry, only personal doctor, no home grow, state-run dispensary medical marijuana for $15/gram in the next six years. How then do we approach those people and say, “Hey, you know that powerful and effective medical marijuana that you only let a few hundred really sick people use after jumping though a mile of hoops? We think everybody should have it and jump through no hoops!”

    Medical marijuana would never have passed in any state if it were not for the votes of non-medical users of marijuana. I do believe it is time for medical marijuana patients in the states that have programs to “repay the favor” and fight as hard for legalization as social tokers fought for medical. Only patients can best make the argument that while prohibition exists, they will always face job discrimination, loss of child custody, high black market prices, housing discrimination, and the sneers of the Bill O’Reillys who think 99% of medical marijuana patients are faking. So long as the prohibition profit exists, there will always be these CBS Undercover investigations casting a pall on all legitimate medical marijuana because of the irresponsible acts of a few.

    Maybe I’m just too much of a dreamer. I imagine acres and acres of hemp fields, huge indoor hydroponic cannabis warehouses, thriving cafes and coffeehouses, some folks growing their own in a garage or closet, regular outdoor festivals and special indoor events where cannabis smoking is permitted, buying and selling all varieties of cannabis from ounces at a farmer’s market to bulk bales at CostCo… and none of that is done with “powerful and effective medicines”.

    I don’t think that it is reformer’s job to pass medical marijuana in all fifty states first and then worry about legalization in one. I think states that have medical should be moving forward on legalization, states without should focus on better medical laws by calling prohibitionists’ bluff on “marijuana outta control!” in the Western states with liberal medical laws.

    105 Responses to “Medical marijuana’s not getting any better – the time for RE-legalization is NOW!”

    1. I will happily become a tireless activist for re-legalization after MMJ becomes a reality in Louisiana. Re-legalization doesn’t stand a chance here until we can prove cannabis is safe, won’t create a state full of cocaine or heroin addicts, won’t cause an explosion of crime, won’t increase use by minors, and won’t flood the streets with “pot zombies”. California and Colorado should have already proven that to the entire nation, but few seem to notice the impact in those states has been a positive one. Louisiana will need even more convincing, and MMJ is truly the first step for us. Even that victory will be hard to achieve, and only after much effort and a heaping helping of education (which is equally hard to find around here).

    2. ckdk30 says:

      Yea Iowa is STILL Dickin Around

    3. Buggsy13420666 says:

      It sure is time for re-legalization and marijuana prohibition to end. I know that marijuana has different strains and THC levels, but it seems like that these dispensaries that provide medical marijuana seem like they are charging black market prices. It sounds like BIG PHARM MENTALITY fooling with NATURE and trying to raise the THC levels and how far are these hybrids going to advance and gouge you for more money out of a basic plant, a weed. WE JUST NEED TO GROW OUR OWN.

    4. CannabisTV says:

      Give a hand to the voters of Oregon for the law in place there now. The current proposed “re-legalization” bill in Oregon is the OCTA, Oregon Cannabis Tax Act. You can learn more about it at OCTA2010.org and CannabisTV.org

    5. jeff says:

      end the insanity! end the war on marijuana and its entire supply and demand chain!
      collect billions in taxes!
      save billions in law enforcement & incarceration costs!
      save millions not forcing responsible marijuana users into rehab centers they do not wish to be in!

    6. Anonymous says:

      the Government’s going to have to listen to the public eventually…. in a couple years i think most of the country will be pro-legalization.

      best we can do is spread the word to everyone…

      60+ years of failed policy is enough!

    7. Brandon 'Bujio' Roberts says:

      I totally agree. There is no reason it should not be legal everywhere on the planet. The only reason it could conceivably be a gateway drug is because people have to go to dealers to get it. The only reason Cannabis proceeds fund criminal organizations is because it’s illegal for reputable businesses to do it themselves.

      I mean…who would you rather get it from? Some shady guy on the street, or the Grocery Store/Coffee Shop/etc. I know my answer! There is NO REASON people should live in fear because they seek the healing, life changing, enlightenment that the herb can provide.

      Now is the time to push the envelope until this tulip mania breaks and we secure a future where historians will look back upon this legal folly, shake their heads, and are thankful that they live in a better world.

    8. Lea says:

      Exactly what I’ve been saying Russ, only you said it a great deal better.
      When I first heard of a Parkinson’s disease patient being turned down in Colorado for medical mj because of insufficient medical proof and/or research I saw the handwriting on the wall.
      And no one should have to be near their death bed to qualify for medical mj. Just that thought is insane to me.

      What the people in power don’t understand is that those serious about Legalization are not going to stop demanding compassion and representation that implements what we know to be smart policy change, and that is End Prohibition, NOW.

    9. SB says:

      This is right on. Marijuana is healthy for nearly everyone — very safe, unlike booze and cigarettes — and less addictive than caffeine. We need to keep pushing for FULL legalization of marijuana (recreational, medicinal, industrial).

    10. This article is right on the money. While the FDA approves legal drugs that kill hundreds of thousands of Americans each year, one of the SAFEST SUBSTANCES CONSUMED IN HUMAN HISTORY is still being treated as if it’s dangerous, and needs to be strictly controlled. This is ludicrous. I have aspirin, Ibuprofen (Advil), and several other things in my medicine cabinet right now and they’re all legal and EVERY ONE OF THEM WILL KILL ME IF I TAKE A LITTLE TOO MUCH. And if I want to relax at night, it’s OK to drink POISON — and by that I mean alcohol, which literally is a poison — and which will also kill me if I have too much. But it’s not OK to smoke a plant that will NEVER kill me no matter how much I try to smoke.

      I can’t wait for the 2010 November election — here in California we are going to vote to end this harmful and illogical prohibition and the Federal government (DEA) will be forced to stick it up their ass. The whole house of cards will crumble after that.

      Please, people, don’t just talk about “legalizing it” — please get out and vote this November if you live in California. We all have to make this happen!!

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