US Pharm. 2014;39(2):1

For some retailers in Colorado, a leprechaun’s pot of gold remains a mere Irish fantasy. A pot of green, on the other hand, is definitely real thanks to a new state law making it legal for some stores to sell marijuana for recreational use to adults 21 years and older. According to a recent story in the Huffington Post, more than three dozen marijuana dispensaries there reported sales of “roughly $5 million” in their first week of business. According to Denver’s 9News TV broadcast, sales of the heavily taxed weed exceeded $1 million on New Year’s Day alone, the first day the law went into effect. The Denver Post estimates that “as many as 100,000 people have legally purchased marijuana at Colorado stores.” The state expects to collect approximately $70 million in tax revenues this year from marijuana sales, so it may not be long before other states take a serious look at legalizing the drug. It is widely believed that the success of medical marijuana sales was the pathway to selling recreational marijuana in Colorado. 

This all seems very strange to me, as it should to most people. For the fact is, federal law does not recognize medical marijuana, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is currently allowed to invoke the Controlled Substances Act to arrest those who use it. The feds still consider marijuana an illegal drug with no acceptable medicinal value. And while there have been some legal actions taken against selected pot shops, some 20 states have legalized the sale of medical marijuana—the earliest being California in 1996—and this trend is likely to continue. Last month, New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he was formulating a plan to legalize medical marijuana in the state and distribute it through hospitals. But one of the hurdles he must overcome is the odd juxtaposition of state and federal laws: On the one hand, a gubernatorial executive order would give hospitals the right to treat selected patients with marijuana based on their diagnosis, but current federal law does not allow hospitals to buy or sell the drug to patients. I imagine it is this dilemma that is standing in the way of other states looking to legalize marijuana for medicinal use.

So the question becomes, should the feds amend the Controlled Substances Act and exempt marijuana from many of its penalties and restrictions? I say, not so fast. If medical marijuana is going to be approved by federal law, it needs to be subjected to the same testing as any other FDA-approved drug, complete with clinical trials that result in outcomes proving that its medicinal value outweighs its dangerous potential for addiction or abuse. Once that happened, licensed retail outlets could distribute marijuana with a proper prescription. Who better to dispense medical marijuana than pharmacists, who handle and dispense drugs far more potent and addictive than marijuana? In this scenario, pharmacists would follow the same rules and regulations governing other DEA-controlled medications.

If marijuana is going to be taken seriously as a therapeutic drug, it should undergo all the controls and testing of other FDA- and DEA-approved products and be dispensed by pharmacists, who are drug specialists. This would also resolve the current state-versus-federal conundrum and truly legitimize the sale and use of medical marijuana.

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