Prescribed Pot: Medical Marijuana Gaining Approval

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After Colorado and Washington voters approved constitutional amendments in 2013 to allow for recreational use of marijuana, many believe the movement to decriminalize the drug is making headway. But medical marijuana has been around for years. Support is growing in states that don’t allow use of the drug for medical purposes and the number of states that do allow medical marijuana is growing.

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

  • California voters approved Proposition 214 in 1996 to allow people to use marijuana for a variety of ailments if recommended by a physician. The Golden State was the first to allow for such use.1
  • The latest state to approve the use of medical marijuana is Maryland, where legislators in April 2014 passed House Bill 881.
  • Six states—Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin—passed laws in the 2014 legislative sessions to allow the use of medical marijuana oil, also called cannabidiol.2
  • Voters in Florida will consider a constitutional amendment in November 2014 on whether to allow the use of medical marijuana in the state.3

The amount of medical marijuana states allow patients to have in their possession varies widely.

  • Three states set the limit based on a specific time frame. Connecticut allows patients to have a one-month supply; Maryland allows patients to have a 30-day supply; and Massachusetts allows patients to have a 60-day supply.4
  • Alaska, Montana and Nevada set the lowest limits, allowing residents to have just 1 ounce in their possession. The states also allow residents to have six, four and seven plants, respectively, in their possession.5
  • Oregon and Washington state, which approved recreational use of marijuana in 2013, allow residents to have as much as 24 ounces in their possession for medical use, and 24 and 15 plants respectively.6

While the number of states that allow individuals to possess or grow marijuana for medical purposes rises, legal hurdles remain, but several courts have ruled in favor of medical marijuana proponents on a number of issues.

  • The California Supreme Court in May 2013 ruled that local governments could ban medical marijuana dispensaries despite a state law that allows Californians to use the drug for a number of conditions.7
  • The U.S. Supreme Court in March 2014 refused to review an Arizona Court of Appeals ruling that police in Yuma County must return marijuana and related paraphernalia to a woman with a medical marijuana prescription. The police argued the drug is technically illegal under federal law and it would be a crime to return it.8
  • The Michigan Supreme Court ruled Feb. 6, 2014, that local officials in the state could not ban the use of medical marijuana within their boundaries. Four communities—Livonia, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills and Lyon Township— passed local ordinances that would have overridden the state law allowing medical marijuana use.9
  • The Arizona Supreme Court ruled in April 2014 that medical marijuana cardholders in the state could not be convicted of a DUI unless they were impaired while driving.10


1, “20 Legal Medical Marijuana States and DC.” 
2 Marijuana Policy Project, “Marijuana Policy in the States."
3 Miami Herald, “Medical marijuana headed to Florida ballot after Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision,” Jan. 27, 2014.
4, “20 Legal Medical Marijuana States and DC.”
5 Ibid
6 Ibid
7 Los Angeles Times, “California Supreme Court upholds pot dispensary bans,” May 7, 2013.
8 Arizona Capitol Times, “Yuma County sheriff loses appeal over medical marijuana seizure,” March 31, 2014.
9 Detroit Free Press, “Michigan Supreme Court rules local laws can’t ban medical marijuana,” Feb. 7, 2014.
10 Phoenix Business Journal, “Arizona Supreme Court ruling eases DUI convictions for medical pot users,” April 22, 2014. 

Prescribed Pot: Medical Marijuana Gaining Approval