- Adopt a full medical cannabis program, where recommending practitioners have the authority to recommend medical cannabis to their patients for any ailment or symptom that they believe could be alleviated by the use of cannabis.
- Maintain low fees for medical licenses/recommendations, and offer waivers to low-income patients.
- Ensure all categories of cannabis products (flower, edibles, tinctures, etc.) and delivery methods (inhalation, ingestion, topical, etc.) are permissible and available to patients.
- Similar to other doctor-prescribed remedies, avoid any potency limits, except for reasonable limitations on edible cannabis products.
- Allow for patients to utilize telehealth services to acquire a medical cannabis recommendation.
- Allow for anyone licensed in the state to issue prescription medication to be able to recommend cannabis to patients (i.e., nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants, etc.).
- Do not require patients to receive more than one doctor’s medical recommendation in order to purchase medical cannabis.
- Ensure that there are enough licensed cannabis retailers and cultivators to meet patient demand and prevent supply chain bottlenecks.
- Allow cultivators, processors, and retailers to set aside cannabis to be donated to medical patients tax-free.
- Adopt protections around employment and parental rights for medical cannabis patients.
- Allow medical cannabis retailers to offer delivery services and curbside pick-up.
- Allow for reciprocity with other states where medical cannabis is legal.
- Ensure that medical products are tax-free in alignment with other prescription-based medicines.
- Ensure that products are tested at licensed labs to make sure patients access safe, high-quality medicine.
- Provide education to practitioners on the best available science for cannabis-based treatment.
- Create additional research opportunities for the advancement in scientific knowledge surrounding cannabis-based medicine.
The Benefits of Medical Cannabis
Challenges Resulting from
“Qualifying Conditions” Designation
Cannabis has been used anecdotally for medical purposes for thousands of years. Finally, with modern scientific practices and an ever-expanding pool of data, concrete evidence is beginning to establish the robust safety profile of cannabis and the expansive list of conditions that it can alleviate. With the recent discovery of the endocannabinoid system and emerging research into the effects of medical cannabis, science has given the world increasingly-definitive conclusions on the effectiveness of cannabis for conditions such as arthritis, seizure disorders, chronic pain, cancer, PTSD, gastrointestinal disorders, and much more.
However, the viability of cannabis as a medicine is jeopardized when patients are viewed as criminals. Cannabis prohibition severely impedes scientific research and denies patients access to a plant that fulfills or supplements their medical and wellness needs. The legalization and sensible regulation of medical cannabis are critical, and jurisdictions around the world have a responsibility to follow modern science, social advancements, and humanitarian necessities.
It is critically important that jurisdictions detach themselves from the “qualifying conditions” framework, and allow medical practitioners to recommend cannabis for any condition they deem appropriate. For medical cannabis programs, “qualifying conditions” are specific medical ailments or treatment side-effects predetermined by authorities as acceptable for treatment with cannabis. Each jurisdiction’s list of qualifying conditions typically prioritizes life-threatening and non-curable conditions, those that result in acute or chronic pain, and severe mental health conditions. These frequently include cancer, wasting diseases, seizure-related conditions, glaucoma, AIDS, PTSD, arthritis, autism, cerebral palsy, Crohn’s disease, and more.
However, some states have more expansive lists of qualifying conditions than others, and many do not comprehensively cover the wide range of ailments that medical cannabis can alleviate. For example, one of the most common medical uses for cannabis is to treat general anxiety, stress, or depression – conditions not commonly found on qualifying conditions lists. This unfortunate oversight repeats itself for many ailments, leaving patients lacking medicine that can be beneficial for them. This is especially true for veterans living with PTSD, as this condition is frequently missing from qualifying conditions lists. Further, veterans across the country deserve the same access to treatment involving medical cannabis – whether they reside in a state with legalized medical cannabis, or not; veterans served the country, not a specific state.
The Importance of Access
Protections for Medical Cannabis Patients
For a medical cannabis program to be successful – in the sense of providing medicine to as many people who will benefit from it as possible – clear and open patient access to all parts of the program is essential.
Beginning with the process of obtaining clearance to purchase and consume medical cannabis: patients should have access to services like telehealth and expedited appointments and only be required to obtain one recommendation from a prescribing practitioner. This makes the process more accessible for patients with limited mobility and/or resources. Any application or registration fees should be affordable, and waivers should be available for qualified low-income patients. Further, cannabis businesses should be permitted to provide designated products to qualified medical patients free of charge and all taxes.
After obtaining proper certification to purchase and use medical cannabis, jurisdictions must ensure that the patient experience in doing so is as smooth and hassle-free as possible. Authorities should provide sufficient licensing to allow for enough retail access points and enough cultivation facilities to meet demand while keeping prices affordable. Other accessibility considerations, such as delivery services and curbside pick-up, are essential for providing patients with options that best meet their mobility needs. Arbitrary potency limits should be avoided whenever possible, as many medical patients require much higher doses of cannabis products than what might be typical for non-medical use. In addition, there should be no limitations on what cannabis products are available to patients, as different conditions may benefit from different consumption methods. Medical cannabis patients should also have reliable access to their medicine while traveling. States with legal medical cannabis must allow for reciprocity with other legal states – that is, allowing for medical patients to purchase and use cannabis in states where they don’t reside, so long as they have a legitimate designation from their home state.
As with long-established medical practices, patient privacy should be prioritized when managing medical records and patient data. Jurisdictions should eliminate the concept of a permanent patient registry and instead maintain a simple database that administers a patient identification card system while maintaining requirements for doctors and medical cannabis facilities to register and report the number of cannabis recommendations provided, while periodically purging patient data. State programs should rely on secure identification cards to ensure purchases are only made by patients at retail locations and for the administration of renewals. Jurisdictions should also provide a privacy notification on patient registration forms describing the confidential treatment of their medical information and related data. Each of these practices ensures the security of the medical cannabis program and mitigates potential compromises of patient records and private data.
In addition to data and security measures, protections must also exist regarding employment and parental rights. Qualified medical cannabis patients should not have their careers jeopardized for using a legal medication – jurisdictions must establish legal protections that prevent patients from being discriminated against, penalized, or terminated from their employment due to medical cannabis use away from work. Parental rights and child custody should also be protected. Patients who responsibly use medical cannabis, following all guidelines and laws surrounding the safe storage and handling of cannabis products, must not face the prospect of losing parental rights or having their children taken away from them. Cannabis prohibition has done enough to tear families apart – jurisdictions should not hold onto this relic of a bygone era.
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