Medical, Recreational Marijuana Should Be Legal, Most Clinicians Say

Marcia Frellick

September 12, 2018

Most clinicians who responded to a Medscape Medical News poll said medical and recreational marijuana should be legalized in the United States.

The poll, which was posted May 9, was taken in light of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's (D-NY) then-impending legislation to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. He formally proposed the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act, which would allow states to decide how they will treat marijuana possession, on June 27, and many states are debating changes to their laws.

Physicians were less likely than nurses/advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), psychologists, and health/business administrators to approve of legalizing medical marijuana — 67% said yes to legalizing medical use.

Support for legalizing recreational marijuana was more consistent across groups, with the exception of health/business administrators, who were most often in favor of it: 53% of physicians said yes to legalizing recreational use.

Tables 1 and 2 show the responses regarding medical marijuana and recreational marijuana, respectively.

Table 1. Should Medical Marijuana Be Legalized Nationally?

Response Physician Health Business/Administration Nurse/APRN Pharmacist Psychologist
Yes 67% 88% 82% 71% 82%
No 28% 9% 13% 22% 13%
Unsure 5% 3% 6% 8% 5%


Table 2. Should Recreational Marijuana Be Legalized Nationally?

Response Physician Health Business/Administration Nurse/APRN Pharmacist Psychologist
Yes 53% 72% 57% 54% 61%
No 41% 22% 33% 38% 30%
Unsure 6% 6% 10% 8% 9%


According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 31 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico now allow comprehensive public medical marijuana and cannabis programs. Nine states have legalized recreational marijuana.

Respondents who lived in states that had legalized medical marijuana at the time of the poll answered a question about whether they would recommend it to their patients, and percentages were low across the board.

Among physicians, 10% said they often recommend it; 24% said sometimes; 25% said rarely; and 41% said never.

Only 8% of nurses said they often recommend it; 31% said sometimes; 20% said rarely, and 41% said never.

Of pharmacist respondents, 4% often recommended it; 33% said sometimes; 15% said rarely; and 48% said they never recommend it.

Few Clinicians Use It Personally

Most providers do not use marijuana personally, either recreationally or medically.

Physicians (6%), nurses/APRNs (6%), and pharmacists (8%) were less likely to use the drug medically than psychologists (13%) and those in health business/administration (15%).

Physicians (9%) and nurses/APRNs (11%) were less likely to use it recreationally than were pharmacists (18%), health business/administrators (19%), and psychologists (20%).

Recreational use decreased by age for physicians and nurses. For physicians, the largest percentage who used the drug recreationally were aged 44 and younger (23%). The same was true for nurses/APRNs: 18% of that age group were recreational users.

Sample Size, Comments

Respondents included 417 physicians, 1054 nurses/APRNs, 171 people in health business/administration, 79 pharmacists, and 79 psychologists. The poll had drawn 60 reader comments by May 29.

Among the comments was this, from a family physician: "The big problem is good research on the acute effects of MJ. What is needed is the blood level at which MJ is intoxicating. As it stands now in many states researchers cannot legally do the research to find this level. Any good medical physiologist could come up with this answer within months. This would allow for the safe use of MJ."

A registered nurse wrote, "Cannabis is often a much healthier option for controlling many symptoms, notably chronic pain, anxiety, seizures, etc. This list is long and growing every day."

A psychologist responded, "We should remember that marijuana affects brain function. Hence, it affects personality and behavioral processes, more in some users than in others. Like anything else that alters consciousnesses, we should be wary of saying 'yes' to recreational use of the drug."

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