Medical Marijuana


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A photograph shows a window with a neon sign. The sign includes the word “medical” above the shape of a marijuana leaf.
Figure 1. Medical marijuana shops are becoming more and more common in the United States. (credit: Laurie Avocado)

Medical Marijuana (OpenStax Psychology 2e)

The decade from 2010–2019 brought many changes in laws regarding marijuana. While the possession and use of marijuana remain illegal in many states, it is now legal to possess limited quantities of marijuana for recreational use in eleven states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Medical marijuana is legal in over half of the United States and in the District of Columbia (Figure 1). Medical marijuana is marijuana that is prescribed by a doctor for the treatment of a health condition. For example, people who undergo chemotherapy will often be prescribed marijuana to stimulate their appetites and prevent excessive weight loss resulting from the side effects of chemotherapy treatment. Marijuana may also have some promise in the treatment of a variety of medical conditions (Mather, Rauwendaal, Moxham-Hall, & Wodak, 2013; Robson, 2014; Schicho & Storr, 2014).

While medical marijuana laws have been passed on a state-by-state basis, federal laws still classify this as an illicit substance, making conducting research on the potentially beneficial medicinal uses of marijuana problematic. There is quite a bit of controversy within the scientific community as to the extent to which marijuana might have medicinal benefits due to a lack of large-scale, controlled research (Bostwick, 2012). As a result, many scientists have urged the federal government to allow for relaxation of current marijuana laws and classifications in order to facilitate a more widespread study of the drug’s effects (Aggarwal et al., 2009; Bostwick, 2012; Kogan & Mechoulam, 2007).

Until recently, the United States Department of Justice routinely arrested people involved and seized marijuana used in medicinal settings. In the latter part of 2013, however, the United States Department of Justice issued statements indicating that they would not continue to challenge state medical marijuana laws. This shift in policy may be in response to the scientific community’s recommendations and/or reflect changing public opinion regarding marijuana.


Spielman, R. M., Jenkins, W. J., & Lovett, M. D. (2020). Psychology 2e. OpenStax. Houston, Texas. Accessed for free at


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