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New Study Finds Patchwork of Marijuana Law Across U.S. States

State laws disparately regulate patient registration and civil rights, product safety labeling and packaging, and dispensaries, according to a new study published in Addiction by a team of researchers including Jennifer Ibrahim, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Health Services Administration and Policy at the College of Public Health.

At the time of the study in February 2017, 27 states and Washington, D.C., authorized and regulated medical marijuana. The study finds that state laws mimic some aspects of federal prescription drug and controlled substances laws and regulatory strategies used for alcohol, tobacco and traditional medicines.

Ibrahim collaborated with Scott Burris, director of the Center for Public Health Law Research at Temple University (CPHLR), and a team of researchers from CPHLR and the RAND Drug Policy Research Center to analyze the characteristics of each state’s laws using data from the Prescription Drug Abuse Policy System.

The laws, the authors say, are an attempt by state governments to protect patients and the public as marijuana is increasingly used to treat illnesses ranging from epilepsy to AIDS. These laws attempt to fill in gaps created by the nearly 50-year-old federal Controlled Substances Act that classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug with no acceptable medical uses.

“In the absence of the usual federal regulations to protect patients, ensure product safety and prevent diversion and abuse, states have been left to their own devices,” said Burris.

The study also found that only 14 states protect patients from discrimination. And while the majority of states with medical marijuana laws have packaging and labeling requirements for medical marijuana products, the laws vary widely in what they require. For example, only 18 states have made product safety testing mandatory. Further, the study found that dispensaries are regulated in 25 states, but only 21 restrict where a dispensary may be located.

“In this area of health policy, as in others, states are serving as ‘laboratories of democracy,’ but the exercise is only productive if researchers step up to rigorously evaluate the impact of state innovation,” Burris said. “We largely have no idea about how well these laws protect patients and the public.”

Watch a short video explaining the findings.

The Center for Public Health Law Research is based at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law. It supports the widespread adoption of scientific tools and methods for mapping and evaluating the impact of law on health. Learn more at

Posted:  July 12, 2017