Racism or Science: The Current Alternatives to Federal Medical Marijuana Policy

By: Brandon Lancaster

The current federal policy within America is marijuana is an illegal, harmful drug. It yields no benefits to the medical realm and it gives the user a high risk of substance abuse. The issue on the table is many state governments ignore this classification and even deem marijuana and its businesses essential during a pandemic. As these disparate policies are apparent, this memo seeks to provide alternative federal policy solutions. Five policy solutions will be explained, as to follow state governments’ most recent marijuana regulations and keep this memo succinct: 1) Keep marijuana illegal, 2) Allow marijuana medically allowed, but not decriminalized, 3) Decriminalize marijuana, but prohibit it medically, 4) Allow marijuana medically allowed and decriminalized, and 5) Make marijuana legal (as classified in the DISA’s map).

The first federal policy solution is enforcing marijuana is deemed illegal. Looking at DISA’s map (2020), 39 states and Washington D.C. (40 total) will have to change their laws (map). The effect of changing the laws is causing higher unemployment rates by shutting down marijuana related businesses. It will also affect those who rely on the substance as a medical prescription. A possible cost to enforcing the law is resistance from state governments. They may feel the federal government is encroaching on state government laws. In addition, the revenue created by marijuana industries will be lost to the state governments. The federal government would also have to ensure all states are abiding by the laws, which means either personnel to observe it firsthand or delegation of responsibility to an agency/third party. This would condemn marijuana and create a negative narrative for it within the medical field.

The second federal policy solution is allowing medical use for marijuana, but not decriminalize it. As of October 2020, eight states follow this solution (According to the chart from DISA). Medical marijuana dispensaries are treated as essential health businesses as observed in Pennsylvania In addition, medical marijuana is regulated by the states’ Department of Health, thus the state can closely observe the flow of medical marijuana. It allows for medical patients to treat their illnesses as an alternative to opioids as well. According to Hefei Wen and Jason Hockenberry (2018), marijuana can be used as an opioid alternative during this current United States opioid epidemic (pg. 5). The federal government under this policy solution would effectively allow marijuana to combat the epidemic while allowing research and medical treatments. As it would not be decriminalized, the federal government could still curb another substance from being abused in the country.

Next, decriminalizing marijuana, but not allowing it for medical uses is another federal policy solution. This solution is the least feasible. There would be less criminalization of marijuana, however it medically cannot advance. States could restrict the uses to varying degrees as well, so decriminalizing federally may have a very slight effect. Policy wise, this would not benefit the medical realm, so it is included, but not considered.

Another policy solution is decriminalizing marijuana and allowing medical use. The medical field could freely operate within the United States when researching marijuana. Voluntary studies could occur, and the medical benefits of marijuana would be almost

unrestricted compared to the current policy. The medical realm would have to determine the limitations on applying medical cannabis to patients. This leads to least restriction of marijuana and it would benefit the patients requiring medical marijuana heavily. Each state could closely monitor the medical use of marijuana and report to the federal Department of Health as an additional observer.

Finally, the last federal policy makes marijuana legalized completely. The benefits and cost are essentially the same as the policy before, yet it is much more relaxed. The entire country could investigate the medical benefits and research at its leisure. Of course, states can regulate marijuana to any degree, but the legal status of marijuana will give more incentive to research it because the narrative will be more positive.

In conclusion, these policy alternative solutions are a bit underdeveloped. As there is not much research for medical marijuana and its benefits and costs, it is hard to accurately determine how effective the policy alternatives would be in practice. The strong, negative narrative attached to medical marijuana hinders its ability to be properly assessed, but further research may help shed light on the issue.


Defense Information Systems Agency. (2020 October). Map of Marijuana Legality by State. https://disa.com/map-of-marijuana-legality-by-state

Wen, H., Hockenberry, J. (2018, April 2). Association of Medical and Adult-Use Marijuana Laws with Opioid Prescribing for Medicaid Enrollees. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2677000

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