History was made earlier this week when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Compassionate Care Act, making New York the 23rd state to legalize the medical use of marijuana. This hasn't been the only change in marijuana legislation in the US recently though, as other states have expanded on their marijuana policies.
Under the new legislation, patients in New York who have serious and terminal illnesses will be allowed access to medical marijuana, to be administered through edibles, oils and vaporizing. The law also gives Cuomo the right to revoke the program at any time.
California was the first state to allow for the medical use of marijuana, with voters passing Proposition 215 in 1996. At the time, the Institute of Medicine acknowledged that marijuana had potential therapeutic with regards to appetite stimulation, control of nausea and vomiting and pain relief. Twenty-two other states including the District of Columbia have since followed their lead.
At a news conference, Cuomo stated that New York's legalization of medical marijuana took "an important step toward bringing relief to patients living with extraordinary pain and illness," and that it gave the state "the best that medical marijuana has to offer in the most protected, controlled way possible."
Free marijuana in Berkeley, CA
Elsewhere in the US, other legislative changes regarding marijuana have been occurring. The city of Berkeley, CA, also passed a law earlier this week, meaning that marijuana dispensaries will be required to provide free medical marijuana to patients with low-incomes.
The legislation defines low-income for single person households as earning around $32,000 per year, and for four person households it is around $46,000.
The dispensaries will have to set aside 2% of their products to offer to low-income patients who are qualified to receive the medication. Only specific illnesses such as cancer and AIDS qualify to have medical marijuana prescribed.
A part of the new law means that Berkeley will be setting up a fourth marijuana dispensary in the city, and plans are afoot to increase this total to six in 2015. Thus far, the city has brought in around $640,000 in tax revenue from the three currently existing dispensaries, proving that these policies have been a profitable venture.
Marijuana to treat PTSD in Arizona
There are currently ten state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in Phoenix, AZ. Arizona passed its Medical Marijuana Act in 2010 to allow people with specific debilitating conditions such as cancer, chronic pain and muscle spasms to use medical marijuana.
This week, the state's Department of Health Services Director, Will Humble, decided to allow people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to use medical marijuana as a form of palliative care, though not as a primary treatment for the condition.
This announcement marks a turnaround from Humble, who had previously said that insufficient research had been carried out into the effects of medical marijuana on PTSD. The policy will take effect at the start of next year.
Humble wrote on the department's blog that patients would need to be qualified before receiving this form of treatment, and "certifying physicians will be required to attest that they have reviewed evidence documenting that the patient is currently undergoing conventional treatment for PTSD before signing the medical marijuana certification."
People working in the medical marijuana business in Phoenix have found that fears around legalized marijuana have restricted the development of their trade.
Arizona state law prohibits dispensaries from being built too close to schools, churches and parks, while residential opposition has also blocked the building of dispensaries on otherwise suitable sites.
Bill Anton, a co-owner of a dispensary in Phoenix, told USA Today that fears about the clientele had been unfounded:
"People are not the crazy, low-life potheads many people envisioned. We're not getting riffraff... who just want to get high around here. They have legitimate reasons. They're responsible. They're upscale, professional people."
Changing opinions and ongoing debate
Cuomo said that there had been difficulties in getting the New York bill together, due to wanting to maintain strict limits to avoid certain situations, which state legislators referred to as having "good intent and bad results."
This difficulty reflects the nature of the ongoing debate surrounding the medical use of marijuana in health care today. Recently, Medical News Today reported on a series of articles that had been published that investigated the use of medical marijuana in treating severe forms of epilepsy.
The articles challenged a recent review from the American Academy of Neurology, which had concluded that there was only limited evidence to support the use of medical marijuana beyond treating multiple sclerosis symptoms.
As this debate continues, it is likely that we will continue to see changes in legislation and legalization in cities and states across the US.