Should Any Medical Provider Be Able to Prescribe Medical Cannabis?

During a Utah in the Weeds podcast from late 2020, hosts Tim and Chris welcomed guest Desiree Hennesey from Utah Patients Coalition, with strong legislative ties in hopes of talking about what’s going on with Medical Cannabis at the state level. They learned of an effort to change the law so that any licensed doctor in the state can prescribe Medical Marijuana without having to go through the process to become a Qualified Medical Provider (QMP).

What do you think? Should any doctor be able to write your prescription? There are a lot of people that think so. Loosening up the QMP requirements might even convince some doctors still on the fence to climb over into the greener fields of Medical Cannabis. Would this help or hurt patients across the state?

Those in favor of the rule changes suggest that allowing all doctors to prescribe would:

  • Improve access to patients across the state
  • Encourage more doctors to get on board with Medical Marijuana
  • Help establish a more collaborative effort between doctors and pharmacists

Proponents want patients to have easy access to Medical Marijuana, but should Medical Cannabis be as easy to get as penicillin? That is what it boils down to.

Improving Medical Provider Access

Right now, almost 600 of Utah’s doctors, PAs and NPs are registered Qualified Medical Providers, allowed by the state of Utah, to recommend Medical Marijuana to their patients. These providers have completed 4 hours of specialized training and registered with the Department of Health in order to make these recommendations. Doctors who are not registered, and are not QMPs, stay away from Medical Marijuana for plenty of reasons. Some do not think it is worth their while. Others are afraid they don’t know enough about cannabis. Some still aren’t sure where they stand in terms of liability.

Right now, the majority of Medical Providers actively working with patients are located in the Provo and Salt Lake areas. If you live in rural Utah, you could end up driving quite a distance just to see a Medical Cannabis specialist. You might have to drive to get to a dispensary now, too. But as more dispensaries open, wouldn’t it be nice if there were more doctors helping patients get their Medical Cannabis cards? More participating doctors means less travel for a lot of patients.

Encouraging Collaborative Relationships

There is another aspect to the legislation that deserves some serious consideration. It has been proposed that the state allow any licensed doctor to assist patients in obtaining a Medical Cannabis card, with or without QMP training. But when it comes time to write an actual recommendation, the task will be left to a Medical Cannabis pharmacist.

This sort of thing is risky in a number of ways.

  • eliminates the need for doctors to be educated about Medical Cannabis in any way
  • doctors are not covered by their medical malpractice for writing federally illegal drug prescriptions
  • doctors are not educated about the science of Medical Cannabis for patient conditions
  • ER visits for cannabis related complaints have gone up in every state with a medical program  — patients aren’t getting these warnings from their providers
  • pharmacists in Utah dispensaries are not aware of all of the patient’s medical issues, leaving the patient with higher risks of a negative experience

If all the doctor is required to know is that the patient sitting in their office legitimately suffers from a qualifying medical condition, it’s only half the job. The second half is evaluating what treatment options are best for that patient and recommending the best possible options. Though we would not necessarily expect a medical provider to fully understand cannabis and the cannabinoid system, we would expect the doctor to know at least what the main benefits and risks are, the legal implications for their patient, and how to educate their patient on those things.

It is a pharmacist’s job to understand drugs and how they affect patients. This makes a pharmacist a great source of information and education for Medical Cannabis patients. But the idea of allowing all doctors to be a Qualified Medical Provider and to recommend Medical Cannabis to patients and leaving all the work to the pharmacist is potentially risky for doctors and could be risky for patients.

So. should all doctors in the state of Utah be allowed to prescribe Medical Marijuana? Some people think so. And if they have their way, the rules in Utah could be changed this year.

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Published April 5, 2021

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