How Many States Have Legalized Medical Cannabis?
California was the first state in America to legalize medical cannabis in 1996. Proposition 215 was a revolutionary citizen initiative that has changed the nation forever.
Since 1996 many other states have followed California's lead. Many states that were once seen as 'hands off' to medical cannabis reform now have medical cannabis programs or are in the implementation phase.
According to a recent poll conducted by CBS News, 88% of Americans support the legalization of medical cannabis. With people suffering all over America, that level of support is tremendously encouraging.
The medical cannabis movement's level of momentum has never been greater, and it's resulting in reform victories that are adding to the total number of medical cannabis states.
West Virginia was the latest state to pass a medical cannabis law. West Virginia is being touted as the 29th medical cannabis state in America, but how is that number calculated?
What makes a state a 'medical cannabis' state?
If you read mainstream media articles about cannabis, you have likely noticed that the 'number of medical cannabis states in America' referenced in articles can vary.
That's because the definition of a 'medical cannabis state' is subjective, and constantly evolving.
As medical cannabis reform has spread, it has become undeniably more restrictive, especially in states that have legalized via legislative action. The newer the medical cannabis state, the stricter the program.
So what may be considered a medical cannabis state to one person may not meet the personal definition for a medical cannabis state for a different person.
How do CBD-specific states factor in?
Where a lot of debate occurs is regarding 'CBD-specific' states. These are states that have only legalized cannabidiol (CBD), and often times only for protection against prosecution for possession and consumption.
The argument against states like these is that if there is no safe access to acquire medical cannabis, and it only provides protections after the cannabis is obtained, then that state does not have a 'real' medical cannabis program.
Some other states are slightly less restrictive, in that there is at least one safe access point in the state, or plans to have one, but the program is still only for all-CBD/extremely low-THC forms of medical cannabis.
To many, those states are not true medical cannabis states either. For those types of cannabis activists, only states that allow high-THC forms of cannabis are true medical cannabis states.
That is how organizations like the Marijuana Policy Project arrive at the tally of West Virginia becoming the 29th medical cannabis state.
All reforms are significant, some are just more significant than others
I have always felt that any movement on cannabis reform is worthwhile, as long as it's seen as a step in the right direction versus being seen as a permanent public policy change.
At one point in time even decriminalization was seen as being out of reach. In 1969 Gallup started an annual poll asking people if they thought cannabis should be legal or not. 88% at that time said cannabis should be prohibited.
But in 1973 Oregon became the first state to decriminalize personal cannabis possession. After that, many states followed.
Oregon legalized medical cannabis in 1998, and legalized cannabis for adult use in 2014 (after failing in 2012). Many states have followed, or are following, a similar progression.
Cannabis policy, as with virtually all areas of politics, is an incremental process. The main thing is to keep pushing reform until every person that is suffering has safe access to all forms of cannabis that help them.
Hold your politicians accountable, even after (and especially after), reform victories. This should be especially true in CBD-specific states.
Keep fighting to move the needle where you live to help ensure that your state is truly a medical cannabis state that is helping patients in a meaningful way. To find out your state's status, check out NORML's website which has an amazing database.
Want to learn more about how medical cannabis is helping people live healthier lives? Check out our latest online class "How to Use Cannabis as Substitute for Rx Drugs and Alcohol" with Amanda Reiman from Drug Policy Alliance – only on Green Flower!
Do you live in a state that has legalized medical cannabis?