Medical Marijuana an Easy Target for Abuse

Why Is Marijuana Prescribed?

Woman Smoking Marijuana in Pipe
Medical Marijuana Easily Converted for Abuse. © Getty Images

State legislators who passed medical marijuana laws did so with the intention of helping patients with serious medical conditions that were not being improved by traditional pharmaceutical treatment, but many are now finding that the system is being abused by those who simply want to get high.

The abuses are perpetuated by doctors who prescribe the drug for many conditions not covered by the law, patients who lie about their symptoms to acquire a prescription and legitimate patients who are diverting their medical marijuana to non-patients for a profit.

List of Serious Conditions

In every medical marijuana state, the drug was supposed to be prescribed only for patients with serious medical conditions, or "debilitating medical conditions," as some laws stated. In each state, the list of conditions for which marijuana could be prescribed was short and very specific.

Although the list varies slightly from state to state, here is a list of diseases or conditions for which most states will allow a prescription:

Nausea, Appetite, and Pain

As you can see, these are very serious medical conditions; most of them involve situations in which marijuana helps by reducing nausea associated with the disease or the treatment of the disease (cancer}, or by increasing the person's appetite (AIDS).

The door is open for abuse, however, in the use of marijuana for the treatment of pain (chronic pain and migraines).

Because those symptoms are easily faked, without a battery of expensive neurological testing to confirm them, abuses in the system can easily occur.

Any Kind of Pain?

In addition, many of the state medical marijuana laws contain language that allows other conditions to be added to the list of approved conditions if the patient or the doctor determines that marijuana brings relief when no other medical treatment can.

This loophole in the law has also brought about opportunities for abuse of the system, especially in California, where lobby groups have successfully added so many diseases and conditions to the list to the point that almost anyone in any kind of pain whatsoever can get a medical marijuana card.

Closing the Loopholes

In Montana, where lawmakers say the abuse of the system has gotten "out of control," a subcommittee has been working to rewrite the medical marijuana law to try to plug some of the loopholes. Legislators are skeptical that 20,000 state residents suddenly have debilitating medical conditions.

"I guess everybody who gets sick moves to Missoula," said Rep. Penny Morgan, R-Billings. More than 25% of those with marijuana prescriptions in Montana are between the ages of 21 and 30.

"What I hear from the public is that they don't believe that many 20-year-olds have conditions that are so pressing they need a medical marijuana card. They just don't buy it," Morgan told the Independent Record.

Diversion to Minors Is Frequent

Another area of abuse includes the diversion of medical marijuana for profit from those who have legitimate prescriptions. Researchers at the University of Colorado found that almost 75% of teens receiving treatment for marijuana abuse had abused medical marijuana that had been prescribed for someone else.

The research was conducted prior to Colorado's legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, but the results indicated that a large number of adults are diverting their medical marijuana to minors.

Some proponents of medical marijuana who supported initiatives to legalize it because of humanitarian reasons have become disillusioned with the system. They thought that medical marijuana would be dispensed from pharmacies only to patients who really needed it, but instead, it has produced what one advocate called "pot dealers in storefronts" who make "ridiculous" amounts of money.


National Conference of State Legislators. "State Medical Marijuana Laws." Updated March 2013.

Salomonsen-Sautel, s, et al. "Medical Marijuana Use Among Adolescents in Substance Abuse Treatment." Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 28 May 2012

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