Apr 19, 2016 9:35 AM

States With Medical Cannabis as a Rarity

Support for making cannabis legal is increasing around the country, and many believe that it is a good thing.

As of April 2016, Washington D.C. and 23 states have already legalized marijuana for medical purposes as the voter-driven initiatives bypassed the Food and Drug Administration testing for efficacy and safety. Four states and the District of Columbia have made recreational use legal.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 58 percent of Americans approve the legalization. Such support is unprecedented; for instance, in 1969, only 12 percent voted for legal pot.

On the federal level, the plant is still considered a Schedule I drug, along with LSD and heroin. This year is supposed to be a big one for marijuana legalization, although the revolution is already underway.

However, while states across the country are struggling for shattering the marijuana prohibition, there are some places in the United States where weed is legal but barely accessible. The legislators are trying to translate the regulations from paper into the real world. Meanwhile, the patients are waiting for the time when they can finally legally purchase the plant.

New Jersey

New Jersey legalized medical cannabis back in January 2010, although the hard-line objections of the state's governor Chris Christie prompted the stifling disagreement between him, the legislature, and the state's Department of Human Services.

Though medical cannabis has already been legalized there, the medical patients program is much more complicated than in other states. The marijuana bill (S119) went into effect six months after the enactment. Only patients with very specific ailments could be permitted to get a prescription. They were also not able to grow weed, and the average price of an ounce of high-quality marijuana was the highest in the country, reaching up to $500. The first dispensaries were opened three years after the legalization, in 2013. African-Americans were nearly three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in New Jersey than whites. Under the bill, the local elected officials could ban a dispensary or any weed-related business to open, decide which ones and how many of them would be allowed, determine their working hours, regulations, and licensing fees.

In March 2014, the state Sen. Nicolas Scutari introduced a cannabis legalization bill to allow the sale, growing, and possession of marijuana, which was believed to overturn “archaic drug laws,” bring relief to millions of patients and millions of dollars in tax revenue to the local budget.


As Illinois legalized marijuana in 2013, the state is currently in its second year of the four-year medical weed pilot program, but with a very limited access to weed. The first dispensaries in the state were opened last November.

The previous state's administration left the office without issuing any licenses for medical pot distribution. That prompted the new Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner to condemn his predecessor's inaction and issue licenses for providers in January 2015.

Considering that there are 4,000 cannabis patients in the state, and 82 percent support the medical cannabis program, the list of conditions that can qualify people for the medical cannabis program is pretty short. People are also not allowed to grow their own plants.

All attempts to expand the program have been thwarted by the current Governor. He announced that the state would not expand the list of conditions that qualified patients to get medical marijuana.


The state approved the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative in November 2012 becoming the eighteenth state in the country that voted for the legalization of medical marijuana and state-regulated dispensaries. However, there are six dispensaries open across Massachusetts so far, and the federal drug policy lists the plant as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.

The overcomplicated licensing procedures sparked nearly two dozen lawsuits, leaving the residents without any dispensaries for more than two years after approving marijuana for medical use. Last May, the state's health authorities dramatically overhauled the process in order to speed up the regulatory procedure.


It has been about a year and a half since Minnesota's medical marijuana program has begun. In the first few months, it seemed quite successful, but very soon it became clear that the program was one of the strictest in the country.

For the following six months, just under 800 patients were cleared to use pot. People are eligible for medical weed prescriptions only after they prove to have severe pain, nausea, or lassitude. Even then, smoking weed is not acceptable: patients can purchase cannabis only in the form of edibles and extracts like oils and liquids. Home growing is also banned. People also have to pay a $200 annual enrollment fee for the program.

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