OLR Research Report

June 25, 2007




By: Sandra Norman-Eady, Chief Attorney

You asked if there are reports of people illegally using marijuana prescribed for medical purposes.

Eleven states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) have active medical marijuana statutes. The law in each of these states removes state-level criminal penalties on the use, possession, and cultivation of marijuana by patients who possess written documentation from their physician advising that they either have a debilitating condition or might benefit from the use of marijuana. Additionally, Maryland allows patients arrested for marijuana possession to provide a “medical necessity” defense and sets $100 as a maximum penalty.

We have not found any reports on the illegal use of medical marijuana in the 10 states. However, a 2002 report by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO-03-189) revealed that there was very little data on the impact of medical marijuana laws on law enforcement in Alaska, California, Hawaii, and Oregon. A majority of the local law enforcement officials surveyed for the report believed that medical marijuana laws had little impact on their law enforcement activities for a variety of different reasons, including very few or no encounters involving medical marijuana registry cards or claims of a medical marijuana defense. The perception of these officers was that several factors, other than medical marijuana, affect trends in marijuana law enforcement. These factors included changes in general perceptions about marijuana, shifts in funding for various law enforcement activities, shifts in local law enforcement priorities from one drug to another, and demographics (see Marijuana: Early Experiences with Four States' Laws That Allow Use for Medical Purposes, November 2002).

Additionally, we found a report that shows the availability of medical marijuana has not increased drug use among young people. A 2005 study showed that since the passage of the first state medical marijuana law, California's Proposition 215 in 1996, all states with such laws have seen a decrease in marijuana use among youths (see Karen O'Keefe and Mitch Earleywine, “Marijuana Use by Young People: The Impact of State Medical Marijuana Laws,” Marijuana Policy Project, September 2005). The Marijuana Policy Project is a marijuana policy reform organization. It focuses on removing criminal penalties for marijuana use, with a particular emphasis on making marijuana medically available to seriously ill people who have the approval of their doctors.