Home Emerging Issues in Law Enforcement Medical Marijuana: Is it the Pathway to Legalization?

Medical Marijuana: Is it the Pathway to Legalization?


By Vincent Giordano
Program Director, Criminal Justice at American Public University System

In 1996, California was the first state to legalize small amounts of marijuana for medical use. Soon after, dozens of other states followed California’s lead with little regard for the federal law prohibiting the sale of marijuana. Pundits and politicians alike decried the move toward medical marijuana as a thinly disguised attempt to legalize marijuana outright. Fox New’s commentator Bill O’Reilly described medical marijuana as a “ruse,” which is tantamount to “quasi-legalization.” While popular conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh lampooned Present Obama on his administrations changed policy on enforcing federal marijuana law, and even hypothesized that the American people want to see marijuana legalized.

On the political left, others were equally concerned about the possible impact medical marijuana could have on society. Furthering Bill O’Reilly’s position that medical marijuana could simply be diverted, Democratic Congressmen Charley Rangel cited that while some drugs might be beneficial for patients, those benefits should not be used to further arguments for total legalization. Citing Great Brittan as an example, Rangel (1998) cited that the medical heroin provided to addicts was commonly being diverted to non-addicts.

The question remains to be resolved if medical marijuana is “ruse” to work toward total legalization, and that medical marijuana is simply being diverted to people with no true ailment? It appears that there is evidence that medical marijuana is being diverted to others, including children. According to Salomonsen-Sautel et al., (2012) found that of 164 adolescents participating in substance abuse treatment, 74 percent cited they obtained their marijuana from individuals who obtained it from medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado.

Some regions in California have also expressed some concerns about the present status of medical marijuana in their community. McKinley (2008) cites that there are concerns about the availability of marijuana dispensaries, which has forced some communities to rethink allowing dispensaries in their towns. Mendocino County claims that once dispensaries started opening, the country was flooded with marijuana. Some Mendocino County official’s estimated that one out of every five private homes in the county served as an indoor marijuana growing facility. McKinley also cites that the dispensaries started to sprout up all over the county, which concerned some officials who also cited concerns about adolescent access to medical marijuana.

It seems as though there is some evidence to support the concern that medical marijuana can be diverted into the general population. However, the actual prevalence of diverted marijuana is still difficult to ascertain. Certainly the study conducted by Salomonsen-Sautel et al. (2012) gives one room for concern, however until more research is done on the topic of medical-marijuana diversion, the seriousness of this problem will be difficult to ascertain.               

About the Author:
Dr. Vinnie Giordano Ph.D, CAP, CCJAP- obtained his Bachelor’s in Liberal Arts from Long Island University/ C.W. Post with a specialization in political science. He then went on to achieve his Master of Science in Criminal Justice from Florida Metropolitan University, and another Master of Science in Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Giordano obtained his Ph.D. in Human Services with a specialization in Criminal Justice from Capella University. Before coming to APUS as a full-time employee, Dr. Giordano worked in the field of substance abuse and behavioral health for 13 years where he worked as a substance abuse counselor in a Department of Corrections-funded youthful offender program. There he maintained positions in counseling and supervising for a 28-day residential and aftercare program, and as the Administrator of Juvenile Services at the Pinellas Juvenile Assessment Center.  


Limbaugh, R. (n.d.) Retrieved from: http://mediamatters.org/video/2009/10/19/limbaugh-mocks           reported-change-in-medical-marij/155866

Limbaugh, R. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wpn1gqy1a3E

McKinley, J. (2008).California pulling back on medical marijuana. New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/09/world/americas/09iht-pot.1.13565173.html?pagewanted=all
, B (n.d.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGVicpAHstU

Salomonsen-Sautel, S., Sakai J. T., Thurstone C., Corley R. & Hopfer C.(2012)      

Medical Marijuana Use Among Adolescents in Substance Abuse Treatment. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 51(7)694-702

Stach, P., & Suddath, C. (2009, October, 21). A brief history of medical marijuana. Time. Retrieved from: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1931247,00.html



  1. My state is floating an initiative to institutionalize medical marijuana in a few days. One of the concerns I have, beyond the negative public health issues that legalization proponents dutifully minimize, is the quasi-legitimization of the illicit trafficking pathways and covert supply chains.

    I can only image that expanded opportunity to use will result in more product demand. Who is positioned to meet this demand and potential supply constraint? Gangs, cartels and criminal elements in your town and beyond. Those are the entities currently moving product and those are the entities that will continue to move product, legal or not.There will also be, and have been, policy entrepreneurs who begin to grow, such as the case in California, Colorado, and Washington. The turf wars over the right to move product within the U.S. are already legion. The unintended consequence of legitimization is a new bout of domestic trafficking and associated criminal value systems.

    We know that the trafficking of drugs is always accompanied by destabilizing phenomenon. Do the pro-legalization folks understand there is a real risk of importing the scourge of the drug trade directly and indirectly into their communities like never before? Look at places like Mexico and Lower British Columbia as examples.

    Those problems will become our problems just at the time when public health and social services, not to mention law enforcement resources, are diminishing because of overarching fiscal austerity. These conditions appear to be the new norm.

    Lets hope the legalization train contains wisdom beyond the right to get high.


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