“Not tenable”. This is how western Washington US Attorney Jenny Durkan assessed the state’s poorly-regulated medical cannabis program in 2013. Igor Grant, director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at UC San Diego, used the same words to challenge the Drug Enforcement Administration’s categorization of marijuana as a Schedule I drug. And after years of reporting across the country for our recently released book, A New Leaf: The End of Cannabis Prohibition, we’d use the same words to describe the legal status of medical cannabis in the US today.
As a Schedule I substance alongside heroin, the federal government considers marijuana to have no medical use and high potential for abuse. Under federal law, it’s illegal for any person to manufacture, distribute, or possess cannabis for any purpose.
Yet twenty-one states and Washington DC have made the plant available as a medicine to qualifying patients. And legislation is pending in a dozen other states (including New York and Florida).
And herein lies the great contradiction of US marijuana policy – if these efforts succeed, a majority of US states will find themselves at odds with the federal government.