By Eileen Konieczny
In trying to win support to end the United States’ 70-year prohibition of cannabis, legislators across the country, particularly in the east, have enacted stringent laws and regulations to control the growing, production and distribution of the medicine. Although restrictive, these laws and regulations are being embraced by some as an effort to standardize dosage and to create as close to a pharmaceutical grade product as possible.
While there is no argument against regulation and a standardized dose being important for a number of reasons such as quality, safety, testing standards and labeling, these regulations favor businesses that can comply with Good Manufacturing Practice and that comes at a cost. Consistently growing, producing, and delivering quality products that can rise to this level of scrutiny is expensive. This strict regulation and standardization of medicinal cannabis is both good—and not so good—news for medical marijuana patients.
First, the good news. Being able to rely on cannabis standards of purity, strength and dosage will allow physicians to feel more confident when recommending the medicine, thus better serving their patients. The potential for standardized cannabis will allow insurance companies to see documented palliative and healing effects of the medicine and will clarify the correlation between increasing use of cannabis and decreasing use of the poly-pharmacopeia.
According to Raphael Mechoulam, Israeli organic chemist and professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, this plant has the potential to replace 40-50 percent of pharmaceuticals. When that happens, insurance companies will ultimately be forced to cover the medicine, which will make it more affordable to vast numbers of patients.
Now for the not-so-good news. In order to grow, produce and distribute standardized medical cannabis, providers need money. Building and stocking a cultivation facility is expensive. Training and overseeing employees to grow, dry, extract, produce, package, store and distribute a standardized product is expensive. Systems to properly distribute the product are expensive. And who pays for all of this? Not businesses, they’re in it to make money; patients are the ones who pay the bill.
While strict regulation is well and good, using cannabis as medicine isn’t new. Patients and caregivers have been growing their own medicine for thousands of years. Currently 15 out of the 23 states with medical cannabis legislation have included cultivation by the patient or their caregiver.
As growing rights for patients are non-existent in many of the newest states enacting legislation, the industry needs to have realistic expectations of the profits to be made. If the cost of medicine is out of reach for the very people who need it, the program will fail and the patients will have no choice but to return to the black market.
Cannabis has the opportunity to change the downward spiral of our collective selves. As long as standardization laws and regulations prohibit the vast majority of patients from growing their own medical cannabis, patients are at the mercy of the industry to be responsible and do the right thing.
Many say that cannabis is the next “dot-com” industry, it is sexy, its hip … but honestly, the majority of the legislation being passed is for medical cannabis. As a nurse on the front lines, there is nothing sexy or “dot-com” about it. Patients need medicine and they should not have to choose between buying groceries & getting relief.
Businesses entering the medical cannabis market need to do so for the long term. (And make no mistake, the long-term payoffs are huge.) Cost to patients needs to be reasonable. Hardship pricing to patients who desperately need but cannot pay for the medicine needs be an option.
Cannabis can provide comfort and healing to millions of us. It can provide well-paying, meaningful employment to thousands of people. Please, let us work for those people that these regulations have been created for—the patients. Because in the end, providing comfort and healing to people who are suffering is what it is all about.