medical marijuana
April 18, 2016

On Sunday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) signed a bill legalizing medical marijuana, calling it a "great day for Pennsylvanians."

Pennsylvania is now the 24th state to approve a comprehensive medical marijuana program, and residents with serious medical conditions will be able to take prescriptions from their doctor to approved dispensaries. Republicans and Democrats worked together on the bill, and the governor said both sides agreed it was important to "have the ability to have that doctor make a decision in conjunction with his or her patient that will make that patient's life better."

The state's Department of Health could authorize up to 150 dispensaries, and it is expected to take 18 to 24 months before the program is fully up and running, WPVI reports. Initially, only pills, creams, and oils that can be used in a vapor will be legal, and smoking will be prohibited. Catherine Garcia

June 29, 2015

Minnesota will become the 22nd state to sell medical marijuana when sales begin on Wednesday. However, Minnesota's approach will be unlike any of the other states' systems. For patients that qualify, Minnesota will only be offering the drug in the form of pills, oils, and vapors. Smoking marijuana will not be allowed. Moreover, the drug will only be dispensed in eight locations in the entire state, many of which are far from rural Minnesota areas.

For the marijuana industry, this strict approach is a first and many aren't convinced that it will go smoothly, The Associated Press reports. Likely, it will result in high costs, low accessibility, and doctors that are hesitant to participate. But marijuana advocates say that in a state where the victory was a surprise in the first place, this step is better than nothing. As Andrew Bachman, co-founder of one of the state's medical marijuana manufacturers, told The Associated Press, "Ideology does not change overnight. It's important to start somewhere." Becca Stanek

June 15, 2015

Just because Colorado has legalized recreational pot doesn't mean employers have to tolerate their workers smoking it in their free time, the state's Supreme Court ruled Monday.

Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic and a medical marijuana patient, was fired from his job at Dish Network in 2010 after he failed a random drug test. Even though Dish acknowledges that Coats wasn't high on the job, the company maintains its strict, zero-tolerance drug policy for employees. Monday's ruling means Coats is not entitled to reinstatement at Dish.

Colorado's Constitution "specifically states that employers don't have to amend their policies to accommodate employees' marijuana use," the Associated Press reports.

Because 23 states now allow medical marijuana, the ruling will likely have implications for the way cases like this are handled in the future. Stephanie Talmadge

October 2, 2014

A new study from the Public Health Institute found that 92 percent of California residents who use medical marijuana say the drug has helped them with their symptoms.

The study's results are in stark contrast with the statements of some opponents of marijuana legalization, including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who called medical marijuana "one of the greatest hoaxes of all time." The research comes from the California Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which surveyed 7,525 adults in California. The Public Health Institute produced the study in partnership with the CDC, The Washington Post reports.

The study noted that medical marijuana patients are given the drug to treat symptoms from a variety of ailments, including chronic pain, arthritis, migraines, and cancer. Five percent of California adults use medical marijuana to treat "serious medical conditions," according to the study. White adults and adults aged 18 to 24 were the most common users among respondents, but each age and racial group that responded to the survey had at least a two percent medical marijuana usage rate.

"Our study contradicts commonly held beliefs that medical marijuana is being overused by healthy individuals," the study authors said in a statement. "Our study's results lend support to the idea that medical marijuana is used equally by many groups of people and is not exclusively used by any one specific group." Meghan DeMaria

August 26, 2014

A new study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that one way to deal with the sharp rise in fatal prescription painkiller overdoses is to liberalize marijuana laws. The study, led by Dr. Marcus Bachhuber at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, looked at medical marijuana laws and overdose deaths in all 50 states; the 13 that legalized medical marijuana between 1999 and 2010 saw a 25 percent drop in prescription pill fatalities. Today, 23 states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws.

Bachhuber acknowledges that his study doesn't conclusively prove that pot lowers painkiller deaths, but says that "based on what we know, we think it could be due to safer treatment of chronic pain." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 55 percent of fatal drug overdoses in 2011 were from prescription medications, three-quarters of those opioid analgesics like morphine and oxycodone. Six years after medical marijuana was allowed in a state, opiate-related fatal overdoes were down 33 percent, the new report found.

In a commentary accompanying the article, Dr. Mark S. Brown and Marie J. Hayes say that the report's "striking implication" is that medical marijuana laws "may represent a promising approach for stemming runaway rates" of fatal opiate-related suicides. "If true, this finding upsets the apple cart of conventional wisdom regarding the public health implications of marijuana legalizations and medicinal usefulness," they add.

Bachhuber is a little more circumspect. "It can be challenging for people to control chronic pain, so I think the more options we have the better," he says. "But I think it's important, of course, to weigh the risks and benefits of medical marijuana." Peter Weber

July 10, 2014

The city council in Berkeley, California last week approved an ordinance that requires that low-income residents and the homeless receive free cannabis from medical marijuana dispensaries.

As the East Bay Express reports, the ordinance calls for dispensaries to give away 2 percent of the gross weight sold in a year to people who qualify for exemption from paying local fees and taxes as set by the city council. That translates to an income level of $32,000 a year for one person or $46,000 a year for a family of four. The marijuana also has to be the good stuff, "the same quality on average" as what is dispensed to others.

"It's sort of a cruel thing that when you are really ill and you do have a serious illness...it can be hard to work, it can be hard to maintain a job and when that happens, your finances suffer and then you can't buy the medicine you need," Sean Luce with the Berkeley Patients Group told NBC Bay Area. Catherine Garcia

May 2, 2014

Five years ago, a Southern California mother decided that in order to save the life of her son with severe autism, she needed to turn to medical marijuana.

Joey Hester-Perez was diagnosed with autism at 16 months, and later with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. His symptoms became worse as he got older, and more and more medications were added to his regimen until he was taking 13 different drugs every day. When Joey was 9 years old, ABC 7 in Los Angeles says, doctors told his mother to plan his funeral.

"I couldn't bear that," Mieko Hester-Perez said. "I couldn't imagine my life without Joey." Instead, she decided to give medical marijuana a try. It took trying about 15 different strains before the right one was found, but as soon as Joey's Strain, as it's now called, was concocted, the change was immediate. Joey began to smile, laugh, and joke with his in-home nurse. He gained weight, calmed down, and was no longer on edge. Today, Joey eats one brownie every week that contains cannabis oil derived from Joey's Strain, and his mother is sharing the positive results with other families.

"We need to open the door to more research so we can do this the right way," she told ABC 7. The few studies on autism and medical marijuana in the U.S. are focusing on cannabinoids, the active molecules found in marijuana, but it's very difficult to get started; according to doctors, they must "navigate a maze of bureaucratic red tape and receive permission from multiple federal agencies."

Mieko hopes that the rules are loosened, so more strides can be made and other children like Joey can have improved lives. "He may never walk, he may never form a sentence, he may never throw a ball," she said. "But he will smile, and that's all I've ever wanted." --Catherine Garcia

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