Is Medical Marijuana for Neck and Back Pain Legal In My State?


Medical Marijuana for Neck and Back Pain; A Sampling of 5 State Laws

Close Up Marijuana Buds in Glass Jar with Blurry Background

As of February 2016, 40 states plus Washington D.C. have adopted laws that in some way—whether large or small—make medical marijuana legal. The problem is, every state has different rules. How do you know if your state will allow you to acquire and use medical marijuana for your neck or back problem?

It can be tricky because as marijuana develops into medicine, a number of complex issues crop up. For example, what about product safety? Some states are in the process of developing robust systems for this, while others lag.

Another example is the set of conditions allowable by law that can be treated with medicinal cannabis. A state may be deemed friendly to medical marijuana but still by law deny use of this drug by citizens with spine or spinal cord problems.

The Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy group hard at work getting medical marijuana to the people, has created a scorecard that rates states’ cannabis laws.  States are graded on 5 things: Patient Rights, Access, Ease of Navigation, Functionality, and Consumer Safety. While no state got an “A” grade, Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, and a handful of others did receive pretty good marks.

In this article, we’ll explore the positive and negative aspects of the laws enacted by each of these high ranking medical cannabis states—from the perspective of those with spine problems. If your state is not on this short list, don’t worry, I’ll provide a summary of the others on the last page and direct you to more information.


Medical Marijuana in California Grade: B+

Americans for Safe Access rates California as the best place in the country for legal protection and also for getting access to marijuana after your physician diagnoses you.

In 1996, California voters approved the Compassionate Use Act (aka Prop. 215). Prop 215 allows doctors to recommend cannabis for serious and/or persistent medical conditions. Patients can use, possess and grow cannabis legally, and designate caregivers.

In 2003, the Medical Marijuana Program Act was passed in the state legislature, which established a voluntary ID registry program. This program protects transporters of medical cannabis and provides a legal framework for the protection of not-for-profit dispensaries (i.e., collectives and cooperatives). Municipalities, however, can limit or ban non-for-profit dispensaries if they choose.

The voluntary ID program protects you from arrest as long as you don’t carry more than 8 ounces of cannabis. And it protects growers of no more than six mature or 12 immature plants.

If you’re on probation or parole, as long as your officer agrees, you may use medical cannabis legally in California.

In 2015, the California legislature passed several bills that will create a state-regulated cultivation and dispensary system, American for Safe Access says.


Medical Marijuana in Illinois Grade B+ (But Likely not for Spine Patients)

Although the Americans for Safe Access rated Illinois very highly, (it got a B+), this may or may not mean anything to people with back or neck problems.

It depends on your diagnosis. Use of medical marijuana for chronic pain is not allowed, nor is it allowed for injuries that interfere with your daily activities, for cervical dystonia (wry neck) or “other conditions, as determined in writing by patient’s physician.”

But Illinois does allow medical marijuana use for arthritis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord, and arachnoiditis.

In Illinois, you can get up to 2.5 ounces every two weeks from one of 60 dispensaries supplied by 22 cultivation centers. But you cannot grow your own in this state.

These are some of the rules of a temporary program enacted by the 2013 Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act (HB 1). This law applies only to “qualifying patients” and will have to be extended by December 31, 2017, if it is to continue (or another law will need to be passed in its place).


Medical Marijuana in Colorado Grade: B

Colorado has two medical cannabis laws—one for citizens and one for businesses.

Americans for Safe Access reports that Colorado’s Amendment 20 was passed in 2000. It amends the state constitution to allow patients to possess and use up to 2 ounces of medical cannabis, and to grow up to six plants (three mature and three immature). Citizens can also be assisted by a caregiver, the Americans for Safe Access says.

The other law, enacted in 2010, is called the Colorado Medical Marijuana Code. It allows both state and local governments to regulate medical cannabis businesses. Americans for Safe Access says this dual licensing mechanism has resulted in uneven enforcement of the regulations.

Like Arizona, Colorado will let you take medical marijuana for chronic intractable pain, but it disallows things like wry neck, spinal cord injury or arachnoiditis, arthritis, and other spine related conditions.


Medical Marijuana in Maine Grade: B-

Maine residents can possess up to 2.5 ounces of usable cannabis, and they can cultivate up to six mature plants.

The state has a distribution program, as well as a patient registry system. Unfortunately, a number of conditions that make for neck or back pain are not covered, including (but not limited to) injury that interferes with daily activity, cervical dystonia, and spinal cord injuries/diseases.

The good news is that medical marijuana use for chronic intractable pain in Maine is allowed.


Medical Marijuana in Arizona Grade: B-

Arizona gets a B- for its medical marijuana laws, thanks to the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) which was approved in 2010. This act allows a patient with an Arizona registry ID card to use cannabis for medical purposes, to appoint a designated caregiver and, along with their caregiver, to possess up to 2.5 ounces. Patients and caregivers can cultivate up to 12 plants—as long as they live at minimum 25 miles from a registered dispensary.

Arizona allows medical marijuana use for chronic intractable pain, but not for specific spinal conditions such as cervical dystonia (wry neck), spinal cord injury or arachnoiditis, spinal arthritis (or any type of arthritis for that matter).


Medical Marijuana for the Rest of the U.S.

Other states that got a B grade include Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. Many states received Ds and Fs. In fact, the combined overall average for all states was a D-.

I know this article includes but a smattering of states.  If yours is not listed here, consider going directly to the Americans for Safe Access’s report and search inside their document.  In the report, each state has its own report card—complete with a summary of achievements and recommendations.

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