Directly Speaking - Medical Marijuana: It’s Time for the Federal Government to Step Up!

by Scott A. Meyers, Executive Vice President
August 5, 2014

The federal government has failed to act on so many important and life-changing issues over the past couple of decades. Issues like health care reform (yes, we have the ACA, but even many of the initial proponents are now abandoning critical elements), immigration reform, tort reform, tax reform, and many more. And it’s our own darn fault! We sit back and elect and then re-elect candidates from two parties who are more concerned about getting re-elected and building their own wealth and networks than they are about moving our great nation in the right directions! Does it sound like I’m frustrated? You bet! Does it sound like I’m blaming our legislators? Yes and no. We elect them, and if they can’t get the job done then we shouldn’t re-elect them. And because there are only two well-established parties in the US political system, there is now a very strong “us and them” mentality in Washington. There are no efforts to work together and more time and money is spent trying to further the divide.

So let’s get specific with medical marijuana. Currently the DEA classifies marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance, making it illegal to obtain or sell for any purpose including medical use and research. And yes, there is a new bill before Congress that would allow the sale of an oil extract of marijuana for use by children with severe epilepsy. But because the federal regulations are so stringent, even states that have legalized marijuana’s sale and use for medical and/or recreational uses have found that their laws aren’t enough.

Because marijuana is a schedule I controlled substance, banks and credit card companies initially refused to take deposits or accept purchases for illegal products. The dispensaries in California, Washington State and Colorado were forced to receive all payments in cash. This created huge sums of cash on hand within dispensaries that had to be transported to owners’ homes or turned into money orders. Recently the Obama administration issued some executive orders to the FDIC and others so that other payment forms could be used. But if the current schedule for marijuana is not changed by the next presidential election, a new administration could have a completely different perspective on this issue and rescind the previous executive orders.

Hospitals and other patient care facilities face a different problem in that payments made for medical marijuana or merely actively allowing of use of an illegal substance on hospital premises could jeopardize payments made to them by CMS for Medicare and Medicaid patients. No hospital can survive without that funding.

Pharmacists currently can’t dispense medical marijuana without fear of losing their federal controlled substance license and then potentially their state license, too. And while again, the Obama administration has issued executive orders similar to those for the banking industry to protect pharmacists in Connecticut where state law requires pharmacist dispensing, there is no guarantee that a new administration might not rescind those orders, too!

There is substantial research going on abroad on the active components of marijuana and yet little or no research is being conducted here in the US, again, because possession of it is illegal at the federal level. The limited studies that are out currently show that marijuana or the chemical components of the plant have medical value and anecdotal exchanges support the use even more.  

So what should Washington do? The DEA needs to reclassify marijuana as a schedule II controlled substance immediately. Congress and the President need to work together (we wish!) and pass and sign legislation that immediately allows for the medical use of marijuana and allows for wide spread research on all the active chemical components for use medically and industrially. The medical use legislation should also provide banks and credit card companies with protection from other conflicting federal and state laws so that payments can be made safely and securely.

It seems, from all that I have read, that there is too much potential in this particular plant for the government to continue to block research and clinical use. Yes, the current forms we have available are not standardized like the medications we normally work with and yes, there is a huge potential for abuse in this form. So that’s exactly why Washington needs to get off their tails and move us forward…to find answers to all the questions scientifically and to prove or disprove what many believe to be the redeeming qualities of a plant we’ve had around this country for forever! And then, if specific components are found to provide great benefits, produce the products commercially, have physicians write prescriptions for them, control them by dispensing them from pharmacies, and if marijuana is found to be safe for recreational sale and use, tax the heck out of it just like we do liquor! But don’t just let this issue sit and smolder like every other burning issue placed before Congress for the past two decades! It’s time for the federal government to step up!

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