College of Law > Academics > Centers, Institutes & Initiatives > Mary and Michael Jaharis Health Law Institute > e-Pulse Blog > marijuana an age old medicine

Marijuana: An Age Old Medicine

Recorded use of marijuana as a medicine reaches back nearly 5,000 years. Since 1996, twenty-three states have approved the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Each state in which medical marijuana is legal has its own regulations to govern every aspect of dispensing the drug. Some states allow local dispensaries while others dictate which locality is permitted to distribute the patient’s perspective dosage. Similarly, some states allow patients to grow their own plants, while other states classify home growing marijuana as a crime under state law for which a patient could face criminal charges.

Even in states where medicinal marijuana use is allowed, patients must still overcome hurdles to obtain the drug. For example, the Illinois medical marijuana program has some of the strictest standards in the nation. The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program is a four-year pilot program that was signed by former Governor Quinn in 2013 and went into effect on January 1, 2014. The program governs the manufacturing and dispensing of medical marijuana in Illinois for physician-approved patients. In order for a patient to be prescribed marijuana, their doctor must maintain detailed records of the patient’s ailments and symptoms. This requirement goes well beyond a simple patient-physician relationship, as a typical recommendation or consultation with a physician is not sufficient for purposes of Illinois law. Once the patient is approved, either the patient or the patient’s designated caregiver must complete a background check in order to obtain a registry identification card. In Illinois, only cultivation centers approved by the Department of Agriculture have the ability to legally grow marijuana for medicinal purposes. Although the language of the statute states that Illinois has removed criminal penalties from the cultivation and use of marijuana, this only applies to medicinal use for patients with an identification card. There are still penalties attached for individuals who use marijuana or grow marijuana, even if it is medically necessary.

Further complicating the process of obtaining medical marijuana, potential recipients must suffer an approved medical diagnosis.  Attorney Robert Bauerschmidt, of Goldberg Law Group, LLC, is currently handling several medical marijuana appeals on behalf of potential drug recipients. He believes that debilitating medical conditions should be added to the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program. In an informal interview with Mr. Bauerschmidt, he stated that marijuana is one of the only drugs that is being approved on a diagnosis by diagnosis basis. Therefore, under the Illinois Pilot Plan, each individual disorder for which the patient is seeking marijuana must be approved by the Department of Public Health. Even disorders with similar symptoms, such as chronic pain, must be individually approved. As of January 29, 2016, no new conditions have been added to the Pilot Program.

Comparatively, in Ohio, the House approved House Bill 523 on May 10, 2016. If approved by the Senate, this bill would allow physicians to prescribe edibles, patches, oils, and plant materials to qualifying patients. The bill establishes a nine-person Medical Marijuana Control Commission entrusted with writing rules and regulations for the state’s medical marijuana statute. The bill would also urge universities in Ohio to conduct research on the drug, as well as, provide safe harbors for banks that wish to invest in drug research. The bill would further allow communities to opt out of hosting a dispensary and enable employers to maintain a “drug-free” environment if they so wish. This bill is in direct contrast to the Illinois statute, which states, “no school, employer, or landlord may refuse to enroll or lease to, or otherwise penalize, a person solely for his or her status as a registered qualifying patient or a registered designated caregiver.” Under the proposed Ohio bill, commission certified doctors must “regularly report on cases where marijuana is recommended, including the conditions it was used to treat, the form prescribed, and why it was picked over more conventional medicines.” This affords doctors more autonomy and freedom to treat their patients and improve the patients’ quality of care.

Although marijuana has been used for centuries to treat various medical conditions, the legalization of marijuana as a medicine continues to constantly face opposition. This may be attributed to the fact that the federal government still lists marijuana as one of the most dangerous drugs. Or perhaps, the opposition is due to the fact that pharmaceutical companies still have not discovered a way to synthesize marijuana’s properties in a way that will benefit them.

Whatever the reasons, it is evident that half of the states realize that medical marijuana is not just about getting high. Marijuana eases symptoms in patients with chronic pain stemming from any number of disorders thus enhancing the patient’s quality of life. Is that not the real overall goal of health care?

Originally from South Jersey, Tamalyn attended Loyola University Chicago where she received a B.A. in Political Science and a B.S. in Criminal Justice & Criminology. A Health Law Fellow and rising 3L from DePaul University College of Law, she has a passion for Health Law Policy and Healthcare Compliance.