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Legalization Is Not Enough. We Need a National Medical Cannabis System

Without federal government policy and regulation, chaos could ensue.

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Over 180 million Americans over the age of 50 will develop one or more illnesses that can be treated with cannabis. But according to cannabinoid specialist Dr. Jordan Tishler, federal legalization is not enough. A national medical cannabis system is needed to give people the proper and professional cannabis healthcare they need and deserve.

Dr. Jordan Tishler, a Harvard-faculty medical doctor, worked for 15 years in a VA hospital, where he started to explore cannabis medicine as medicine. Today, he is a patient activist and practicing cannabinoid specialist who started InhaleMD, a medical practice that treats patients through cannabis therapeutics. He is also the President of The Association of Cannabis Specialists.

I interviewed Dr. Tishler on the state of medical marijuana in the US.

What should the government do to make medical cannabis treatment available to the patients who need it?

Patient care is a social justice issue. All people need and deserve healthcare. Healthcare outcomes in the US are poor compared to other developed nations but are worse for people of color than whites.

There are three primary considerations when it comes to establishing cannabis policy:

  1. Make cannabis a medication and require clinicians to write an actual prescription. This will stimulate medical research and provide proper care and medication to those in need.
  2. De-schedule cannabis to end the war on drugs and prevent the continued targeting of people of color.
  3. Address commercial legalization. We cannot give the industry carte-blanche permission to sell vast amounts of cannabis using whatever sales tactics they can devise. We must regulate it for safety – both the products and how they can be marketed. We must prevent retailers from pretending to provide medical care.

You believe that legalization without a national medical system will sabotage medical research. Why?

Legalization without a national medical system will end the knowledgeable use of cannabis as a medicine, and lead to an industry hell-bent on sales revenue at the cost of patients' well-being. It will be the death knell for science into cannabis. Drug development research is slow, painstaking, and expensive. Why would any cannabis company spend the time and money to prove that their product works and are safe if the law allows them to go to market and say whatever they want? We only need to look to the current marketing for CBD to see the kind of snake oil that will be on offer in the absence of regulation requiring scientific study.

Cannabis doctors are relying on dispensaries and budtenders to fill "prescriptions." Is this an effective way to treat patients?

We have ample evidence that this is not the ideal way to get medical advice. In California, only 4 percent of cannabis sold was through their medical system. These numbers suggest that the vast majority of purchasers were getting their medical information from the non-medical salespeople at the dispensaries or budtenders.

In my practice, I have seen patients who start with very reasonable and effective regimens suddenly go overboard following the advice of these salespeople. I have witnessed harm done to patients from dispensaries' rampant misdirection and conflict-of-interest-laden advice. We avoid these pitfalls in the conventional medical system by requiring clinicians to prescribe the medication, complete with instructions on use and an amount to be sold. Only Florida requires an actual prescription (They call it an Order) for a specific cannabis medication with an amount to be dispensed – and requires dispensaries to uphold that order.

What does a medical cannabis system look like?

The current discussion about legalization does not address patient care at all. There is a lot of talk about the harms of prohibition and social justice, but no acknowledgment that medical care is a social justice issue and that patients must be protected.

  1. Legalize medical cannabis for proper medical treatment by qualified medical professionals.
  2. Institute a prescribing system and support cannabis patients' needs nationally.
  3. Make prescriptions immutable.
  4. End unsubstantiated medical claims by manufacturers and sellers.
  5. Allow for interstate operability so that patients can travel with their medicine to assure that all patients get the treatment they need, when and where they need it, without discrimination or being misled.

All people need or will need medical cannabis treatment during their life. The last nearly century of prohibition has robbed billions of Americans of treatment with this medicine. Research on the value of cannabis as medicine continues to amass but is 100 years behind where it should be due to prohibition.

Congress is willfully overlooking the importance to all Americans of proper medical cannabis treatment and not doing anything to safeguard care for patients. As President of The Association of Cannabis Specialists, we believe that patients deserve safe, effective medicine and caring, knowledgeable guidance from clinicians to achieve the best outcomes. We have developed a white paper that spells out the basic requirements of any reform to cannabis laws to preserve and improve patient care.