Marijuana Plants

Medical Marijuana: The FAQs

Medical marijuana refers to the cultivation, use, and possession of marijuana in whole, unprocessed plants, or extracts to treat symptoms and illnesses.

Scientific and medical research recommend the use of medical Marijuana to treat terminal illnesses or long-term symptoms associated with cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, and AIDS. Marijuana contains about 100 cannabinoids and two of these chemical ingredients (THC and CBD) are widely used to manufacture medical drugs. Unlike other cannabinoids, THC and CBD play a crucial role in the body by regulating pleasure, promoting muscle movement, boosting memory and concentration, reducing pain, preventing inflammations, and controlling epileptic seizures.

Medical Marijuana Laws

The Federal government has made the cultivation, possession, and use of medical marijuana in the US illegal. Through the Food and Drug Administration, the federal government requires carefully conducted studies and clinical trials in thousands of human subjects to determine the benefits and risk exposures of a possible medication. Hitherto, researchers have not conducted sufficient large-scale clinical trials about the benefits and risks of marijuana plant among patients with terminal illnesses. On the other hand, states have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, twenty-nine states have legalized medical marijuana under controlled conditions as of April 2017. Although the law dictates that federal laws are above state laws, various federal and state agencies have come together to solve the incessant battle between federal and state laws regarding medical marijuana.

Medical Marijuana penalties

Although an increased number of states continue to enact statutes permitting terminally ill patients to cultivate, possess, and use medical marijuana, the federal government treats marijuana as a drug under schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act. Under this act, cannabis is viewed as a highly addictive drug having no medical value. Penalties for medical marijuana include imprisonment, fines or both depending on the felony class and the state.

In states that have not legalized medical marijuana, offenses are treated as felony drug charges while states that have decriminalized medical marijuana treat offenses as minor infractions. One may be charged with offenses under the following circumstances

  • The sale of the drug to minors
  • Possession of grams beyond the recommended amounts
  • Cultivation of marijuana in states where cultivation is illegal
  • Possession of marijuana equipment.

Where convicted and sentenced, a minimum of 85% of the sentence must be served. Possession or cultivation of higher quantities beyond the legalized amounts attract a longer jail term with minimal chances for probation or alternative sentencing. In California, which was the first state to decriminalize medical marijuana, possessing more than 1 kg of cannabis with no preceding sentences carries a minimum of six months jail term with a probability of probation. Higher quantities with prior convictions carry a minimum of two years with no possibilities for parole.

Possible Defenses

Patients arrested and prosecuted for the possession, cultivation, or use of medical marijuana have only the medical necessity as a probable defense under the First Amendment. The medical necessity defense is grounded as a state common law or general defense statute where one proves that their action, albeit being illegal, prevented harm. However, under the medical necessity defense, the defendant must prove beyond reasonable doubt that

  • They did not intentionally bring about the circumstances that caused the illegal act and
  • They could not accomplish the same objective using a less offensive alternative

It is important to consult with medical professionals and marijuana defense attorneys on the required documentation for the defendant to urge their case should be they found guilty of the drug felony.

Many types of research funded by the National Institute of Health continue to explore the benefits of cannabinoids in the medical fields. Current research is directed towards the prevention of growth and multiplication of cancer cells. Evidence from some clinical and preclinical trials ascertain that extracts from whole-plant marijuana plants can indeed treat symptoms of diseases affecting the immune system. However, such research faces multiple legal issues that hinder progress. Stakeholders in the healthcare and legal sectors should work together and enact systems that will promote research and uphold legal standards.

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