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September 12, 2013

Two decades into experimentation, what is really known about medical marijuana practices?

Soon it will be a full twenty years since voters in California passed Proposition 215 to make that state the first to allow the medical use of marijuana. As of Fall 2013, a total of 20 states and the District of Columbia have passed similar laws.  (Here is a very helpful NCSC list with links to all the legal basics.)  And yet, even now that nearly half of all US jurisdictions have legalized medical marijuana, I am struck by how little is really known about about medical marijuana practices.

The website ProCon.org has via this web portal with lots and lots of helpful information and links on the topic of medical marijuana, and the site lives up to its claim of presenting "facts, studies, and pro and con statements on questions related to whether or not marijuana should be a medical option." But notably absent from this site (or really any others I could find) was any serious and balanced "on the ground" research concerning the practical realities of "medical" marijuana use and abuse in any particular jurisdiction or across the United States.

This ProCon.org webpage, titled "How Many People in the United States Use Medical Marijuana?," has a very interesting state-by-state accounting of "the actual number of patients holding identification cards in the states (and District of Columbia) with mandatory registration" which reports that there are over 1 million registered medical marijuana patients.  But these basic registration numbers, of course, do not tell us anything about who are these registered patients and for what purposes and how often they use marijuana as medicine.

Similarly, a lot of pro-reform organizations like Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and Marijuana Policy Project (MPP)and National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) have lots of information about medical marijuana laws and lots of resources and arguments for would-be advocates. But hard data on medical marijuana patients and their practices do not leap off the page at these locales.

As noted in this recent post at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform, a prominent opponent of modern marijuana reforms called medical marijuana "a laughable fiction" noting that in California, a the typical user is a 32-year-old white man with no life-threatening illness but a long record of substance abuse; in Colorado, 94% of medical marijuana patients just pain as the justification for their pot prescription; and in Oregon, only 10 practitioners write the majority of all marijuana prescriptions in the state.  And yet, many prominent doctors have come to acknowledge, as stated by the reknown Dr. Sanjay Gupta in this pro-pot CNN piece, that there are many "legitimate patients who depend on marijuana as a medicine, oftentimes as their only good option."

Because the medical and scientific communities are still vigorously debating the potential health benefits and harms of marijuana and its chemical compounds, and especially because all marijuana distribution and use remains illegal under federal law, I suppose I should not be too surprised that it is hard to find much "on the ground" research concerning the practical realities of "medical" marijuana use and abuse in any particular jurisdiction or across the United States.  But I find this reality disappointing, and I know that I would sure like to know a whole lot more about medical marijuana patients and their practices.  (And, in class today in my "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform" seminar, I hope to steer our discussion of medical marijuana to the question of what students think the average likely voter would want to know about the practical realities of "medical" marijuana before supporting any reform to the legal status quo.)

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform.

September 12, 2013 at 03:28 PM | Permalink


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There is no debate left about the devastating consequences of alcohol and tobacco. Yet they are legal and advertised. Please, start facing that fact, all government rent seekers and Drug Warriors.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 13, 2013 12:35:31 AM

You can find the Marijuana Reschedueling Petition to the US Department of Justice at this link http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/library/studies/young/index.html
The decision is on page 55-69. The Administrative Judge Frances L Young concluded that the marijuana plant had accepted safety and use for medical treatment.

More current: GW Pharmaceuticals (GWPH) has filed an application with the food and drug administration to conduct clinical programs to evaluate sativex for MS and spacticity.

This drug is already approved and being sold in 22 countries. Phase 3 clinicals for cancer pain and phase 2 clinicals for diabetes and ulcerative colitis are in process.

ABBV is already marketing marinol for loss of appetite for aids and chemotherapy - $135,000,000.00 in the US market last year.

There are no doubt many others, but these are listed on the US stock market.

Posted by: beth | Sep 13, 2013 9:20:52 PM

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