Imagine being a medical cannabis patient who winds up in the hospital for something completely unrelated. You just assume the hospital can dispense cannabis the same way it dispenses prescription medications. That may be the case in some states, but it is not in most with legal medical cannabis programs. This puts hospitals in an awkward position.
Most states with medical cannabis programs require that medications be dispensed by licensed pharmacies. Not only that, but they also limit the number of pharmacies they license. There aren’t very many hospitals with medical cannabis licenses. There are reasons for that, which we will get into shortly. But first, let’s talk about the dilemma hospitals face when treating patients who normally use cannabis.
Hospital Pharmacies and Drugs
It goes without saying that hospitals must have the ability and legal authority to dispense prescription drugs. They could not safely operate otherwise. From a practical standpoint, patients benefit from this reality. A case in point would be a patient who normally takes medication for high blood pressure being admitted to the hospital for surgery.
In a perfect world, the patient would bring his prescription medication with him. But if he failed to do so, there is a 99.9% that the hospital pharmacy carries the same medication. A quick call to the patient’s GP initiates a new prescription and the medication is dispensed. Here’s the problem with medical cannabis: most hospital pharmacies do not carry it.
There’s an added problem in that doctors cannot write cannabis prescriptions in the strictest sense of the term. Doctors can only recommend cannabis. States have different laws regulating how doctors can make such recommendations, but the chances of a hospitalist having the ability to recommend cannabis to a patient who is otherwise a stranger are not too great.
Why Hospitals Aren’t Licensed
As for why hospitals are not licensed to recommend and dispense medical cannabis, the simple reason is that state regulations generally don’t create a framework whereby hospitals can do so without assuming too much risk. Remember that marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. To include medical cannabis in the same pharmacy where other prescription drugs are being dispensed creates a potential conflict that could have hospital pharmacies violating federal law.
There is also the liability issue. Hospitals and their pharmacies always need to be aware of potential lawsuits. Dispensing a drug that is federally illegal is an open door to a lawsuit should something go wrong. Hospitals do not want to take that chance. So, is there a solution for medical cannabis patients who need to be hospitalized?
Bring It with You
The operators of the Beehive Farmacy in Utah recommend that patients bring their medical cannabis products with them when admitted to the hospital. It is always wise to contact the hospital ahead of time to make sure their policies permit medical cannabis. As long as policies are favorable, patients can bring their medications and have them dispensed as normal.
Singing River Health System, in Mississippi, actually encourages medical cannabis patients to bring their medicines with them. Not every hospital system does. That’s why it’s important to call ahead and ask. As for U.S. hospitals, medical cannabis puts them in an awkward position. They want to help patients as best they can. Yet at the same time, they may not have the authority to dispense medical cannabis.
Federal action to decriminalize or reschedule cannabis would go a long way toward alleviating this problem. But for now, hospitals have to do the best they can with an awkward situation.