Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jane Menken

Second Advisor

Amy Wilkins

Third Advisor

Stefanie Mollborn

Fourth Advisor

Mary Jo Neitz

Fifth Advisor

Stefan Timmermans


As of 2012, Colorado is on the forefront of cannabis medicalization but medicalization remains incomplete. Between 2010 and 2012, Colorado created the most regulated medical marijuana program in the United States. Over 100,000 patients, 2.5% of Coloradans, are now registered as medical marijuana patients. This dissertation examines the effects of incomplete medicalization among middle-aged medical cannabis patients in the state of Colorado. It is a qualitative study based on interviews with 40 individuals aged 30-68 who each received a physician’s recommendation for medical cannabis use in Colorado. Interviews were conducted between June 2011 and November 2012. This period immediately followed the rapid influx of patients into Colorado’s system, but preceded the passage of Amendment 64, the constitutional amendment that legalizes all adult use in the state. At the federal level, cannabis use remains illegal and punishable by law.

Medicalization is when a nonmedical issue comes to be defined and treated as medical. When medicalization is incomplete, the issue has not been fully integrated, institutionally or in terms of its cultural framing. Medical cannabis crosses into the formal system of biomedicine, but it straddles institutional boundaries between health care systems and their logics. Culturally, cannabis remains closely associated with recreational use and with stereotypes of its users. So long as medicalization is incomplete, claims that medical cannabis use and the medical patient identity are legitimate remain in contest with nonmedical frames.

Incomplete medicalization affects all aspects of the medical cannabis patient experience. This dissertation looks at how patients navigate the medical cannabis system, including how they manage doctor-patient interactions, establish medicalized routines of use, and integrate cannabis into the management of illness. It also examines how patients make sense of the medical cannabis patient identity. Cultural identity operates in the lifeworld. By looking at patients in midlife, I consider the significance of life course timing and close network ties for medical cannabis patients in Colorado. I also consider how patients disclose illness and/or medical marijuana use to others, and how patients adopt a political position of pride to counteract stigma and stereotypes.