by Kirby LindsayEarlier this year, the Fremont Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors discussed the presence of medical marijuana ‘businesses’ in the neighborhood. In 1998, Washington State voters approved an initiative to make marijuana for medical purposes easier to possess, and slowly distributors and medical usage have almost gained mainstream acceptance.
For The Good
Dr. Martin Cahn, a family practice physician located in Fremont, has had patients request a ‘prescription’ for marijuana. He has recommended it for a patient fighting metastatic breast cancer, but it would be rare to find another case, “they are really few and far between.”
In fact, all he and any medical doctor, physician assistant, osteopathic physician, osteopathic physician assistant, naturopathic physician or advanced registered nurse practitioner can do is write a recommendation for medical marijuana possession, production and administration. As of June 10, 2010, the recommendation must be written on tamper-resistant paper, and contain an original signature by the health care provider. This is not a prescription. It is a recommendation that the patient has a medical condition that could benefit from the medical use of marijuana.
“It’s a really cloudy issue,” admitted Donn Moyer, Media Relations Manager for the Washington State Department of Health (DOH). The amount of garbled, misleading and wildly inaccurate information surrounding medical marijuana is staggering. The DOH works to clarify the subject, and their website provides straight-forward answers to frequently asked questions.
First of all, “the law does not allow for legal dispensing,” Moyer insisted. Dispensary operators may make claims about having a State license or being a legal business, but the 1998 initiative did not allow anyone – patient or dispensary – to buy or sell marijuana.
The initiative grants ill patients an affirmative defense under state law, if arrested and prosecuted, for possession of a 60-day supply of medical marijuana for personal use. A designated provider may grow and supply marijuana to a patient, once designated to do so in writing by the qualifying patient. Even then, it remains illegal to possess marijuana in the State of Washington. The initiative did not change that. It is also remains illegal to possess marijuana for any reason under federal law.
For the Ill
Patients can possess marijuana for illnesses and conditions including cancer, HIV, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy or other seizure disorders, spasticity disorders, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, hepatitis C, for intractable pain and for diseases, including anorexia, which result in nausea, vomiting, wasting, appetite loss, cramping, seizures, and/or muscle spasms. The Medical Quality Assurance Commission currently is considering petitions to add Alzheimer’s, chronic renal failure, and neuropathic pain to the list.
Yet the efficacy of marijuana for these, and other conditions, continues to undergo research, without any conclusive results. The DOH is not a medical research agency, so it focuses on providing the public with accurate information about the law, and the 60-day supply rule.
As for the Washington State Medical Association (WSMA), they have taken a few positions, according to information passed on by Jennifer Hanscom, Senior Director. “The WSMA supports completion of ongoing studies legislated by RCW 69.51, regarding the clinical efficacy of marijuana. The WSMA supports reclassification of marijuana’s status as a Schedule I controlled substance to a more appropriate schedule. The WSMA supports efforts to cease the criminal prosecution and other enforcement actions against physicians and patients acting in accordance with state medical marijuana law.”
Meanwhile abuses occur frequently, with some medical providers willing to sell a recommendation for cash, and some dispensaries requiring patients to purchase a permit to make their marijuana ‘legal.’ In his practice, Dr. Cahn has heard of abuses. Yet, he understands that most voters wanted to provide relief for genuinely ill patients. He paraphrased an adage, ‘never let a good deed go unpunished,’ and said, “I think this has the potential for turning into that.”
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.