The importance of precisely worded state laws

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Because the medical use of marijuana is prohibited by federal law, state medical marijuana legislation must be worded precisely in order to provide patients and primary caregivers with legal protection under state law. Even changing just one or two words in the model bill can make it symbolic, rather than truly effective.

For example, it is essential to avoid use of the word "prescribe," since federal law prohibits doctors from prescribing marijuana. Doctors risk losing their federally controlled license to prescribe all medications if they "prescribe" marijuana — which would be useless anyway because pharmacies are governed by the same regulations and cannot fill marijuana prescriptions.

Physicians are, however, permitted under federal law to evaluate the relative risks and benefits of the medical use of marijuana. Thus, to establish a patients legitimate medical marijuana use, the state law must contain language accepting a physicians statement that says, "The potential benefits of the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the health risks," or similar language.

The importance of this seemingly trivial distinction is made clear by the case of Arizona, which passed a ballot initiative (Proposition 200) by 65% of the vote in November 1996. Arizona's law is dependent upon patients possessing marijuana "prescriptions." As a result, no patients in Arizona have legal protection for using medical marijuana.

There are numerous other important technical nuances that are impossible to anticipate without having spent several years working on medical marijuana bills and initiatives nationwide. Consequently, it is crucial to discuss ideas and concerns with MPP before changing even one word of the model bill. MPP can also provide a more complete written technical analysis of the model bill.

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