I just opened my email inbox to see the following headline: “Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) will finally release a draft of their long-awaited federal cannabis legalization bill on Wednesday.”
I wholeheartedly support the federal legalization of cannabis. For one thing, it is much safer than almost all drugs and medications available with or without a prescription. And, the fact that it is currently illegal stems from prohibition and has racist roots. That said, on this particular morning and with this particular article, I got to thinking about a number of different things. Included in them are the release of prisoners currently serving sentences for personal cannabis possession, the access to cannabis for people in need, and the ability for patients to take their medication across state lines without the fear of being charged with a federal offense, to name a few. Most of these thoughts were fleeting – not because they aren’t important, they are. But, because with the legalization of recreational cannabis use in Massachusetts, we have seen an overabundance of people either DIY-ing (do it yourselfing) their own health care or relying on the non-medically educated bud-tender for advice as to how to best treat their medical condition. We’ve also seen the proliferation of cannabis shops and cannabis card mills boasting, “Get your medical card here.” In neither of these cases is patients offered science-based medical advice. So, for today, the latter issues are my focus.
Throughout this year, I have written several pieces about many of the above-listed topics. They have ranged from my introduction to the world of cannabis medicine, the unethical practices of card mills and dispensaries, the lack of understanding of physicians and individuals regarding what it is that cannabis care specialists do to the assertion that those very specialists best serve medical cannabis patients. I’ve also spent many hours talking with patients about these same topics while arming them with education regarding the misinformation and high-pressure sales tactics of bud-tenders at cannabis dispensaries.
All of this background information brings me to my point. Making cannabis not illegal is a starting point. With that, however, comes the obligation to ensure that patients are afforded the best possible options for care. The bud-tender does not provide this. They are salespeople whose job is to sell products. They are no more qualified to help patients than clerks at a drugstore running the registers. Good patient care is also not offered by the card mill, whose business practices include the incentivization of physicians to provide cannabis cards without medical care; they are giving patients what is essentially only a tax-free coupon for use at medical dispensaries.
The federal legalization of cannabis comes with the responsibility of the government to assure safe and appropriate access to cannabis. It is also the responsibility of governing agencies to put into place the methods by which patients have access to true medical care. The current state of affairs is such that physicians are not able to provide prescriptions for cannabis. Instead, we are limited to making “suggestions.” There is no other medication with which a patient presents a suggestion to a clerk and has that clerk pick out their medication. This should not be the case with medical cannabis, either.
The medical system has always required that patients receive proper medical care from their physician, prescriptions for their medications, and appropriate follow-up. Cannabis medicine should be no different. Physicians must be able to provide their patients with prescriptions for their medications. Patients must be able to pick up their medication from the dispensing locations free of pressure to purchase items that were not prescribed to them and free of clerks undermining their doctors’ orders. While the federal government is poised to legalize cannabis for recreational users, it is duty-bound to include provisions to ensure adequate care and protection for patients.
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