OKLAHOMA CITY — Despite public opposition, a group of medical professionals Wednesday renewed calls for banning smokable forms of medical marijuana and again pressed for a new law requiring pharmacists to staff dispensaries.
The medical officials also asked a joint committee of lawmakers to consider limiting the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol medicinal marijuana products can contain, the number of dispensaries and to better regulate product packaging.
“I’m a little frustrated,” said state Rep. Scott Fetgatter, R-Okmulgee, after listening to nearly two hours of testimony about proposed recommendations.
Fetgatter said the medical professionals’ pitch closely mirrored the rules that were passed by the state Board of Health. Those guidelines were quickly rescinded after an avalanche of public outrage.
“We have a law that’s been voted on by the people,” Fetgatter said.
Accompanied by more than a half dozen health care professionals, Dr. Jean Hausheer, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, said the state’s current rules make it almost impossible for doctors to counsel patients.
“Marijuana affects the brain in many ways,” she said. “Some positive and some negative.”
Hausheer said the impact is based on the method of ingestion or the amount of THC consumed.
She recommended that lawmakers limit the state’s program to patients who suffer from one of five specific qualifying conditions — epilepsy or other seizure disorders, nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, muscle spasticity, relief for terminal illness or wasting syndrome from HIV, AIDS or cancer.
She also said lawmakers should create a regulatory board, pass laws that allow physicians to withdraw patient recommendations, require doctors to provide in-person exams only within their established office location and allow medical leaders to offer guidance of regulatory and safety medical marijuana issues.
Hausheer said adopting the medical professionals’ recommendations would get more physicians to participate in the state’s marijuana licensing program. Patients must have the recommendation from a physician in order to apply for license.
Currently, about three-dozen physicians statewide have publicly said they’re willing to give out patient recommendations, according to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority.
Hausheer said she couldn’t estimate how many physicians ultimately plan to participate.
“There’s a lot of uneasiness for all the reasons you just heard,” she said.
Dr. Robert McCaffree, a professor of medicine at the University of Oklahoma, said there is no medicinal role in smoking the drug. He said lawmakers need to close loopholes in its clean air laws to ensure smoke-free policies extend to vaped tobacco and medical marijuana products.
“If this is medical marijuana, we should keep the delivery methods of the drug consistent with that of other treatments,” McCaffree said.
Lawmakers should also outlaw smoking in places — like cars — that are not currently covered by law to protect minors from secondhand smoke, he said.
Debra Billingsley, executive director of the Oklahoma Pharmacists Association, said with six to eight years in pharmacy school, pharmacists are the best resource to counsel and advise patients about the drug.
Arkansas requires that each dispensary appoint a pharmacist consultant, while Connecticut allows only pharmacists to apply for and obtain a medical marijuana dispensary license, she said. In Minnesota, pharmacists must give final approval for distribution to a patient. In New York, a pharmacist must be on the premises, while Pennsylvania requires either a physician or pharmacist.
Still, Billingsley said she’s fielded complaints that question why pharmacists should be dispensing the drug if medical marijuana is not taught in pharmacy school.
“There are a lot of new drugs that come out every day that are not taught in pharmacy school,” she said, adding that pharmacists are always prepared learn about any new medicines they’re prescribing.
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.