Medical marijuana: Hospitals often caught in debate between state, federal laws

The case of a hospital patient in Maine who was denied medical marijuana for pain relief highlights how hospitals and some patients are entangled in the debate between state and federal medical marijuana laws, according to an article in the Portland Press Herald.

During a two-week stay at Southern Maine Health Care in Sanford, Maine, Eric Chipman told his doctors he was rubbing a marijuana-based lotion into his skin that relieves pain better than the narcotic drugs he tries to avoid, the article reports. Soon after, hospital officials told him he was in violatation of hospital policy and must remove it from the property.

Chipman, like other patients in Maine, violated a hospital policy that is common in the state, even though state law allows qualified patients to use medical marijuana, according to the article.

Marijuana is illegal under federal law and hospitals are licensed by the federal government so if they allow patients to use medical marijuana they risk violation of their license, loss of funding and financial penalties, the article reports. In addition, medical marijuana is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration so healthcare workers can't provide the drug in a hospital.

Although 23 states and the District of Columbia now allow the sale of medical marijuana, not one hospital offers the drug to patients, FierceHealthcare reported in July 2014. Despite the known benefits of marijuana in easing patient pain--and the potential revenue that sales could generate for hospitals--healthcare organizations that set up a dispensary run the risk of violating federal law and jeopardizing Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.

Earlier this year, a bill in Maine that would have allowed patients to use smokeless forms of medical marijuana--such as lotions applied to skin or liquid extracts that are taken orally--in Maine hospitals, was approved by the House and Senate but vetoed by Maine Gov. Paul LePage, according to the newspaper.

To learn more:
- read the article

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