After waiting in line for hours at a booth during a medical marijuana convention in San Francisco, Jeff Harrington needed only a two-minute consultation and a written recommendation to become a medical marijuana patient in California. He now can legally purchase and possess marijuana from any one of thousands of marijuana businesses in the state.
Across the country in Connecticut, an established physician-patient relationship is required before patients are deemed qualified for medical marijuana, and only licensed pharmacists can own and operate dispensaries.
Between these two extremes, a News21 investigation has found there are as many ways to deal with medical marijuana as there are states that have legalized it.
As the federal government continues its prohibition of marijuana, the District of Columbia and the 23 states that have legalized marijuana for medical use have been left to write the rules and regulations on their own.
The experimentation has produced wide variances and contradictions in their approaches to everything from possession limits and lab testing to how people qualify as medical marijuana patients.
For example, in Vermont, a medical marijuana patient is allowed only two mature plants and 2 ounces of marijuana. By contrast, in Washington state, a patient can have 15 plants and 24 ounces of prepared marijuana.
Eric Mevis has oral mandibular dystonia, a disorder that causes facial muscles to contract and twist uncontrollably. He said that medical marijuana is one of the few medicines that help with his disease.
In some states, like New Mexico, there is no fee for a medical marijuana card, while others, such as Minnesota, charge up to $200. Some states do not tax medicinal marijuana, but others charge a sales tax or a specific tax on marijuana products of as much as 37 percent in Washington state.
Because marijuana remains a federally controlled, Schedule 1 drug, federal agencies do not offer states any guidance or medical protocol for state medical marijuana programs.
“Based on the research to date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not recognized or approved the marijuana plant as medicine,” Mario Moreno Zepeda, spokesperson for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said. “However, research on marijuana extracts, called cannabinoids, has led to FDA-approved medications.”