April 17, 1998 98-R-0620
FROM: Sandra Norman-Eady, Senior Attorney
You asked whether any states (1) have decriminalized marijuana possession or (2) allow its use for medicinal purposes.
Marijuana is illegal in all 50 states, but nine states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of it. These nine states are California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio. Last year, proposed HB 6991 (An Act Concerning Drug Policy) sought to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in Connecticut. The bill died in the Judiciary Committee after a public hearing.
Nearly one-half of the states, including Connecticut, recognize the medicinal value of marijuana. Medical marijuana laws in these states fall within one of three broad categories: therapeutic research programs, physicians’ right to prescribe or recommend marijuana, and reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule II, instead of a Schedule I, drug. Some states, like Alabama, Illinois, and New Mexico have laws dating back to the late 1970’s.
Currently, 13 states have laws authorizing marijuana therapeutic research programs. These states are Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia.
State therapeutic research programs in the late 1970s and early 1980s were enacted in conjunction with the federal government’s position to test the drug’s medical utility. Each state program required federal approval and close monitoring of people in the study. The marijuana was supplied by federal agencies. In the mid 1980s, the nation’s federal drug policy changed and marijuana use was no longer considered a viable medical treatment. As of 1991, the therapeutic research programs in all 13 states had either expired or ceased operating.
Prescriptions for Marijuana
Eight states and the District of Columbia permit physicians to prescribe, dispense, or distribute marijuana as medicine. A majority of these states specify that marijuana can be used to treat serious illnesses, such as cancer and glaucoma. These eight states are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Connecticut law allows physicians to possess and supply marijuana to treat patients who have glaucoma or who are receiving chemotherapy. But they may do so only if they have first received a license from the Department of Consumer Protection. The law explicitly allows people suffering from glaucoma or the side effects of chemotherapy to possess marijuana prescribed by a physician for that purpose (CGS §§ 21a-246 and 21a-253). Although the law has been in effect for nearly 17 years, no physician has ever applied for a license to use marijuana to treat patients.
The federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 created five schedules for the control of certain substances. Marijuana is included in Schedule I, along with other drugs the government considers to have a high potential for abuse or no current medical use or lack an acceptable safe method for use. Iowa, Montana, and Tennessee have downgraded the control of marijuana to differ from the federal government’s Schedule I status. In most cases, the schedule change is a procedural move that allows the state to make medicinal marijuana legal.