California became the first state to pass the controversial Compassionate Use Act in 1996 to allow chronically ill patients to use marijuana to treat the symptoms of their disease. Since that time, more than two dozen states and territories have followed suit. Medical marijuana, as it came to be called, is one of the most misunderstood treatment options in America today.
While many physicians and researchers believe that the benefits of medical marijuana far outweigh the dangers, state and local governments are split on how to regulate such a powerful tool.
What is medical marijuana?
Medical marijuana is the treatment of specific chronic, debilitating, or life-threatening conditions with cannabis, or cannabis containing products. Diseases that are most often treated with marijuana are cancer, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, and epilepsy though each state has designated other conditions as well.
Patients must be evaluated by a licensed medical or mental health practitioner who is knowledgeable with cannabis in order to be approved for treatment. Once approved, patients are issued an identification card that is provided by their state’s health department, which oversees the program. With the card as proof of medical necessity, patients can purchase their products from a licensed dispensary.
Where can I use my medical marijuana?
Although your state may have legalized medical marijuana, the federal government has not, making cannabis use a gray area in the eyes of the law. In the issuing state, patients should have no problems as long as they are following the guidelines set forth by the medical marijuana program.
In all jurisdictions that have approved medical use, patients should consume their products in the comforts of their home. Using marijuana in public places is prohibited and depending on where you live could result in hefty fines. Additionally, all jurisdictions do not allow patients to use their marijuana before driving or using heavy machinery. Cannabis is a psychoactive plant that can delay a driver’s response time and is therefore considered driving under the influence.
In a state that has legalized medical marijuana, patients are allowed to travel in their private vehicles with their medication if done so correctly. Many states have rules that patients should follow, such as requiring the unopened, unused products to be stored out of the reach of the driver as well as any minor children. From a federal government’s standpoint, unless it is a tremendous amount intended for resale, they will leave it up to the jurisdiction the patient is found in to determine if charges should be made.
Traveling by public transportation can make things extremely difficult for medial use patients. In most states, this is prohibited, causing the patient to make other arrangements. In some areas, dispensaries or delivery services can transport the product much like durable medical equipment suppliers bring oxygen or wheelchairs to a patient’s home. If you are unsure of your state’s requirements, your local dispensary can help you determine the best way to obtain your medication.
Lastly, in many states, designated caregivers can purchase marijuana for a patient who is unable to travel due to lack of transportation or whose medical condition prevents them from leaving their homes. These caregivers must meet specific guidelines and go through the same approval process as the patient. Separate IDs are issued to the caregiver and patient.
As with any medication, marijuana should be used only under the advice and care of a licensed practitioner who understands your condition and is familiar with the way cannabis works in the body. Individuals who have never used marijuana before cannot be sure of how it will react in their body. When using for the first time or when trying a new delivery method or strain, patients are encouraged to be in a safe environment and with someone else if possible.
Although marijuana is considered safer than alcohol or tobacco products by many, it is still a drug and can have severe side effects if abused or mixed with other substances. Before mixing medications, talk to your doctor about the risks associated with using marijuana with other drugs. Side effects related to marijuana can be enhanced by other medicines or vice versa. Safety should always be our first concern, so don’t take any chances, call your medical provider today.
Medical marijuana can be an effective treatment for various conditions, but patients are urged to use precautions, especially if they have never used before. Always know the laws where you live as well as the requirement of your job. While there may be some employment protections for medical use, that differs between states. The federal government still considers cannabis to be a schedule 1 class drug and illegal. The ADA guidelines for employment protection does not extend to medical marijuana.