January 29, 2014
States Seek to Have Pharmacists Dispense Medical Marijuana

Lansing, MI—If some states have their way, pharmacists could find themselves dispensing medical-grade marijuana along with other drugs in the future.

A new Michigan law, signed by the governor at the end of 2013, would allow patients to purchase medical marijuana from licensed pharmacies as a Schedule II controlled substance.

Public Act 268 of 2013 creates a classification of “pharmaceutical-grade cannabis” that would be produced in specialized marijuana manufacturing facilities licensed, registered, and inspected by the Michigan Department of Community Health. Distributors would obtain licensure from the Michigan Board of Pharmacy, as already required for other controlled substances.

None of this can occur immediately, however, because the bill is dependent on the federal government reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule II controlled substance. While the Drug Enforcement Administration has the authority to reclassify medical marijuana, it has so far declined to do so.

Sponsoring Michigan Sen. Roger Kahn of Saginaw Township, a physician, told his colleagues last year that, with the registry, marijuana would have to be consistently dosed and tested to ensure the absence of molds, pesticides, or other toxins.

“This bill will give them a pure and pharmaceutical-grade alternative to homegrown marijuana, so that they'll have the ability to make a choice, and in making that choice, they will have a product that accurately fits the name medical,” Kahn said.

A Connecticut law, passed in 2012, took a similar tack. It would allow only state-registered patients or their caregivers to obtain marijuana from dispensaries, which would acquire marijuana from licensed producers. Here’s the catch: Dispensaries must be run or owned by pharmacists, who would input marijuana data into the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program.

In Illinois, meanwhile, pharmacist Joseph Friedman, of Lincolnshire, is pushing for pharmacists to run marijuana dispensaries and for the federal government to reclassify the drug as a "Schedule II" substance for medical use. He appeared before the Illinois State Board of Pharmacy in January.

Hospital pharmacists also may find themselves dispensing marijuana in the near future. In his recent State of the State address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an executive action that would set up a “pilot program” to allow prescribing of medical marijuana in up to 20 hospitals within the state.

The provision would allow patients receiving care for cancer, glaucoma, and other conditions, as well as other conditions approved by the New York State Department of Health, to be treated with controlled substances.

Medical marijuana is now legal for use in 20 states and the District of Columbia, according to an advocacy group that tracks the issue.

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