How medical are states’ medical cannabis policies? Proposing a standardized scale

Emma L. Richard, Andrew D. Althouse, Julia H. Arnsten, Hailey W. Bulls, Devan Kansagara, Megan N. Kerbag, Claire Lichius, Daniel Lipsey, Benjamin J. Morasco, Shannon M. Nugent, Jessica S. Merlin, Joanna L. Starrels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background: There are important differences in medical cannabis laws across the U.S. However, prior studies investigating the effect of medical cannabis laws on outcomes disregard this heterogeneity. Findings from the body of literature using a simple dichotomous assessment of whether a particular state has enacted a medical cannabis law are equivocal or conflicting. To advance the science, a national advisory group of experts in medical cannabis developed and utilized a systematic methodology, the “medicalization of cannabis laws standardized scale” (MCLaSS), to characterize and quantify state laws’ degree of medicalization, the extent to which medical cannabis is treated similarly to pharmaceutical medications. Methods: We conducted a systematic review of state-level medical cannabis laws in the U.S. Using the novel MCLaSS, we calculated seven domain scores (patient-clinician relationship, manufacturing and testing, product labeling, types of products, supply and dose limit, prescription drug monitoring program, and dispensing practices) and a summary score for each state which had enacted medical cannabis laws as of July 2019. Results: There is substantial heterogeneity in the degree of medicalization of states’ medical cannabis laws, as demonstrated by the MCLaSS summary score, which ranged from 23 (least medicalized) to 86 (most medicalized). Conclusion: This methodology will advance the evidence base about the impact of medical cannabis laws on patient and public health outcomes, which is urgently needed to ensure the development of policies that minimize the risks and maximize the benefits of medical cannabis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103202
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Drug policy
  • Medical cannabis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Policy


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