WASHINGTON – The typical medicinal marijuana user is likely to resemble someone from the Baby Boom generation — or older — rather than a 20-something poster child, according to a congressional study.
Data collected in Hawaii and Oregon — two of the eight states allowing marijuana use for medical treatment — show the majority of users are males, 40 years old or older, who take the drug for severe pain or persistent muscle spasms, said the report.
The study by the General Accounting Office, which covered Alaska and California as well, also said the relaxed drug laws in those four states have had minimal impact on crimefighting, although they at times complicate prosecution of drug cases.
The GAO found that a total of about 2,450 people in Oregon, Hawaii and Alaska use marijuana for medical purposes — accounting for no more than .05 percent of the population in any of the states.
More than 70 percent of registered users in each of those three states were age 40 or older. In Hawaii and Oregon, about 70 percent of the users were men, and most were taking marijuana to treat severe pain and persistent muscle spasms. Such information was not available for Alaska or California.
Alaska had the only registered user under 18 years old, and Oregon had 145 users between the ages of 19 and 29.
The report provided no statewide data for California. That state's law does not require medicinal marijuana users to register, although about 4,500 people have done so voluntarily in four of the state's 58 counties, the study said.
Some law enforcement officials said that while crimefighting was not harmed, the laws allowing doctors to recommend that a patient be eligible to use marijuana has, at times, complicated efforts to seize illegal marijuana or to prosecute some cases, according to the GAO report.
In some cases, law enforcement officials said the marijuana laws resulted in "a general softening" in attitudes among the public toward marijuana, the report said, and some officials were concerned about conflicts that arise with federal law enforcement.
For example, according to the report, an Oregon police official cited a series of cases in which suspects were arrested for distributing marijuana for profit, but were able to obtain medical marijuana registry cards after their arrests, stymieing prosecutors.
Some local law enforcement officials in California questioned how effectively they could prosecute criminal marijuana cases since the state has no limit on the amount of marijuana that can be held by a patient or a caregiver.
In Northern California, Humboldt County officials said marijuana growers are allowed to grow hundreds of plants while claiming to be a medical caregiver to multiple patients, and no documentation is required.
While Alaska, Oregon and Hawaii have established limits, some law enforcement officials in those states said they too were less likely to pursue cases that could be shielded by the provisions.
The Bush administration disagreed with some of the report's findings.
The state marijuana laws have resulted in a "worsening of relations between federal, state and local law enforcement," Robert F. Diegelman, an acting U.S. assistant attorney general, wrote in a review of the report.
The laws create "legal loopholes for drug dealers and marijuana cultivators to avoid arrest and prosecution," he said.
The GAO examined only four of the eight states that have allowed medical uses for marijuana. The other states are Nevada, Colorado, Washington and Maine.