Marin General Hospital in Northern California is leading the way in permitting the use of medical marijuana for hospital patients.
Dr. Larry Bedard is heading the fight for his hospital to be the first acute-care center in California to allow patients to use medical marijuana on hospital grounds.
“I want to have Marin General be the first hospital in California to openly and transparently allow patients to use medical cannabis,” said Dr. Bedard.
Patients won’t be able to smoke medical marijuana, as smoking is banned on hospital grounds, but Bedard thinks non-smokable forms like edibles, capsules, and tinctures would be appropriate for use in the hospital.
Bedard knows of no other medicine that patients are prevented using in a hospital besides cannabis and acknowledges that it is likely happening without the knowledge of the staff.
“I know that it happens that it’s being used in the hospital, but it’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Bedard said. “It’s kind of wink-and-nod medicine.”
Bedard, a retired emergency physician at the hospital, now sits on the Marin Healthcare District board. He recently started the process needed to allow medical marijuana use in the hospital by introducing a resolution in a recent board meeting for the district.
Larry Cohen, executive director of the Prevention Institute in Oakland, said hospitals and patients would benefit from doctor-controlled use of medical marijuana: “It’s far better for the medical staff to know what people are using and to ensure the right quality and the right fit with other medications, so this is probably smart.”
If approved, the resolution would direct the hospital’s staff to review the legal and medical implications of allowing medical marijuana use in the hospital and then report back to the board. There is some fear that openly allowing the use of medical marijuana would attract federal attention. The Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment should prevent government agencies from using federal funds to come after the hospital or its staff. However, that doesn’t mean the hospital won’t be open to repercussions.
Jan Emerson-Shea, a spokesperson for the California Hospital Association, said, “If a hospital is convicted of a federal drug crime, it can no longer receive payment for treating Medicare or Medi-Cal patients,” she said. “If a hospital pharmacy loses its DEA registration, the hospital must close — a hospital is not allowed to legally operate without a pharmacy.”
Bedard and the rest of the board are wary of moving too fast. Because marijuana is still federally illegal, the wrong decision could also lead to a loss in the hospital’s federal Medi-Cal and Medicare contracts.
Although Bedard supports medical marijuana and its use in the Marin General Hospital, personally, he has only written one recommendation himself.
“I think the fact that 80 percent (of people who have medical cannabis prescriptions) are using a ‘medicinal’ reason to get the use of this as an intoxicant or social lubricant, that does a disservice to the 20 percent who have chronic pain, wasting syndrome,” or other conditions, he said.
If California’s recreational marijuana measure, Proposition 64, passes this fall, many of the people Bedard and others see as taking advantage of medical marijuana are expected to move over to the recreational market. Creating a more official structure within hospitals for medical marijuana patients to get care and use cannabis could help change this as well, normalizing cannabis as medicine for a range of conditions.