One of my friends has a relative who uses medical marijuana. I’ve never really paid attention to this kind of stuff, so I’m curious about it now that I’ve encountered someone who has been more directly affected. How does medical marijuana work, and how is it different, legally speaking, from just smoking marijuana for fun? Is medical marijuana just legal in states where recreational marijuana is legal, or is it different?
Medical marijuana and recreational marijuana may be associated thanks to their similar histories and spreading legality, but they’re actually quite different–both legally and, as it turns out, in the minds of many Americans.
Marijuana’s medicinal uses have long been suspected, but it has historically been quite difficult to do research on marijuana’s benefits because of legal hurdles. Despite this, enough research has been completed and reviewed to suggest a broad range of medical applications for marijuana, often involving the treatment of symptoms like pain and nausea.
That, in turn, helped sway public opinion and lead to the legalization of medical marijuana in some states. The first of these was California in 199–16 years before Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
Medical marijuana and recreational marijuana are governed by separate laws and practices in states where they are both legal, and medical marijuana is legal in far more states (29–or 46, if you also count states that only allow low-THC marijuana) than recreational marijuana (9). Public opinion is in favor of both, say recent polls, but the 64% majority in favor of recreational marijuana is dwarfed by the 83% that support the more popular medical marijuana (and that number is from a poll where recreational marijuana support was merely in the 40s). Still, neither policy enjoys universal support.
Today, you can find dispensaries for marijuana–medical and recreational alike (though always separate)–in states across the country. But there are still plenty of reasons to differentiate between medical and recreational marijuana–not least because, in many states, the latter is still illegal!
“It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are still alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger for them.” — George Eliot