Medical Marijuana: Navigating changing laws

Across the country the debate rages over legalization of marijuana, striking many ethical, legal and emotional chords. As of November 2018, a total of 33 States, Guam, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational and/or medical use. (Source: National Conference of State Legislatures)

Gallup polls for the past 47 years have shown a tremendous change in Americans’ opinion of the legalization of marijuana. In 1969 when Gallup first asked this question, only 12% of the population supported the legalization of marijuana. From 1969 to 2000, support increased to 31%. In 2016, a record 60% of Americans supported legalizing marijuana. In 2014, Pew Research found that 69% of the people canvassed think alcohol has worse effects than marijuana.

However, under the U.S. Controlled Substance Act of 1970 (CSA) marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I prohibited substance along with heroin and peyote. Despite growing public support and changing state law, marijuana presents some complex issues. Under federal banking laws, it is illegal for a bank to open an account for a business that sells marijuana, with the result that almost all transactions must be completed in cash. That includes payroll, rent, supply purchases and even tax payments. Additionally, the presence of so much cash presents logistical and security problems. Pew reports some community financial institutions have become more open to serving this industry only because the U.S. Treasury and Justice departments have said they won’t go after institutions that keep a close eye on their clients and report suspected wrongdoing, such as funding gang activity. However, most banks still refuse to take a chance on “marijuana money”.

Hospitals and healthcare providers are subject to federal laws and therefore cannot legally “prescribe” marijuana. In other words, providers cannot use a traditional prescription form; they can only “recommend” medical marijuana for state-approved medical conditions. In some states such as New York, providers who wish to recommend medical marijuana must first attend a Medical Marijuana educational program.

Whether marijuana is legal for medical or recreational purposes, remember the laws vary greatly from state to state.  This has significant impact for your practice, especially if you have offices in multiple states.

This growing trend impacts patient safety during dental procedures as well as your HR policies.

Stay tuned for more information and future blogs on these and other fast-changing topics!

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