Praise be! Your state allows legal medical marijuana. Now the beneficial effects of America’s most helpful, yet illegal, plant can be enjoyed by patients sorely needing it. Or, at least that’s what you’ve been hoping would be the case, in some places, for quite some time.
The fact of the matter is that even when states make medical marijuana legal, that’s often the first step in what can be a painfully long process of many...many...many steps. Not to mention a bundle of, what might seem to be, counterintuitive rules prohibiting worthy patients from getting their hands on high quality medication.
Circumstances vary by state, but here are four examples of states that have passed canna-friendly legislation that are yet to yield patient-friendly results.
Just four years after California allowed legal medical marijuana, their neighbors wayyyyy to the west followed suit. Actually, what Hawaii did was a first in America — they were the first to legalize marijuana through the bill-to-law process, rather than through a ballot initiative as did California.
17 years later, though, it’s no easy task for patients to access their canna-meds. Just how hard? In the nearly two decades since legal medical marijuana became a thing in Hawaii, not a single dispensary has opened on the islands. Get that? Zero. Zilch.
The problem, explained by Motherboard, is that Hawaii originally allowed “medical use of marijuana for registered patients, (but) it didn't specify where these patients were supposed to get their supply.” It wasn’t until 2015 — a decade and half later — that “the state passed a law opening the door for a small number of licensed dispensaries to open up shop.”
At the time this was written, two massive hurdles still existed.
While the state granted eight licenses to marijuana companies, in true bureaucratic fashion Hawaii has been taking quite some time identifying and guiding each piece of the required business structures. To boot, the state requires each license holder to manage the entire seed-to-sale process, which is extremely expensive — especially for companies trying to acquire funding in an industry that is still federally barred. Cobbling together the necessary capital can be extremely time-consuming.
In early June 2016, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a bill permitting legal medical marijuana. But as Cleveland.com notes, “patients still can't buy legal marijuana here, and doctors can't become certified to recommend it. No licenses have been awarded to marijuana cultivators, processors, testing labs or dispensaries.”
Woof! That doesn’t seem to bode well for patients.
However, state officials have long-told of a two-year process to get the legal medical marijuana program off the ground. And according to Ohio watchers, the state appears to be on track to meet that timeline. When it launches, Ohio will boast up to 24 licensed growers, 40 processors that will turn marijuana flowers into various derived products like oils, edibles, and patches, and 60 dispensaries.
While they wait to legally purchase marijuana, the state has created a stopgap for patients in the form of an “affirmative defense letter,” a form physicians can issue to a patient “intended to allow patients to use medical marijuana without being prosecuted for possession.”
In the case of the Empire State, though many celebrated the expansion of New York’s legal medical marijuana program to include sufferers of chronic pain — many who are elderly — the state’s online registration process has been problematic.
In an OZY article, Nick Fouriezos writes that “while more access came as a needed salve for many ailments, it also served as a new twist on the old story of health care disparities between urban and rural communities.”
Compounding that divide is the fact that the number of doctors who will actually “certify” a patient to get on the legal marijuana registry dwindles substantially outside the bigger cities. As Fouriezos tells it, there are some 400 such doctors in New York City alone, but outside the metropolitan areas, patients “with chronic pain sometimes drive two and a half to three hours to get certified.”
The Peach State has some of the tightest medical marijuana restrictions in the country, though the Georgia program was recently expanded to cover patients of AIDS, Alzheimer’s, autism, epidermolysis bullosa, peripheral neuropathy and Tourette’s syndrome.
Essentially, qualified patients can possess cannabis oil containing no more than 5 percent THC. But here’s the catch: they can’t purchase it or make it. For that matter it can’t be sold either. So, you might wonder, how does a patient get their hands on their medicine?
Enter the strange story of Georgia State Rep. Allen Peake, on whose front porch magically appears a shipment of cannabis oil once a month. Peak then distributes the oil to approved patients, free of charge.
One of the patients that Rep. Peake delivers to told the Associated Press, “It shouldn’t be this way. You shouldn’t be meeting at a gas station or a Target parking lot to get medicine to somebody. You should be going to the place where it is produced and tested to get it dispensed to you in a regulated manner, but this is what we’re forced to do.”
Legal medical marijuana laws are a work in progress in the United States, but as advocates will tell you, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully, for the sake of patients, we get there sooner than later.