At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
Marijuana is not legally permitted in all areas of the United States. Those states that do permit use of the drug have varying medical marijuana laws. These commonly dictate who can consume the drug, who can sell it, and how possession is to be enforced.
One of the most significant things to understand when considering medical marijuana laws is that they are only valid at the state level. Under the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, a measure of federal leniency was extended when it was requested that federal agents stop raiding medical marijuana clinics. However, marijuana still is illegal according to U.S. federal law, even when used for medicinal purposes. Rights and protections offered in one state also do not extend to other states.
Medical marijuana laws treat the drug like other prescription drugs. This means that a certified physician must determine the needs of a person. That need can only be recognized if the condition that the person suffers from is debilitating. In some states, the conditions that apply may be outlined by law. In Washington, for example, cachexia, cancer, HIV or AIDS, epilepsy, and glaucoma are specifically listed.
When conditions are met, approval must then be communicated with a written prescription. Some state medical marijuana laws require a marijuana card to identify the qualified user. It generally is not permitted for a person who lives outside of a medical marijuana state to be issued a prescription.
In some states, medical marijuana laws permit prescribing the drug and consuming the drug, but do not outline legal means for obtaining the drug. This means that no sources in the state are legally permitted to sell the drug. As a result, this presents questions as to how those who are entitled to use marijuana are supposed to legally obtain it.
Other states have medical marijuana laws that provide for legal suppliers. These usually are in the form of clinics or dispensaries. To become a legal supplier in the states that allow it, a person generally has to apply and be certified. She is then required to operate under certain guidelines.
Medical marijuana laws also determine how law enforcement officials should handle situations where qualified users are discovered possessing or using the drug. Authorities generally are not permitted to confiscate the items or to arrest the individuals. In some states, marijuana has been decriminalized for all citizens when they possess less than a certain amount. Those who have medical marijuana prescriptions may be allowed to exceed these limits without repercussions.