Sunday, September 18, 2011

How State Medical Marijuana Laws Differ From Federal

Posted by Bapak at 10:22 PM

Marijuana in this country is going through a very interesting time period. Since the 1970's, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) has classified Marijuana as a Schedule 1 Narcotic. Some other Schedule 1 Narcotics include: Heroin, LSD, Ecstasy, and Quaaludes.

Schedule 1 is reserved for drugs that have “no currently accepted medical use”. Therefore, physicians are not allowed to prescribe drugs in Schedule 1. Here are the 3 criteria for Schedule 1 placement:

1) The drug's potential for abuse is high

2) The drug has no currently accepted medical use in the treatment in the US

3) There is a paucity of accepted safety for drug under medical supervision

In 1970, this occurred under the advice of then Assistant Secretary of Health. His letter to Congress included,

Since there is still a considerable void in our knowledge of the plant and effects of the active drug contained in it, our recommendation is that marijuana be retained within schedule I at least until the completion of certain studies now underway to resolve the issue. If those studies make it appropriate for the Attorney General to change the placement of marijuana to a different schedule, he may do so in accordance with the authority provided under section 201 of the bill. . .

Sincerely yours, (signed) Roger O. Egeberg, M.D

Those “studies” were completed in 1972 with a report being released from the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse. This report recommended decriminalizing cannabis, which went ignored under President Nixon. Ever since that time, bills have been introduced to reschedule marijuana, with unsuccessful results. Most recently, a bill was introduced to remove cannabis completely from the federal schedules. This would simply limit the federal government to preventing cross-border or transfers between states where cannabis remains illegal.

Yes, marijuana is federally illegal. Since prescribing it is forbidden, there are consequences federally for distribution, possession, and so forth. In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was brought before Congress, which placed a hefty tax on the sale of marijuana. This tax equaled approximately 1 dollar on those who commercially deal cannabis. The act did not make usage or posession criminal. The AMA opposed the bill, arguing that marijuana wasn't dangerous and that its medicinal use would be severely reduced by prohibition. Within four years, medicinal marijuana was taken off the US pharmaceutical market because of the law's requirements. With the heavy taxation, marijuana went from being legal and a growing part of the fabric of the US, to heavily taxed in 1937, to illegal by 1970.

Plenty of research was accomplished between 1970 and 1996, and Marinol (synthetic THC) was approved by the FDA. The Netherlands legalized marijuana in the 1970's. Essentially anyone over the age of 18 can buy it openly in a coffee shop.

In 1996, CA became the 1st state to legalize marijuana medicinally. Prop 215 allowed patients prosecutorial freedom with a doctor's recommendation. Since a prescription was not permitted, it was called a recommendation. The federal government at one point in time decided to go after physicians for recommending medical marijuana, but federal court protected doctors as part of the First Amendment. Colorado followed suit in 2000 by legalizing marijuana. Neither state saw extremely widespread use of medical marijuana due to the drug remaining federally illegal.

Additional states legalized medical marijuana over the next few years. In 2009 the Ogden memo came out under Obama. In it, the US Attorney's office stated they would not use federal resources to prosecute patients so long as they abided by state laws. The memo referenced dispensaries, stating so long as businesses complied with state law they would be fine. That memo opened up a whole new world in the marijuana industry, as hundreds of dispensaries opened in CA, Montana, and CO. Currently, 16 states plus DC have laws legalizing medical cannabis.

While marijuana laws were being implemented in these states and programs growing, the federal stance changed in mid 2011. It looked like the federal government had decided it wasn’t worth the resources to pursue patients and dispensaries who were abiding by state law. To most medical marijuana arizona patients and businesses who were in compliance with state law, it looked like the federal government was recognizing the legitmate benefits of marijuana for many debilitating conditions.

Whereas before it appeared that the Department of Justice was taking a "hands off" attitude to those abiding by state laws, numerous states received letters in 2011 from US Attorneys marking an attitude shift. Those letters reiterated that patients would not be targeted, but, the stance against dispensaries looked to be different. The letters referred to anyone participating in the selling, distribution, and profiting from marijuana being at risk of prosecution. In one state letter, it even mentioned that state employees who were processing dispensary applications were at risk of prosecution.

Multiple states have put their dispensary programs on hold or are re-evaluating. Some have continued business as usual. So the bottom line with states is it appears patients are fine to receive recommendations and arizona medical marijuana cards. Then growing for themselves or getting marijuana from a designated caregiver or obtaining from a legal dispensary is ok for the patients. But having a dispensary or a growing operation remains a large question mark.

For now, cannabis remains federally illegal and it's unknown when and if the narcotic scheduling and laws will change. A number of states understand the medical benefits and have legalized cannabis, and about ten other states have pending legislation.

Arizona has sued the Department of Justice for clarification on federal versus state law, which was unusual because the state passed arizona medical marijuana legalization knowing full well the federal laws on marijuana. Those laws have not changed. The differences between how the federal government has classified medical marijuana versus legal states is causing significant confusion, but one thing remains clear. In states with legal medical marijuana programs, the federal government has consistently stated they are not looking to penalize individual patients. The main confusion remains over dispensaries and other business efforts.

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emotions explained said...

An interesting discussion is worth comment. I think that you should write more on this topic, it might not be a taboo subject but generally people are not enough to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers

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