Federal & State Law
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Many people are confused about the legality of medical access to marijuana.  The passage of state initiatives in recent years has intensified this confusion and places many people at risk.

First and foremost: Marijuana, for any use,  is illegal under federal law. Even if you live in a state that has enacted legislation or passed a ballot initiative that recognizes marijuana's medical utility you are subject to arrest by federal officials for possession or cultivation of marijuana.

Secondly, it is illegal to ship or receive marijuana by mail.  Do not be fooled by individuals who claim they can legally ship marijuana because they live in a state or country where "marijuana is legal."  Interstate shipment of marijuana is a federal offense. So is importation of marijuana.

If you do reside in a state that has enacted a ballot initiative "legalizing" medical access to marijuana it is important that you check with an attorney or local officials about the policy in your region.

 

Federal Laws

The Controlled Substances Act classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug and defines it as a drug "with no accepted medical value in treatment." Despite its long history of use as a medication, cannabis is classified as a "new drug" and legal access is only possible through an Investigational New Drug Application (IND) issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

State Laws

Beginning in 1978, the states began responding to pleas from the seriously ill for legal access to marijuana for medical purposes. Thirty-four states have enacted laws which recognize marijuana's medical value. Many of these laws authorized state research programs which would allow citizens to gain legal access to marijuana.  Several states developed complicated research programs which gave their citizens limited access to legal supplies of medical marijuana. These programs were short-lived, however. Complex federal regulations and the continuous intervention of federal officials made such programs too difficult for most states to administer.

For a more complete discussion of state actions relative to medical marijuana please see Marijuana as Medicine: A Recent History (1976-1996) with Recommendations.

Proposition 215 and Other State Initiatives

Frustrated with federal intransigence, voters in six states have supported ballot initiatives which "legalize" marijuana for medical purposes. These measures have demonstrated the strong public support for medical access to marijuana but they have failed to resolve the problem of legal access to marijuana for medical purposes because federal law supersedes state law. 

In California, for example, Proposition 215 allows medical access to marijuana but federal officials, most notably the Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, have threatened doctors with arrest if they prescribe marijuana.  Federal law enforcement officials from the DEA have continued to make arrests in the state.