Medical Marijuana – Healthcare or Wealth-care?

July 21, 2016
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Abuses found in MA medical marijuana prescription process

Is medical marijuana a potentially lucrative field? Is there the potential for abuse on the part of both patients and physicians?

Gee, do you think?

There is no doubt that legal medical marijuana represents more than its curative and palliative properties. It’s also an enormous business opportunity, and that is raising some concerns.

In Massachusetts, there are now more than 25,000 medical marijuana patients, and the number keeps growing. With such a large potential market, regulators fear the potential for abuse.

Regulations controlling how physicians prescribe medical marijuana and issue patient certifications (needed for identification cards and purchasing medical marijuana) require that the physician has not only met with the patient in person, but also has a so-called “doctor-patient relationship” so that treatment can be evaluated and adjusted.

State regulators are taking a close look at the doctors and clinics that prescribe medical marijuana the most. Two physicians who were among the most prolific prescribers were recently suspended for failing to act in accordance with regulations. Dr. John Nadolny of CannaMed and Dr. Tyrone Cushing of Canna Care Docs were cited as over-prescribing without taking the necessary time to adequately examine patients.

Clearly, with the potential for abuse, oversight is necessary. But there is also a concern that those who truly need medical marijuana are able to obtain it. State Senator Vinny DeMacedo (R-Plymouth), agrees.”We need to do a better job of regulating and overseeing this so that people are safe,” DeMacedo said.

As the medical marijuana program in Massachusetts expands, common-sense regulations assuring that the program is being run with the patients’ safety as the top concern will continue to be adjusted. For example, one of the charges against Canna Care Docs was that they used nurse practitioners for evaluations. Canna Care is cooperating with state agencies and has discontinued using nurse practitioners. However, the state will most likely be changing the regulations later this year to allow nurse practitioners to certify marijuana patients.

Is there potential for abuse in Massachusetts’ medical marijuana program? Of course. Anecdotally, a person seeking marijuana can obtain prescriptions without due scrutiny, and surely there are doctors tempted by the money. But most physicians and clinics have high standards, and prescribe medical marijuana with care.

Even those who are the most skeptical should be moved by medical marijuana’s ability to relieve pain, treat symptoms and ameliorate many illnesses and conditions with few to no side effects. The potential for benefit has started to be proven, as recent studies have shown. But more studies are needed to confirm these findings. Until marijuana can be moved from its Schedule 1 classification as a “controlled substance with no accepted medical use,” which makes it nearly impossible to use for scientific studies, these findings linger in limbo.

Federal drug officials say they are considering removing marijuana from Schedule 1 classification, with a decision expected this summer.

Patients in Massachusetts with chronic pain or other conditions can seek medical marijuana for treatment, instead of more risky options like highly-addictive opioids. People with chronic pain in most other US states are waiting for legislators to decide which is more dangerous: OxyContin or marijuana. Statistics, news stories and clinical studies all imply that the answer is clear.