Prescriptions vs. Referrals

The terminology used in the construction of new laws can carry a tremendous weight.  The process of writing a new law is an arduous task that must pass through several levels before coming into fruition.  Along this path, the legislation succumbs to many transformations in an attempt to fully encapsulate everyone’s needs and requirements.  The new legislation for marijuana is an unprecedented attempt at legalizing, managing, taxing, and regulating the substance.  Once the initial roll-out process is complete, we the people, can begin to identify what works and what does not work.  Some states have completely overturned marijuana laws due to a legislation’s word choice and/or unclear definitions.  If not for these small hiccups, many states would have useful and functioning medicinal marijuana laws in effect.  

Arizona passed Proposition 203, legalizing the use of medicinal marijuana1 in 2010.  The approval of this initiative occurred fourteen years after the first proposition for marijuana was introduced in Arizona.  The legislation was overturned time and again due to the terminology used.  Proposition 200 was approved on November 5, 1996.  This suggested strict consequences for violent crimes committed while under the influence of drugs2, that persons convicted of marijuana possession before the proposition passed would be released on parole3, and that doctors could prescribe marijuana to treat disease or to relieve pain and suffering of seriously or terminally ill patients.4  This proposition passed and was on its way to becoming law… Or so it seemed.

An issue arose regarding the measure stating that doctors could prescribe marijuana to their patients.  According to federal law, marijuana is a Schedule I substance, which is defined as having “no currently acceptable medical use in treatment in the United States.”  If a Schedule I substance has no acceptable medicinal use, then there is no way for it to be prescribed.  Because of this stipulation, the Arizona statute was overturned upon arrival in Washington, D.C.: “Since marijuana is still a Schedule I substance, federal law prohibits its prescription, making the initiative invalid.”5  

This resulted in the rewriting and resubmission of the law in 1998, 2002, and 2010 when it finally passed.  The new terminology can be seen in the 2010 revision of the legislature:

The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act protects terminally or seriously ill patients from state prosecution for using limited amounts of marijuana on their doctor's recommendation.6

Marijuana is becoming a more and more prevalent issue in the structuring and creation of laws and will be so for the foreseeable future.  It is vital that the nomenclature and specificity of marijuana laws become common knowledge in order for the marijuana enjoyer to remain lawful.  Knowledge is power for the everyday consumer in what is the wild west of the marijuana industry.

  1. Arizona Use or Possession of Controlled Substances Act, Ariz. Stat. § 43-1201 (2010).
  2. Arizona Use or Possession of Controlled Substances Act, Ariz. Stat. § 5-601.01.
  3. Arizona Use or Possession of Controlled Substances Act, Ariz. Stat. § 5-601.01.
  4. Arizona Use or Possession of Controlled Substances Act, Ariz. Stat. § 5-601.01
  5. NCSL. "State Medical Marijuana Laws." State Medical Marijuana Laws. NCSL, 28 July 2014. Web. 06 Aug. 2014
  6. Secretary of State, "Application," May 15, 2009


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