Medical marijuana: To sell or not to sell?

Although 23 states and the District of Columbia now allow the sale of medical marijuana, not one hospital offers the drug to patients. 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.

One hospital debating the risks of getting into the medical marijuana business is Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago, which wants to be the first in Illinois to sell the drug since the state legalized it last year, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

 "We have professionals who very much would like to prescribe those drugs, we have the system in place to manage it and we have the patient population that needs it," Marcia Jimenez, director of intergovernmental affairs at Swedish, told the Sun-Times. "It just made a lot of sense."

But the organization fears it could face trouble with the federal gtovernment, which still considers medical pot illegal, as well as the IRS if it moves forward with its plans. "It's not something the hospital could risk and still stay financially viable," Jimenez told the publication.

It's a problem that hospitals in other states continue to grapple with, as well as a host of other issues associated with the sale of the weed, according to previous FierceHealthcare coverage.

Earlier this year Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced he would allow 20 hospitals across the state to distribute marijuana to patients with cancer, glaucoma or other diseases that meet the Department of Health's standards based on a 1980 law. But the law comes with a hitch: It doesn't specifically allow hospitals to buy or sell the drug to patients; it only allows for weed from the federal government or local drug busts, which may not be medical grade, making it difficult for hospitals to make money from the program.

Academic medical centers in Maryland may distribute medical marijuana but none have shown interest because of the conflict with federal law. "Most hospitals are probably not going to be interested in doing it," Patrick McManamon, managing director at Cannasure, which sells insurance for the medical marijuana industry in the states where it is legal, told Crain's New York Business.

Although more states continue to loosen the restrictions on cannabis, most of the laws limit the sale of marijuana or its extracts to certain conditions, such as epilepsy and other seizure disorders. In Missouri, supporters advocate lifting the restrictions so medical marijuana is legal for all patients, according to KSHB.

And other troubles persist. In Massachusetts, which has also legalized the sale of medical marijuana, the Drug Enforcement Agency allegedly threatened physicians with ties to prospective dispensaries to resign from their positions with these companies or lose their licenses to prescribe controlled substances, FiercePracticeManagement reported..

To learn more:
- read the Chicago Sun-Times article
- here's the KSHB  report

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