Medical Marijuana and the Washington vs. the States Issue

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Thirty-eight states now legally recognize medical marijuana. Another eighteen have given the green light to recreational use. But because marijuana is still illegal in Washington’s eyes, regulation is addressed at the state level. Is this a good or bad thing? It is both.

State regulation is good in the sense that our government was set up, from the very beginning, to limit federal authority in favor of state sovereignty. Letting states regulate marijuana as they see fit is in line with the intentions of the Founding Fathers. However, it is bad in the sense that state regulations vary so widely that cohesion between the states is nearly impossible.

For the remainder of this post, our discussion will focus on medical marijuana. The recreational market is an entirely different matter. Furthermore, medical-only states tend to have more restrictive legal environments.

  • Differences in State Laws

Utah is considered among the most restrictive of those states with medical cannabis programs in place. As explained by Utah Marijuana, consumers must obtain a valid medical cannabis card in order to possess and use marijuana legally. All medical cannabis must be purchased in the state, from a licensed medical cannabis pharmacy. Visitors are not allowed to bring their own cannabis in, and residents cannot take cannabis out.

As restrictive as Utah is, they do not require doctors or pharmacists to write the marijuana equivalent of a prescription. Utah patients need only consult with their doctors and pharmacists. They can ultimately self-medicate as they see fit. Travel to Florida and you will find a much different environment.

Florida is also a medical-only state. There, residents must obtain medical marijuana-use ID cards and sign up for the state’s medical marijuana-use registry (MMUR). When it comes time to purchase, patients cannot simply walk into a pharmacy and choose products off the shelf. Their qualified medical providers need to create an order for them. They can only have that order filled.

Imagine how confused a medical cannabis patient moving from Utah to Florida could be. The entire system they were used to in the Beehive State doesn’t apply in the Sunshine State. That’s the way it needs to be. However, that does not make it any easier on the patient.

  • Federal Legalization and Standardization

There is some talk of federal legalization leading to standardization at the state level. As the thinking goes, states would not have to be so restrictive to protect themselves against federal regulators. As such, they might be willing to help create some sort of standard that most states could adopt.

There is also the possibility that Washington will legalize marijuana and simultaneously take control of the regulatory process. That would most certainly create standardization in all fifty states. But at what cost? Do we really want Washington exercising complete control over yet another industry?

Standardization among the states would make life easier for medical cannabis patients. There is little doubt of that. But as long as states are forced to protect themselves against federal interference, standardization will be fleeting. State lawmakers do what they think is best. They do not always agree on what that is.

If the cost of standardization is federal control, perhaps we should pass. There are better ways to improve access and bring down prices. Federal regulation only pollutes the waters, making it even more difficult to get anything meaningful done.

What do you think? Does there need to be standardization within the medical marijuana industry? And if so, who should be behind it? The states could voluntarily standardize among themselves or turn it over to Washington. Which option is better?

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