Criminal Law

Medical Marijuana Laws

Key Takeaways:

  • Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, but states regulate medical marijuana within state lines. 
  • State medical marijuana policies regulate who can buy, grow, sell, and use medical cannabis.
  • Medical marijuana users can still face criminal charges for violating state or federal drug laws.

Medical marijuana is the legal use of marijuana for medical purposes. Most states now allow the usage of marijuana as a treatment method for patients with certain medical conditions, even though Marijuana is still illegal under federal law. States have created their own laws and regulations around the use, possession, growth, and distribution.

Medical cannabis and recreational marijuana laws are still evolving. To avoid criminal charges and stay within your rights, it is helpful to have an understanding of medical marijuana laws. For more information about your legal rights, talk to a local criminal defense lawyer.

Who Qualifies for Medical Marijuana?

To use medical marijuana in most states, you must have a qualifying condition documented by a health care professional.

State laws typically allow cannabis for medicinal use for treating certain conditions where marijuana can ease symptoms and their side effects. Other states restrict its use to debilitating diseases or disorders, such as:

  • Cancer
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Chronic pain
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Migraines
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Seizures
  • Severe nausea

For most states, medical cannabis programs have legal requirements for medical use. For your state’s specific requirements, you can learn more on our list of medical marijuana laws by state or from your state government’s official website.

Residency Requirements

Many states require patients to live in the state where they wish to receive medical marijuana. Your state may require specific documentation to prove you are a resident, such as a driver’s license or other proof of address.

Medical Documentation

Like getting medication from a pharmacy, the majority of states require a prescription to get medical marijuana. Other states require patients to receive a written statement, certification, or verbal authorization from a prescriber.

Register With the State Government

Most states require patients to register with a state government agency, like a department of health. States typically keep a registry of all patients, and dispensaries typically keep records as well.

Medical Marijuana Cards

Several states issue medical marijuana cards. These cards may be required to purchase from a medicinal marijuana dispensary or prove to law enforcement that you are allowed to consume medical marijuana. Like other prescriptions, your card will have an expiration date, and you will have to renew it.

The Role of Medical Providers

Each state defines what types of providers can prescribe this treatment and the type of required documentation, like a prescription or other authorization. Depending on the laws in your state, you may be able to receive a prescription for medical marijuana from a doctor, physician’s assistant, nurse practitioner, or a natural or holistic practitioner.

Sometimes, a prescriber may be required to register with the state to prescribe medical marijuana. Health care providers may also need to sign forms on behalf of their patients for them to receive a medical marijuana program card and be able to purchase from medical dispensaries.

Restrictions for Caregivers and Dispensaries

The person who administers medical marijuana to a patient is typically referred to in statutes as a caregiver. Many states also have legal requirements in place for caregivers, since they often purchase and administer marijuana for their patients.

Most states have age limits on who can be a caregiver. Many states require a caregiver to be at least 21 years old, while other states set the age limit at 18 years old. Some states even require caregivers to register with the state. Additionally, many states mandate that caregivers cannot be under the influence of marijuana or other substances while administering it.

In the marijuana industry, other people involved in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana are also considered caregivers. Accordingly, states impose specific regulations on individual marijuana plant growers and dispensary owners.

What Happens if You Violate Medical Marijuana Laws?

Although legal in some form in over half of the United States, marijuana is still an illegal Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. That means under federal law, even possessing marijuana is still illegal, no matter where you live.

And failing to comply with medical marijuana regulations in your state may lead to criminal charges, depending on factors like:

  • Possessing more than you are allowed to
  • Possessing marijuana in the wrong form (if your state only allows edibles, for example)
  • Taking marijuana across state lines
  • Failing to register with the state
  • Distributing marijuana in school zones or other prohibited areas

Since each state has different laws controlling medical marijuana, it is important to be aware of not only the laws in your state but also any other states where you may travel. If you bring marijuana across state lines, you may be dealing with the federal government. Marijuana is still an illegal narcotic under federal law.

States and Marijuana Laws

California became the first state to legalize the use of medical marijuana in 1996. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of April 24, 2023, 38 states and the District of Columbia now allow cannabis products for medical use, including:

  • Arizona
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont

After Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use, now 23 states and Washington, D.C., have laws for the non-medical use of marijuana, including Oregon and Alaska.

Each state’s marijuana legalization laws are different. Some states regulate the amount of THC, CBD, and other cannabidiols in products. Different public health agencies regulate who can purchase and use marijuana, and some states allow marijuana patients to grow their own cannabis plants. Check with your state’s medical use of cannabis laws for more information.

Marijuana and Criminal Defense Cases

If you have been charged with a crime relating to medical marijuana, your criminal charges depend on your situation. Your location can also play a critical role in determining whether it is a violation, misdemeanor, or felony offense.

Any drug offense can come with serious penalties and can involve hefty fines. Marijuana policy is an evolving area of the law that can be difficult to navigate on your own. Consult with a criminal defense attorney to discuss your situation.

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