Some physicians have completely backed out of recommending medical marijuana to patients since Sessions changed federal policy.
Doctors are even more nervous to recommend medical marijuana to patients since United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last month that he was giving federal prosecutors freedom to go after state-legal marijuana programs. According to a report by The Washington Post, some doctors have completely backed out of participating in their state’s medical marijuana program since the move by Sessions.
Maryland launched its medical marijuana program only last month, and despite the state’s acting U.S. Attorney Steve Schenning announcing he had no intention to go after cultivators, dispensaries, or physicians, the doctors there still appear concerned about the risk.
“I know of two who had already registered who decided not to take the risk after all,” Gene Ransom, head of the Maryland State Medical Society, told The Washington Post. “One of them had already written recommendations for several patients.”
While Maryland has nearly 20,000 patients registered with its Medical Cannabis Commission, adding between 200 to 400 new patient applications per day, patients who then must find a registered to doctor to recommend the substance are facing challenges. The number of doctors signing up to be a part of Maryland’s has plateaued at fewer than 700.
Similar happenings are occurring in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, which have also reported resistance by physicians. Only 1,200 of New York’s 97,000 licensed doctors have registered to recommend medical marijuana to patients. Massachusetts only has 218 doctors signed up for the program.
Prior to Sessions’ bombshell, federal prosecutors had been directed to not prioritize enforcing federal marijuana law by a memorandum drafted by former U.S. Attorney General James M. Cole in 2013. The Obama-era policy, known as the Cole Memo, had allowed states to establish adult use and medical marijuana programs without fear of a crackdown. Marijuana is now legal in some capacity in 29 states.
The elimination of that policy by Sessions has made many physicians, advocates, business owners, and patients wary that the Justice Department intends to interfere with state-legal marijuana programs.
Medical Marijuana Currently Protected
While the new federal policy directed by Sessions does give federal prosecutors the green light to go after states that have legalized recreational marijuana, medical marijuana programs at the moment remain protected by the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment.
The amendment, in place since 2014, prohibits the U.S. Department of Justice from using federal funds to prevent states from implementing their own medical marijuana programs. Because the amendment is an appropriations rider, the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment must be renewed as part of the annual spending bill, meaning the protections are not permanent and vulnerable to budget approval delays or government shutdowns.
Still, 29 U.S. states have gone ahead and legalized marijuana for medical purposes. Public favor for marijuana legalization is at an all-time high, with 94 percent of Americans supporting medical marijuana.
Despite the upward trend of medical marijuana in the U.S., doctors are often unprepared for questions regarding the benefits of cannabinoids and the use of medical marijuana. Nearly 9 out of 10 medical students don’t receive training related to medical marijuana.
Federal lawmakers have introduced legislation to provide more security to state-legal marijuana programs. California Rep. Barbara Lee last month responded to Sessions’ move by introducing the REFER Act of 2018, proposing to prohibit the federal government from enforcing federal cannabis law in states where marijuana has been legalized. Sen. Cory Booker proposed wide-reaching marijuana legalization when he introduced the Marijuana Justice Act last summer.
Need some guidance on how to approach your physician about medical marijuana? Read our article, “Talking To Your Doctor About Medical Marijuana.”
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