Right now, marijuana legality is in a state of flux. Under federal law, marijuana remains illegal. However, several states—over half—have legalized medical marijuana under varying conditions. Because this legalization is happening on a state by state basis, there is no standard when it comes to the ways users can access medical marijuana. In some states, such as Arizona, patients must obtain a medical marijuana card, be diagnosed with a qualifying condition, such as epilepsy, cancer, or PTSD, and receive the recommendation of a physician. 

In other states, such as Louisiana, things are a little more relaxed. Patients are not required to register for an MMJ card. Instead, they may take their doctor’s recommendation straight to a dispensary, provided they have a qualifying condition. However, there are currently only nine licensed dispensaries in the state of Louisiana. 

The common thread throughout every state is that patients must jump through unusual hoops if they hope to treat their condition with medical marijuana. It’s also true across the board that doctors cannot actually write a prescription for marijuana—they can only make a recommendation.

What changes will need to be made in order for marijuana to be treated more like other medicinal drugs?

The Road to FDA Approval

In order for a drug to be prescribed by a doctor, rather than simply recommended, that drug must be approved by the FDA. For cannabis, unfortunately, that approval may still be a long way off. The reason is that cannabis is currently classified as a Schedule 1 drug—the most restrictive classification the government can hand out. Schedule 1 drugs are classified as having no medicinal use and a high capacity for addiction. For context, other Schedule 1 drugs include LSD, ecstasy, and peyote.

Schedule 2 drugs, by contrast, carry the same warning about abuse, but are recognized as having medical uses. Schedule 2 drugs include cocaine, methamphetamine, and oxycodone.

Recognizing the medical benefits of cannabis and getting it reclassified as a Schedule 2 drug would be a great first step toward empowering physicians to prescribe it to their patients.

The Importance of Research

The only way we can hope to see more knowledge about cannabis be spread among policymakers is by increasing the research we’re doing into the plant and its medicinal properties. However, it’s exceedingly difficult for scientists to gain approval for cannabis-related research. In order for their work to be approved, they need to seek out and gain the approval of several different governing bodies.

Cannabis research must be approved by the FDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Each agency has its own policies that aren’t necessarily designed to work well together—which means a lot of red tape for researchers to cut through. If medical marijuana were legalized on the federal level, these processes might be streamlined, making it easier for researchers to get their projects approved and make the important discoveries that will change the way we all look at cannabis. But as long as legalization is only happening on the state level, that isn’t something we can look forward to.

How Long is This Going to Take?

The bad news is that it usually takes about ten years for a drug to be developed and approved through clinical trials, and that’s without the complicated stigma surrounding cannabis. The good news, though, is that scientists have been doing their best to study this plant for years already. This struggle is not a new one.

For now, we will have to continue to get our medical marijuana via dispensaries and with recommendations from doctors. But someday in the not so distant future, that might begin to change.  

Author's Bio: 

Ashis Kumar is a professional blogger.