When people think about the typical marijuana user, they generally imagine the same stereotype: a young, uneducated slacker who speaks with slurred words, is probably in need of a haircut and has little ambition other than mastering the latest video game. But in reality, when it comes to who really uses medical marijuana in the United States, the truth couldn’t be more different.
An estimated 260,000 patients across America from all walks of life use cannabis legally—in states that have passed medical marijuana laws, that is—for countless serious medical conditions. They encompass all classes, races, genders and economic statuses. They are parents, grandparents, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles. Many are well-educated and work as professionals. Some are terminally ill and confined to their beds, while others use the medicine to function in every day life.
Take cannabis patients in Colorado, for example. According to the state’s mandatory Medical Marijuana Registry Program, 92,915 new patient applications have been received since the registry began operating in June 2001 (225 applications have been denied, 68 cards have been revoked, 494 patients have died, and 3,228 cards have expired, bringing the total number of patients who currently possess valid Registry ID cards to 88,900). The average age of all patients is 40, and currently only twenty-four patients are minors (under the age of 18). Medical marijuana patients in Colorado suffer from all of the debilitating conditions covered under the state’s medical marijuana law, but severe pain, muscle spasms and severe nausea are the most commonly cited conditions.
Statistics are similar in medical marijuana states across the country. Montana has nearly 25,000 registered patients, ranging in ages from under 18 up to 90+ years old. In Oregon, more than 36,000 patients are registered with the state’s medical marijuana program, while in California, there are more than 100,000 patients. And there are likely countless undocumented patients who self-medicate with marijuana due to the fact that their states haven’t passed laws permitting the medical use of cannabis. Even former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson admitted that he used marijuana as an alternative to prescription painkillers to alleviate pain from a 2005 paragliding accident, prior to the passing of the state’s medical marijuana laws.
In all medical marijuana states, the number of patients is rapidly increasing due to the growing acceptance of marijuana as a medicine not only by state governments, but by leaders in the medical field as well. Marijuana’s effectiveness has been recognized by a wide range of respected medical and public health organizations, including the American Academy of HIV Medicine, American College of Physicians, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and many others. And countless modern medical research studies have demonstrated that marijuana is effective in treating or alleviating the pain, nausea and other symptoms associated with a variety of debilitating medical conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, neuropathic pain, hepatitis C, among others.
Contrary to the belief of some critics, medical marijuana laws don’t establish a free-for-all or a gateway for the legalization of pot for everyone. As of late 2010, fifteen states plus Washington, D.C. have enacted laws that legalize the use of cannabis by qualified patients. The states include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Rhode Island and Washington. While each state’s laws are different, they all have guidelines in place that prevent the abuse of the laws—and ensure that cannabis is used only by patients who are qualified and in need of the medicine.
Each medical marijuana state outlines precisely which medical conditions are eligible to be treated with cannabis, and requires the diagnosis and recommendation by a licensed medical professional. Most marijuana laws also include other limitations for medial marijuana users, such as where they can and cannot medicate, restrictions on driving or operating heavy machinery, and where and how they can access the medicine. Additionally, most marijuana states require patients to register with a state-run registry program and receive identification cards to verify that he or she is eligible to use the medication.
Marijuana is a legitimate and sometimes life saving medicine that is used by seriously ill patients from all walks of life who register in compliance with their state laws. So the next time you begin to think of what a medical marijuana user looks like, forget the unfair stereotypes. Chances are someone you know is a registered patient, and it may be the person you least expect.