Few issues are as difficult for lawmakers to navigate as medical marijuana. On the one hand, they have to balance the desire for new state laws against existing federal laws. Then they have to consider the difference between medical and recreational use. There are lobbyists coming after them on all sides. There is so much to consider that it is amazing any group of lawmakers can come to a consensus.
Some see the medical cannabis issue as a no-win situation. If they legislate in one direction, people on the other side of the debate are unhappy. If they legislate to make those people happy, they will face angry voters on the other side. Lawmakers catch flak about everything from licensing growers to how medical marijuana products are dispensed to patients.
Here are three things lawmakers considering medical cannabis have to wrestle with:
1. Prescriptions vs. Recommendations
There are many states, like Utah for example, that attempt to closely follow the prescription model for dispensing medical cannabis products. But according to the doctors at Utahmarijuana.com, doctors do not technically write marijuana prescriptions the same way they write prescriptions for antibiotics or anti-inflammatories. Rather, they recommend medical cannabis for qualifying conditions.
States might want to establish medical cannabis programs requiring doctors to write official prescriptions, but that will not be possible as long as marijuana remains a Schedule I substance under federal law. The best they can do is rely on doctor recommendations and medical cannabis cards.
2. Growers and Dispensaries
Another difficult area to navigate is one of licensing growers and dispensaries. States cannot stand back and allow a free-for-all in either environment. If they want to maintain control over cannabis as a medical product, they have to limit the number of growers they allow in their states. Those growers have to be licensed. They must be able to demonstrate they can produce medical cannabis safely and in sufficient quantities.
As far as dispensaries are concerned, they also have to be regulated to prevent a free-for-all. Dispensaries have to be limited in number and licensed by the state; the products they sell have to be approved by the state; they have to come from state-approved growers. All of this inevitably creates licensing issues. And in some states, complex licensing issues have led to lawsuits.
3. The Move Toward Recreational Use
One of the biggest concerns among lawmakers is the push to turn medical use into recreational use. California was the first state to approve medical cannabis many years ago. They eventually approved recreational use too. The same goes for Colorado and a number of other states.
Lawmakers in Florida are now grappling with the same issue. Years ago, medical cannabis proponents insisted that they only wanted to make the drug available to people with legitimate medical needs. But almost as soon as the state’s medical cannabis amendment was passed, they began working on decriminalization. There is now a bill before Florida state legislature that would approve recreational marijuana there.
This sort of thing is what makes lawmakers in the small number of states that still do not allow medical cannabis wary of going down that road. They suspect that opening the door to medical use is just the first step to full decriminalization. And in Washington, decriminalization is now on the table with the Democrats in charge of both the White House and Capitol Hill.
Medical marijuana is not an easy issue for legislators to navigate. There are pitfalls at every turn. But there is a silver lining: at least the issue requires them to earn their paychecks.