Growing pains for medical marijuana doctors, clinics

Marijuana buds in a jar
It isn't always smooth going for states that have legalized medical marijuana. (OpenRangeStock/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

As more states consider legalizing medical marijuana, they may want to learn from the stumbling blocks of states that have already passed similar legislation.

It’s been a year since Florida allowed dispensaries to open and sell medical marijuana to registered residents, but the closure of a half-dozen clinics in Tampa Bay has left some patients without doctors to certify them to receive the drug.

RELATED: More states allow it, but many doctors unprepared to prescribe medical marijuana

Thousands of patients received medical marijuana after they were certified by physicians at the clinics run by Tetra Health Care, a California-based chain, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Tetra, however, closed all but one of those clinics last month, creating headaches for patients who may need to find another doctor.

And that is not easy to do given state regulations, the newspaper said. The company told the Times that it shut those clinics to focus on working with state lawmakers to make access easier for patients, but a former doctor said the chain ran into financial trouble and stopped paying physicians and staff in October.

In Maine, a doctor has started a petition drive to push back on a state policy that raises questions about the use of telemedicine for medical marijuana patients. Mary Callison, M.D., who treats medical cannabis patients and uses video conferencing, is fighting new state rules that she says discriminate against disabled, rural and low-income patients, according to the Portland Press Herald. She and other doctors want clarification of new rules that will go into effect Feb. 1 that require a physical exam before a doctor can certify a medical marijuana patient they see for the first time, but leaves doubt about how and where that exam must take place.

These growing pains notwithstanding, many states are considering legalization programs of their own.

In Kentucky, debate over whether to allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana is intensifying, according to TriState.com. In Utah, Governor Gary Herbert this week predicted that residents will vote to legalize medical marijuana, perhaps as soon as November when it may be on the ballot as an initiative, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Some 29 states allow medical marijuana, including Connecticut, which plans to award at least three new licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries, adding to the nine already in operation, according to ctpost.com.

But the future for states that have legalized marijuana is also cloudy. The Associated Press reported that early Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he rescinded a lenient enforcement policy on legalized marijuana for recreational use and will let federal prosecutors decide how aggressively to enforce federal law that prohibits it. But some worry that the new stance could possibly open the door to more medical-marijuana related prosecutions.

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