Although medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, in hospitals the unwritten policy is “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
According to Dr. Larry Bedard, it’s the only legally prescribed drug that can’t be openly used by patients. But Bedard is trying to change all that.
A retired ER doc who is now on the board of the Marin Healthcare District, Bedard is lobbying to allow patients at Marin General Hospital in northern California to openly use medical cannabis. Patients wouldn’t be able to smoke marijuana in the hospital, but Bedard says patients’ families could openly give it to them in other forms, such as edibles.
Bedard argues that open consumption would better ensure patient safety because it gives doctors the full picture of what medications they are using. But part of the reason the secrecy remains is that marijuana regulations are still an overlapping patchwork of conflicting federal and state laws.
Last month the federal Drug Enforcement Agency opted to keep marijuana classified as a schedule 1 controlled substance, which lists it alongside heroin and LSD. The announcement means that if a hospital allows the use of marijuana it could jeopardize its Medicare and Medi-Cal contracts.
However, at the start of 2018, California state laws allowing the use of marijuana for recreational use will go into effect, which could pave the way for change in a hospital setting.
To get the ball rolling at Marin General, Bedard helped bring a resolution to the board to have its staff investigate the legal and clinical implications of letting patients use marijuana on site. The resolution was approved last week.
For the next step, the board is planning a series of public meetings on the use of cannabis in hospitals.
And while it’s a serious issue, Bedard said he sees the humor in having the movement start at his hospital.
“I just can see it if we approve medicinal cannabis we’re going to be known as Marijuana General Hospital,” he says. “My favorite is Marin Ganja Hospital.”