There has been a persistent debate in the U.S as to whether marijuana should be legalized or not. Over the years, states have continued to grapple with this question. Some states have witnessed an immense fight to legalize them while others have won the battle by criminalizing the substance. In 1996, Californians voted and passed Proposition 215, making it the first state to allow the use of marijuana as a medical solution. The passage of this law has since motivated other states to follow suit with 33 states more others passing a similar law.

Other states that have enacted similar laws include the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and US Virgin Islands. In January 2018, the Vermont legislature passed a law allowing adult use of marijuana. However, the law has been criticized for its lack of a regulatory framework for the sales and production of the drug.

Twelve other states that have given this issue a different approach by allowing the use of low THC and high Cannabidiol (CBD) marijuana only on medical grounds, in which case the legalization is only limited as to the extent that the drug is used for medical reasons.

What are the Medical Uses of Marijuana?

In responding to California’s Prop 215, the Institute of Medicine weighed in by giving a report that pointed at the therapeutic importance of marijuana. According to the report, cannabinoids drugs and specifically THC were medically effective in relieving pain, stimulating appetite, controlling nausea and vomiting. However, the institute was clear that crude THC also carries harmful substances albeit in smaller amounts. In addition, cannabinoids have a psycho-therapeutic effect, including reducing anxiety, sedation, as well as euphoria. Medical researchers agree that such effects can have negative effects on some patients while providing benefits to others. Further medical research has established that marijuana has properties that relieve some of the symptoms of diseases including multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, cancer, and HIV/AIDS.

Perspectives of state vs Federal Government on Marijuana

According to federal law, marijuana has and continues to be classified under Schedule I substances as per the Controlled Substances Act. According to the law, Schedule I substances are those perceived to a high risk for dependency and which is not allowed for medical use. Therefore, it is a criminal offense for any person to distribute marijuana in the U.S. In a move to lessen the effects of the law, the Obama Administration sent a memo in October 2009 to federal prosecutors that plead with them to allow those distributing marijuana for medical use in accordance with the respective state law. A similar move was made in August 2013 when the US Department of Justice announced that it had deferred the right to challenge legalization of marijuana by the states of Washington and Colorado. The statement read that the said states were expected to put into place strong enforcement efforts to curb any manner of misuse of their laws.

The former Attorney General Sessions issued an Enforcement Memorandum in January 2018 that sought to rescind the Cole Memorandum allowing federal prosecutors to decide the manner of enforcing the federal marijuana laws. Ideally, the Sessions new directive directed the attorneys to consider all possible situations, including the seriousness of the crime, cumulative impact of the crime in question on the community and the deterrent effect of a criminal prosecution before deciding to prosecute the case.

Despite that many states have passed regulations relating to marijuana, the U.S federal law supersedes any state law. Therefore, any person found in possession, selling or using the substance can be arrested regardless of whether or not it is medical marijuana. State medical marijuana laws aim at protecting against the prosecution of people designated as caregivers and those who supply designated patients with medical marijuana. However, all laws do not allow distributors to profit from selling medical marijuana.

In a nutshell, the application of the law legalizing or criminalizing marijuana use in the US remains largely unclear and a delicate matter. It is worth noting that the question of whether marijuana is completely legal is neither here nor there. For example, Arizona and the District of Columbia voted and passed laws allowing for use of medical marijuana only to have them reversed. In 1998, the District of Columbia passed Initiative 59 which was blocked by Congress never to become the law. However, in 2009, Congress reversed its earlier decision to have the Initiative passed into law.

States which have allowed the use of marijuana for medical reasons have developed a patient database to provide some immunity against arrest and prosecution of people found with up to a certain limit of marijuana for purposes of treatment.
Some of the challenges of implementing the law that partially legalizes marijuana has been the question regarding the medical marijuana and the policy framework that regulates the recommendation, production, dispensing and registration of patients qualifying to use marijuana.