In Some States, Medical Marijuana Is Not Working. Here’s Why

Medical marijuana has been hailed as a major advance for people dealing with chronic pain or diseases such as cancer. States across the country, from liberal bastions such as California, to conservative “red” states like Texas, have passed laws approving the use of marijuana and marijuana compounds for various medical conditions. Even the U.S. congress, which has been adept largely at accomplishing nothing in recent years, has voted to protect medical marijuana from federal law enforcement actions.

But some states are having issues with implementation of their medical marijuana programs. In a June 9 report, Rolling Stone names those states. The Rolling Stone report, titled “7 States Where Medical Marijuana Is Legal But Barely Accessible,” looks at the reasons why various medical marijuana programs are struggling to get off the ground. In some states, such as New York, the programs are burdened by excessive regulation, in what appear to be attempts to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration at bay. In other states, it has simply been a failure to open the dispensaries that will provide access to the medication.

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In Massachusetts, it has taken a Republican governor, Charlie Baker, to relax some of the stringent regulations put into place under former governor Deval Patrick. In New Jersey, the Democratic legislature approved a medical marijuana law in 2010, but has had to deal with the opposition of governor Chris Christie. Only three of six dispensaries allowed under the law have been opened, and New Jersey medical marijuana patients can expect to pay as much as $500 an ounce, making black market weed much more affordable than its legal counterpart.

Delaware: One example of how not to do medical marijuana.

My state, Delaware, is in the Rolling Stone article. I knew that Delaware had passed a medical marijuana law, but I didn’t know a lot of the details until I was diagnosed with melanoma in 2013. Figuring that there might be a point in the future where I would become a medical marijuana patient, I decided to do some investigating.

It wasn’t easy to get a medical marijuana law passed here, because our state legislature has a disproportionate number of retired police officers in it. We Delawareans love our state troopers. So, from the outset, the law was going to be restrictive. The number of qualifying conditions is extremely limited: cancer, AIDS, hepatitis C, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and PTSD (depending on how it manifests itself) are the only disorders that qualify you for a medical marijuana card in Delaware. There is a provision that covers other diseases, but only as long as you suffer from certain conditions due to that disease or its treatment.

It costs you $125 a year for your medical marijuana card, although there is a sliding scale for those with lower incomes. The doctor who prescribes medical marijuana for you must be licensed to practice in Delaware. This is limiting for some patients. Because Delaware is so small, it’s not uncommon for some people to go to doctors in Maryland, Pennsylvania, or New Jersey. Those doctors may not be licensed in Delaware.

The Delaware program was shelved at the very beginning by governor Jack Markell, who in many ways barely qualifies as a Democrat. He approved the bill he was sent by the legislature, but put the implementation process on hold, because of threats he received from the federal Department of Justice.

Now the program has been given the green light to proceed, but Delaware medical marijuana patients are still facing roadblocks. In addition to doctors being very hesitant to fill out the required paperwork for medical marijuana (Rolling Stone says there are currently only 200 patients authorized to buy it), none of the dispensaries approved by the legislation, one per county, has gone into operation. The first dispensary is supposed to finally open its doors this month. And remember when I said that we love our state troopers here in “The First State?” The operator of that dispensary, First State Compassion Center, is Mark Lally, a former state trooper.

Don’t get me wrong, medical marijuana laws are a positive development. But what good are they when the people who can use marijuana legally have to buy it from illegal sources? That is exactly what is happening now in Delaware, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and other states. It’s time for these states to fix the problems with their programs, and get this wonder weed into the hands of people who need it.

Featured image via Laurie Avocado/Wikipedia

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