nly a tiny fraction of people enrolled in medical marijuana programs in the United States are getting any real medical oversight.

Why it matters:

Nearly half of all states have some sort of medical marijuana program. But a study published Monday in Health Affairs finds that the most heavily used programs — which collectively enroll 99.4 percent of all medical marijuana patients in the US — don’t have the kind of regulations you’d expect of a medical practice. For instance, they might not test or label the pot. Or they might not require state licensing of manufacturers or dispensaries.

Study coauthor Dr. Silvia Martins says that’s a problem: “When you’re allowing someone to have access to a certain product as a medication, it needs to be overseen by good medical practices and medical rules,” said Martins, an associate professor at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.


Researchers, who used data from the fall of 2014, write that there’s a connection between less regulation and more participation in these programs.

But keep in mind:

Eric Sevigny, a professor of criminal justice at Georgia State University, pointed out that some of this relationship could be explained by the fact that many less-regulated programs are simply older, and have had more time to enroll participants.

What’s next?

Future research will look at how the degree to which a medical marijuana program is regulated impacts public safety and public health.

The bottom line:

Medical marijuana programs differ widely from state to state, and patient access varies widely, too.

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