What would a medical cannabis program focused on patients look like?

February 22, 2023 7:00 am
payment terminal behind a packaged cannabis product.

Alabama was the 36th state to legalize medical cannabis. (File/Getty Images)

In 2021, Governor Kay Ivey signed the Darren Wesley ‘Ato’ Hall Compassion Act, creating a medical cannabis program in Alabama.

Even though the law is heavily restrictive, many patients will greatly benefit.  But the law was not written with the patient’s benefit at the forefront. Patients have very little protection and their access to physicians and treatments are strained. As it stands now, only approved/certified physicians can recommend cannabis to patients, and all other treatments must be exhausted before cannabis can be tried.

It’s hard to imagine a patient-focused medical cannabis program. As a society we have been conditioned to believe it isn’t possible, when in reality it is.

In an ideal world, a patient could see their primary care physician for a cannabis recommendation for any medical condition. A doctor could recommend any strain or combination of strains and use the most effective administration method, giving the physician and patient complete control over the health and well-being of the patient. There would be no circus hoops to jump through.

Would there be more variety in what could be taken? Would there be financial aid, and would there be anything different with obtaining the product? The answers to all those questions would depend on many factors.

Cannabis is still on the federal government’s controlled substance list. The stigma that consuming cannabis makes people drug users has everything in the world to do with the legalization or prohibition of anything. Political party agendas are also a big part of that. If I had not seen the political bias and antics that happens whenever cannabis enters a discussion, I would not believe it.

If there was no opposition to cannabis or the use of cannabis, we would have a society where people have complete control over their life, their health, and their existence. The fact that cannabis has amazing medicinal benefits scares people. Part of that is because the medical community has been silenced on just how efficient cannabis can be. Another part of that fear is the abuse of cannabis is highlighted, while the great things about cannabis are ignored and buried. The reality is that anything can be abused; chocolate, coffee, sugar, food. The list goes on and on.

Abuse is always the biggest and number one issue that rears its head whenever we as a society talk about cannabis. But there are hundreds of FDA-approved medications that have enormous and life-altering side effects, like hallucinations, harm to other bodily organs and erratic behavior. Every side effect that I just mentioned is treatable by the consumption of cannabis. Would there be any type of patient-assistance programs available for patients? I don’t think it would be needed.

In an ideal world, the cost of cannabis would be low because of accessibility, and financial assistance would not be needed.  Would the access to cannabis products be different in a patient focused medical program? It would be different because we would not have a strict list of approved products, approved administration methods and approved medical conditions.

In a patient-driven medical cannabis program, everything would be better. Less governmental oversight, less governmental assistance, less governmental expenses, more revenue and most importantly more compassion and empathy towards patients who are suffering and dying every day.

The Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission has done a phenomenal job at implementing a law that they had no hand in writing. But the law itself could be revisited.

There is no clause or exception for someone who has been trying various medications or treatments via their current physician, if that physician chooses not to enter the program. Are there going to be exceptions made for those patients? As the law is written right now, the answer is no. For a chronic pain or cancer or PTSD patient, that is not compassion. That is creating an unnecessary hardship on the suffering person.

Though there is no dosage limit for terminally ill patients, most are capped at a 75mg a day. That is a very low for a cancer patient. If the patient requires more than the allotted 75mg, their driver’s license could be revoked. How is that compassion? The whole purpose of allowing medical cannabis in Alabama is to help patients/people have a better quality of life and more be productive in society. However, the law stifles that goal and creates more red tape and dead ends than necessary.

The law also allows employers to fire employees for consuming cannabis, forgetting the fact that the person is under a doctor’s care and dismissing the fact that cannabis can help a patient perform their duties more productively and more effectively. Why allow an employee that is prescribed and consumes other medications, with way more side effects than cannabis to keep their jobs but fire someone for consuming cannabis? That is discrimination, no matter how you look at it.

What Alabama’s medical cannabis program needs are the voices of a patient, a veteran, and a disabled person. It is impossible for anyone to make decisions based on medical conditions when said persons has no idea of what said medical condition does to a person. If you don’t live a life with that medical condition, you do not know, nor can you understand the suffering and hardship.

We have 2023 initiatives out that we will be presenting to legislators as we continue to fight for the patients’ rights to safely access medical cannabis in Alabama. There are many things that need to be addressed to make the law better and more inclusive. We are dedicated to getting these issues fixed, no matter how long it takes.

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Melissa Mullins
Melissa Mullins

Melissa Mullins is the founder of Alabamians 4 Medical Cannabis Freedom and Disability Rights.