Marijuana:

Early Experiences with Four States' Laws That Allow Use for Medical Purposes

GAO-03-189: Published: Nov 1, 2002. Publicly Released: Nov 29, 2002.

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A number of states have adopted laws that allow medical use of marijuana. Federal law, however, does not recognize any accepted medical use for marijuana and individuals remain subject to federal prosecution for marijuana possession. Debate continues over medical effectiveness of marijuana, and over government policies surrounding medical use. State laws in Oregon, Alaska, Hawaii, and California allow medical use of marijuana under specified conditions. All four states require a patient to have a physician's recommendation to be eligible for medical marijuana use. Alaska, Hawaii, and Oregon have established state-run registries for patients and caregivers to document their eligibility to engage in medical marijuana use; these states require physician documentation of a person's debilitating condition to register. Laws in these states also establish maximum allowable of marijuana for medical purposes. California's law does not establish a state-run registry or establish maximum allowable amounts of marijuana. Relatively few people had registered to use marijuana for medical purposes in Oregon, Hawaii, and Alaska. As of Spring 2002, 2,450 people, or about 0.05 percent of the total population of the three states combined, had registered as medical marijuana users. Statewide figures for California are unknown. In Oregon, Alaska, and Hawaii, over 70 percent of registrants were over 40 years of age, and in Hawaii and Oregon, the two states where gender information is collected, 70 percent of registrants were men. Statewide figures on gender and medical conditions were not available for Alaska or California. Hawaii and Oregon were the only two states that had data on the number of physicians recommending marijuana. As of February 2002, less than 1 percent of the approximately 5,700 physicians in Hawaii and 3 percent of Oregon's physicians out of 12,900 had recommended marijuana to their patients. Oregon was also the only state that maintained data on the number of times individual physicians recommended marijuana--as of February 2002, 62 percent of the Oregon physicians recommending marijuana made one recommendation. Data were not readily available to measure how marijuana-related law enforcement has been affected by the introduction of medical marijuana laws. Officials from over half of the 37 selected federal, state, and local law enforcement organizations GAO interviewed in the four states said that the introduction of medical marijuana laws had not greatly affected their law enforcement activities.

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