The Coronavirus Pandemic And 'Essential' Medical Marijuana As Medicine

By Dr. Chanda Macias, PhD.

The COVID-19 outbreak continues to reshape our day to day life; essential medical supplies are dwindling, hospitals are experiencing an unprecedented shortage of hospital beds, and more than 26 million Americans find themselves out of work.

In the face of patients seeking a shortage of medical care, more than 20 states are proclaiming medical cannabis and patient access as an essential service to remain in operation in the event of any shutdowns.

This is the correct approach. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, there are approximately 3.09 million medical cannabis patients in the United States. These patients need medical cannabis to help them function in their daily lives, and that need does not go away just because the U.S. is in the midst of a global pandemic.

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As both a scientist specializing in infectious diseases and patient health, and a licensed medical cannabis provider to thousands of patients, I have personally seen the transformative impact of medical cannabis on patients. At my medical dispensary National Holistic Healing Center in Washington, DC, we serve thousands of patients, suffering from conditions such as depression, insomnia, chronic pain, PTSD, even opioid dependency.

However, while declaring medical cannabis an essential is the right approach, it does not go far enough to ensure that patients, especially those in vulnerable populations, continue to be served in this and other times of crisis.

A significant portion of the medical cannabis patient population are over the age of 65, which is unsurprising considering that seniors represent the fastest growing segment of new cannabis users across the country. A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that around 4.2% of adults over 65 had tried cannabis in 2018, representing a 75% increase from 2015.

As an industry, and as a country caring for our collective health, we still have much work to do. In the state of Louisiana, for example, the state Board of Medical Examiners has temporarily relaxed telemedicine rules for existing medical marijuana patients while the pandemic is still ongoing. With nine pharmacies serving the entire state, this relaxed rule will help patients and their caregivers gain access to this much needed medicine.

States like Ohio have also led the way in ensuring that at-risk patients continue to have access to medical cannabis. The state’s Board of Pharmacy has temporarily expanded the number of caregivers a patient can have to three, relaxed ID requirements so that patients can use expired methods of identification (under certain circumstances) to purchase medical cannabis, and is now allowing patients and caregivers to order medical cannabis over the phone with licensed dispensaries.

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States are not the only ones who are working towards expanding medical cannabis access in this of uncertainty, cannabis brands are as well. The New York-based medical cannabis company Etain has expanded their options for cannabis delivery, offered discounts to patients purchasing 30-day supplies to discourage multiple trips, and is offering teleconferencing options for first-time and follow up appointments.

Many cannabis dispensaries have also started to offer curbside pickup to help limit exposure to both their employees and customers.

As we have seen with the national response to COVID-19, state governments and private industry must lead the way where the federal government fails to act. We must continue fighting for patient access.  We must create options for them and end the debate once and for all that medical marijuana dispensaries are an essential service.

Don’t miss this opportunity to connect with THE cannabis movers and shakers from across the globe during Benzinga’s first Virtual Cannabis Capital Conference on June 1.

Noticias sobre cannabis en Español en El Planteo.

The preceding article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.

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Posted In: CannabisNewsHealth CareMarketsGeneralChanda MaciasCoronavirus
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