Pharmacists Need to Dispense Medical Cannabis

by Marlon A Onias on Mar. 26, 2017

Health Care Pharmaceutical Product 

Summary: Florida is set to commit a huge mistake by excluding pharmacists from its emerging medical cannabis market.

The community pharmacy has long been an integral part of the American health care landscape. Pharmacists provide a level of skilled care and consultation to patients that is a vital part of the continuum of palliative health care. With the passage of Amendment 2, the role of a community pharmacist should not change.

States that have legalized medical cannabis have chosen from two distinct paths. One is the establishment of non-medical professionals growing, processing and dispensing medical cannabis. This model is ostensibly geared towards providing medical cannabis to qualified patients. In reality, that model has been designed as a step towards the legalization of recreational cannabis. States such as California and Colorado provide prime examples of outcomes of this model, which Florida does not need.

The second path is modeled in states such as Connecticut and Minnesota, which have implemented medical cannabis laws that incorporate a traditional dispensary model. This provides reasonable patient access while still protecting the framework of an American industry. Connecticut and Minnesota have taken a sound approach – that medicinal cannabis is a drug, and can only dispensed by pharmacist.

In 1820 a nonprofit organization called United States Pharmacopeial was created to establish a national system that would identify the strength and quality of a drug. In contrast to the 1820 model, there is now only a minute assurance of quality or consistency as a result of the emerging medical cannabis industry.

Any establishment of this emerging industry absent the pharmacist only jeopardize a patient’s long term health care. Many who qualify for medicinal cannabis in Florida are already under the care of a pharmacist for other ailments; excluding those pharmacists only puts these patients at a greater risk of harm.

In states such as Colorado, where pharmacists cannot dispense medical cannabis, pharmacists have experienced firsthand the hidden dangers. Reports of negative interactions between certain blood thinners and cannabis have come to light, raising questions that lawmakers failed to fully research such matters by not including pharmacists within this new continuum of care. These issues leave pharmacist in the dark and expose patients to unnecessary danger.

Special interests in Tallahassee have waged a silent campaign against the community pharmacy and pharmacist, advocating against inclusion of pharmacists in the dispensing of medical cannabis. If Florida’s current system is not dramatically improved, it will only create a chaotic health care delivery mechanism of medical cannabis that fails to put the patient first.

As it stands, there is no requirement for Florida dispensaries to staff their establishments with a pharmacist, nor is there any requirement that would allow licensed pharmacists to establish dispensaries. This must change! Pharmacists have always been the gatekeepers of medicine and must continue to be post-Amendment 2.

The Florida Legislature must act immediately to prevent the further dismantling of a patients’ continuum of palliative health care and include pharmacists within this new medical cannabis landscape.

Marlon A. Onias is a South Florida attorney specializing in health law and government affairs.

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