Fifteen states plus the District of Columbia have legalized medicinal marijuana: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
But the laws allowing it in three of those locations –– Arizona, New Jersey and the District of Columbia –– have yet to be formally implemented, according to Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Maryland has a law that requires a judge to consider a defendant’s use of medical marijuana to be a mitigating factor in state prosecutions involving violations of the marijuana laws. If a patient who’s arrested successfully argues at trial that his or her use of marijuana is based on medical necessity, the maximum penalty allowed by law is a $100 fine.
Most of the states that do allow medicinal marijuana do not have statutes that specifically provide for dispensaries.
And there are moves afoot in some states to repeal laws that are allowing people to use medical marijuana based on alleged abuses.
The Montana House of Representatives voted Feb. 10 to repeal the state’s 2004 voter-enacted marijuana law. Republican House Speaker Mike Milburn says that many of the people who’ve been approved for medical marijuana aren’t terminally ill and that the law has created a growing trade in illegal drugs. Marijuana grow-factories are prevalent in Montana. In Michigan, dispensaries have sprouted up in many places throughout the state even though there is nothing in that state’s medical marijuana laws that allows for them. This has led to lawsuits questioning their legality.
Right now, Armentano says, there are just two states that have state-regulated dispensaries up and running — Colorado and New Mexico. Maine is about to become the third and the first on the East Coast.
Rhode Island is likely to become the fourth. The state Health Department on Tuesday announced it would allow three dispensaries to open — one in Providence, one in Warwick and another in Portsmouth.
As a result of legislation passed in Colorado last year, there are currently about 1,000 medical marijuana dispensaries operating in that state. The state has just promulgated new rules that will take effect July 1.
State regulators in New Mexico have licensed 25 private entities to produce and dispense medical marijuana. But some of the state’s politicians are against medical marijuana. The new governor, Republican Susana Martinez, pledged during her campaign to rescind the law. Freshman Rep. James E. Smith, a high school teacher, introduced a bill Feb. 17 to repeal the medical-marijuana law, saying it “sends a bad message to kids that somehow marijuana is good for you.”
But, Smith has decided not to push for the legislation to be considered this year, replacing it with a measure that would ask the Department of Health to conduct a study on the program’s effectiveness, the impact it’s had on the state, “to identify lessons learned from implementation of the law… and whether continuation of the program is justified,” and to deliver it to the legislature by October.
Medical marijuana dispensaries operate in other states, but they are not state-regulated and many are not operating legally, says Armentano. In California, dispensaries are either allowed or disallowed by municipalities so they “fall into a legal gray area,” says Armentano. Legislation has been introduced this term to try to clarify what the state deems allowable and set clear regulations statewide for the operation of these dispensaries, he said.
The state’s attorney general advised in 2008 that the distribution and nonprofit sales of medical cannabis is permitted by qualified “collectives and cooperatives” but that “storefront” businesses that engage in the for-profit sales of medical marijuana “are likely operating outside the protections” of state law.
“Of course,” says Armentano, “virtually all operating California dispensaries operate as the latter and not the former.”