Medical Marijuana for Pets? It Could Happen Soon in California

A bill in the California State Legislature would give vets the same protections as doctors who recommend medical marijuana. 

A new bill being considered by California lawmakers would allow veterinarians to recommend cannabis to dogs, cats, and other pets for medical issues.

Introduced by Sen. Cathleen Calgiani, a Democrat from Stockton, SB 627 would allow California-licensed veterinarians to recommend cannabis and cannabis products with clients without concern of sanctions.

In 2018, former Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law landmark legislation that permits veterinarians to discuss medical cannabis with pet owners. With its passage, the bill prohibited the California Veterinary Medical Board from disciplining veterinarians for discussing the use of cannabis with pet owners.

Calgiani’s new bill would expand on the current law by allowing vets to actually recommend cannabis. It would also allow an animal’s “primary caregiver” to buy medical marijuana for their pet if they have obtained a valid veterinarian recommendation.

Vets would need to have previously established a relationship with the pet and the owner prior to giving the recommendation.

If passed, the bill would make California the first state to give vets permission to recommend cannabis as medicine for their animal patients. Prescribing medical marijuana, however, would remain illegal under state and federal law.

“What’s happening now is pet owners are either doing research on the internet or hearing from a friend or just taking advice from people at cannabis dispensaries,” said Mike Sharif, legislative director for Galgiani.

The new bill would also require that the Veterinary Medical Board consult with the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego, to draw up guidelines on recommending cannabis for veterinarians.

While SB 627 has a strong chance of being approved, it won’t happen until next year at the earliest. The bill was voted out of committee and passed by the Senate in July, but according to the Veterinary Information Network, it had to pass Appropriations in August in order to reach the Assembly floor for a full vote before lawmakers go on recess.

The bill will likely be debated by the Assembly next year.

Debates Over Research

The California Veterinary Board recently dropped its opposition to the state bill that would allow cannabis to be prescribed to pets for medical issues, providing more funding is dedicated to researching the effects of cannabis on animals.

However, it has not been confirmed whether Galgiani, the bill’s sponsor, would support increased funding for more research.

Little research has been done on the issue so far. With marijuana illegal under federal law, researchers interested in conducting studies on the effects of cannabis face regulatory obstacles.

One of the nation’s leading veterinary organizations, the American Veterinary Medical Association, has come out in support of rescheduling marijuana to facilitate research.

Changes to the law are supported by a coalition of growers, and different veterinary groups who believe that “pet owners deserve the most reliable information possible regarding their pet’s health and well-being. That information and advice is expected to come from trusted veterinarians.”

“Recommendation” Vs “Prescribe”

“Recommendation” versus “prescribe” is a legal technicality established in 2002 by a Supreme Court case. Because marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level, no doctor can officially prescribe it. They merely write recommendations that are treated the same as prescriptions by states that have legalized medical marijuana and dispensaries.

Once a pet owner was to receive such a recommendation, they would be able to purchase medical marijuana for their pet at a dispensary.

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