PENNSYLVANIA: As the medical community and many Americans come to accept the use of marijuana to treat a range of diseases and symptoms, state legislators are working to keep pace with laws concerning marijuana for medical use.
Numerous polls have indicated that a growing majority of Americans believe that medical marijuana should be legal throughout the country. Yet among the states, and even at the federal level, the merits of marijuana as a medical treatment are far from settled.
Forty-two states and the District of Columbia have proposed or enacted legislation regarding medicinal and recreational use of marijuana, according to a study by WestlawNext, the nation’s leading online legal research service. While California made national headlines when the state legalized medical marijuana in 1996, Virginia was the first state to legalize marijuana for certain medical purposes in 1979, fully 17 years before California’s law was signed.
Despite a shift toward public acceptance of medical marijuana use, only 24 states and the District of Columbia have made it legal. Legislation has been proposed in another 18 states, but not all have followed suit, with Idaho passing legislation reaffirming its stand against the legalization of marijuana altogether.
According to the Marijuana Policy Project, an estimated 2.4 million U.S. citizens are medical marijuana patients as of December 2012. Where it is legal, medical marijuana is available as a prescribed treatment through a medical doctor, either in a smokeable or ingestible form (pill), and typically available through state-administered dispensaries. An inhalable form, which technically uses key chemical compounds of marijuana, is legal in the United Kingdom and many other countries, and is in clinical trials for use in the United States.
Some of the more common, but very serious, medical conditions for which medicinal marijuana is being prescribed include: multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer, muscular dystrophy, inflammatory bowel disease (including Crohn’s disease), seizure disorder (including epilepsy), glaucoma, and HIV/AIDS, among others.
In addition to legalizing medical marijuana for adults, 20 states have addressed the issue of offering medical marijuana, prescribed in pill form, for sick children. Seventeen states allow the use of medical marijuana for minors when prescribed by a doctor, according to the National Organization for the Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML). A law in New Jersey is currently being considered that would require the approval from both a doctor and psychiatrist. Connecticut and Illinois prohibit medical marijuana for sick children, while allowing its use by adults.