Medicinal Use of Marijuana

By Elaine A. Lisko, Health Law & Policy Institute

On November 3, voters in five states and the District of Columbia will be asked to consider ballot initiatives allowing patients to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. The five states are Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. If voters in these states approve the initiatives, they will follow the lead of California and Arizona voters who approved such initiatives in 1996.

Key provisions of the current initiatives include: (1) limiting access to patients with registry identification cards, the issuance of which depends upon written documentation from the patient’s physician that the patient has been diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition and that the physician has concluded that the patient may benefit from the medical use of marijuana; (2) limiting the amount of marijuana that the patient may possess at any one time—ranging from one to two ounces; (3) excepting from protection any non-medical use of marijuana; (4) restricting how and where the patient may use marijuana for medical purposes—for example, proscribing use in a way that endangers others or in a place open to the general public; (5) relieving insurers from being liable for any reimbursement claims; and (6) allowing minors access to medical marijuana only when parental consent is first obtained. Among the medical conditions that are considered debilitating are cancer, glaucoma, positive status for HIV or AIDS, and medical conditions or treatment that produce cachexia, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, or persistent muscle spasms.

Proponents of the medicinal use of marijuana argue:

Opponents of the medicinal use of marijuana argue: Regardless of the outcome of the November 3 ballot initiatives, the debate on the medicinal use of marijuana can be expected to continue for some time, in part, based upon: 10/23/98