Safety for Use: Side Effects of the Legal Situation

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The illegal status of cannabis under most jurisdictions causes negative consequences for many with regard to their career, personal and professional relationships, suspension of driving privilege, and health.

In a book chapter on side effects of the medical use of cannabis, Grotenhermen states:

“Natural cannabis products are illegal in most countries. For the most part, no legal distinction is made between recreational and medical use.

If single cannabinoids (dronabinol, nabilone) that may be legally prescribed in some countries are not available, too expensive, or ineffective, therapeutic use of cannabis may provoke various repercussions for the patient who employs it. These include: criminal prosecution or fear thereof, paying a high price for an illegal drug, exposure to possible contamination, use of an unknown concentration of THC with possible variability in dosing, limited forms of administration, and even fear of discussion with the patient’s family doctor. The illegality of cannabis presents various obstacles to clinical research” (Grotenhermen 2002).

Australian researchers at the National Centre for Research into the Prevention of Drug Abuse investigated the consequences of the kind of penalty on use and effects (Australian Associated Press of 3 August 1999).

The study compared 68 cannabis users in South Australia (SA) who received expiation notices for minor cannabis offenses to 68 West Australian (WA) users who received criminal convictions for minor offences. Researcher Simon Lenton said a key finding of the survey was that about 90 per cent from both groups said they had not reduced their use of the drug, despite the different penalties. Comparisons of the South Australian and West Australian users showed that WA’s criminal convictions system had a far greater negative impact on the lives of cannabis offenders. A third of the WA group, compared to two per cent of the SA group, said they had been dismissed from a job, could not find a new one, or stopped applying for jobs because of their conviction. One fifth of the WA group, compared to one twentieth of the SA group, said they had suffered a relationship problem, and 16 percent of the WA group said that they had been forced to move house or lost accommodation because of their conviction. In an interview, Lenton said while most attention focused on health problems associated with cannabis, “we also need to look at what the effects are of the legal system which we set-up to deal with cannabis use” (Australian Associated Press, August 3, 1999).

At this time, U.S. law on the federal level and in most states treats the medicinal and recreational uses of marijuana and related acquisition alike. Thus, the legal situation of medical cannabis users is subject to the same negative implications of law enforcement and penalization.


Grotenhermen F. Review of unwanted actions of Cannabis and THC. In: Grotenhermen F, Russo E, editors. Cannabis and cannabinoids. Pharmacology, toxicology, and therapeutic potential. Binghamton NY: Haworth Press, 2002: 233-48.