Older, less regulated medical marijuana programs have much greater enrollment rates than newer 'medicalized' programs

Arthur Robin Williams, Mark Olfson, June H. Kim, Silvia S. Martins, Herbert D. Kleber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have passed laws implementing medical marijuana programs. The nineteen programs that were in operation as of October 2014 collectively had over one million participants. All states (including D.C.) with medical marijuana laws require physicians directly or indirectly to authorize the use of marijuana at their discretion, yet little is known about how medical marijuana programs vary regarding adherence to basic principles of medical practice and associated rates of enrollment. To explore this, we analyzed marijuana programs according to seven components of traditional medical care and pharmaceutical regulation.We then examined enrollment rates, while controlling for potentially confounding state characteristics. We found that fourteen of the twenty-four programs were nonmedical and collectively enrolled 99.4 percent of participants nationwide, with enrollment rates twenty times greater than programs deemed to be "medicalized." Policy makers implementing or amending medical marijuana programs should consider the powerful relationship between less regulation and greater enrollment. Researchers should consider variations across programs when assessing programs' population-level effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)480-488
Number of pages9
JournalHealth Affairs
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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