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Feature Medical Marijuana

The growth of medical marijuana

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 31 July 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f4755
  1. Owen Dyer, freelance journalist
  1. 1Montreal, Canada
  1. owen_dyer{at}

Owen Dyer looks at the United States’s changing attitudes and laws on cannabis use

The “war on drugs” might sputter on fitfully, but for medical marijuana, the public relations battle is over, and cannabis has won. The spiky leaved plant is marching across America. This month, medical marijuana bills await only the governor’s signature in New Hampshire and Illinois, poised to become the 19th and 20th states to permit the therapeutic use of cannabis.

A survey released on 16 July by the Partnership at found that 70% of US parents support permitting medical use of marijuana. The report from the group once known as the Partnership for a Drug-Free America concedes defeat in its title: “Marijuana: It’s legal. Now what?”1

New Hampshire’s law will complete medical marijuana’s conquest of New England. It is also legal along the entire West Coast from California to Alaska. Medical marijuana laws are also on the books of the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Hawaii, Michigan, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and even conservative Arizona—by a wafer thin referendum victory in 2010.

At state level the medical marijuana movement is a formidable lobby. Patients and their families offer compelling testimony, national pressure groups offer advice and legal help, but the real driving force and the money behind state campaigns often comes from the local marijuana enthusiasts and would be entrepreneurs who hope to run growing operations and dispensaries after passage of medical marijuana legislation.

More striking than any growth in support for medical marijuana is the steady disappearance of politicians willing to speak against it. Within the Republican party, social conservatism is out of favor, blamed for recent defeats, and libertarianism is to the fore. A Washington bill to curtail federal agencies’ raids against dispensaries in medical marijuana states was tabled last year …

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