Abusing the Medical Marijuana Law System

The temptation of profiting off of prescribed pot

Woman Smoking Marijuana in Pipe
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State legislators who passed medical marijuana laws may have done so with the intention of helping patients with serious medical conditions who were not being improved by traditional pharmaceutical treatment. In some cases, there is evidence that the system is being abused by those who simply want to get high.

Abuses of medical marijuana laws are being perpetrated by doctors who prescribe the drug for many conditions not covered by the law, people who lie about their symptoms to acquire a prescription, and people who have legitimate prescriptions who are diverting their medical marijuana to the black market for a profit.

List of Medical Conditions Approved for Medical Marijuana

In every medical marijuana state, the drug is supposed to be prescribed only for patients with serious medical conditions or "debilitating medical conditions." In each state, the list of conditions for which marijuana could be prescribed is short and very specific. The list varies slightly from state to state. 

Medical Conditions Approved by Most States for Medical Marijuana Use
Cancer
Glaucoma
Alzheimer's disease
HIV or AIDS
Cachexia (wasting syndrome)
Chronic pain
Severe nausea
Seizures
Muscle spasms (multiple sclerosis)
Migraines
Anorexia

Nausea, Appetite, and Pain

The list of medical conditions approved by most states for medical marijuana use are serious; most involve the use of marijuana to help reduce nausea associated with the disease or the treatment of the disease, like cancer, or by increasing the person's appetite, like AIDS, anorexia or cachexia.

The door is open for abuse of the system, most notably in the case of marijuana used for the treatment of pain, specifically chronic pain and migraines. Since "pain" can be faked, without a battery of expensive neurological testing to confirm the pain, abuses in the system can and does occur.

Law Loopholes

Many 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 law loophole has caused many opportunities for marijuana law abuses, especially in California, where lobby groups have added so many diseases and conditions to the list to the point that almost anyone in any kind of pain can get a medical marijuana card.

Closing the Loopholes

In Montana, where lawmakers say the abuse of the system was out of control in 2008, a subcommittee worked to rewrite the medical marijuana law to try to plug some of the loopholes. Legislators said they were skeptical that 20,000 state residents suddenly have debilitating medical conditions. More than 25 percent of those with marijuana prescriptions in Montana are people between the ages of 21 and 30.

"I guess everybody who gets sick moves to Missoula," said Rep. Penny Morgan, R-Billings. "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

Medical Marijuana Sold for a Profit

Medical marijuana laws are being abused in some cases by people who have legitimate prescriptions. For some, since the profit margin in marijuana is high, it is hard to overlook the money-making opportunity.

Research conducted at the University of Colorado prior to the state's legalization of recreational-use marijuana found that a large number of adults were diverting their medical marijuana to minors. Researchers discovered that 75 percent of teens receiving treatment for marijuana abuse had used medical marijuana that had been prescribed for someone else.

Some proponents of medical marijuana who supported initiatives to legalize it because of humanitarian reasons have become disillusioned with the system. Early advocates thought that medical marijuana would be dispensed from pharmacies to patients who really needed it.

But instead, the medical marijuana industry has produced "pot dealers in storefronts" who make "ridiculous" amounts of money, according to one advocate.

Sources:

National Conference of State Legislators. "State Medical Marijuana Laws." 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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