By Bara Vaida
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH
Feb. 12, 2015 -- This year, more than a dozen states are expected to consider proposed laws to legalize or expand access to medical marijuana.
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Bills introduced in 10 states aim to permit some form of legal medical pot for the first time. In six states, law-makers are expected to consider measures that would expand the scope of existing medical marijuana laws.
"What we are seeing now is, governors who were once pretty hesitant about considering medical marijuana are now realizing that it isn't the political liability they thought it was, even a year ago," says John Hudak of the Brookings Institution. That's a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C.
In 23 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam, comprehensive medical marijuana programs are now legal. Last year, 11 other states passed limited versions of such laws. These measures allow parents of children with severe forms of epilepsy or other seizure disorders access to a form of marijuana that's low in THC (the ingredient that gives users a "high") but high in cannabidiol (CBDs), a non mood-altering ingredient.
Over the past year, support has grown among congressional leaders, federal officials, and doctors' groups to permit medical research on marijuana, driving continued action in the states.
In December 2014, Congress passed legislation that effectively ends the federal ban on medical marijuana in states where it is legal.
"The vote by Congress (in 2014) shows that medical marijuana has made significant strides in becoming an issue of national consideration," says Malik Burnett. He's a policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. "There is a growing bipartisan consensus that states should be allowed to set their own policy on marijuana."
What's more, the nation's top doctor, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, said on Feb. 4 that some research shows medical marijuana can help against certain health conditions and symptoms. And the American Academy of Pediatrics recently endorsed more research.
Since 1972, pot has been classified under federal law as an illegal drug with no medical value. The FDA is reviewing medical evidence surrounding marijuana, which could lead to changing its classification and enabling its use for medical purposes.
Two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized pot for recreational use. Alaska and Oregon voted in 2014 to do so as well, but the laws have yet to be put into effect.
Roundup of State Action in 2015
- States considering or expected to consider bills to allow medical marijuana for children with seizure disorders: Georgia, Virginia, and Texas
- States without current medical marijuana laws considering comprehensive laws: Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina
- States with limited medical marijuana laws that are considering or expected to consider more comprehensive legislation: Florida, Kentucky, Iowa, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee
SOURCES: Malik Burnett, policy manager, the Drug Policy Alliance. John Hudak, fellow, government studies, Brookings Institute. Marijuana Policy Project: "2015 Marijuana Policy Regorm Legislation." National Conference of State Legislatures: "State Medical Marijuana Laws." Los Angeles Times: "Congress quietly ends federal government's ban on medical marijuana." The Hill: "Surgeon general: Medical marijuana 'can be helpful.'" American Academy of Pediatrics: "Legalization of Marijuana: Potential Impact on Youth." The Huffington Post: "FDA To Evaluate Marijuana For Potential Reclassification As Less Dangerous Drug." WVIR-TV: "VA Lawmakers Advance Bill to Legalize Medical Cannabis Oil."
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