Why Are Medical Cannabis Cards Required – Why Not Prescriptions?

Medical Cannabis Cards
Source: leafwell.com

Utah is among more than three-dozen states that have given the green light to medical cannabis.

In order to purchase cannabis medications in the Beehive State, a patient must possess a valid medical cannabis card. Other states have similar rules in place.

But why? Why can’t patients just get prescriptions like they would for any other medication?

The rules governing how medical cannabis can be dispensed and distributed are complicated. Much of the complexity is a direct result of conflicts between state and federal laws.

Until those laws are somehow resolved, the best way to address medical cannabis from a distribution standpoint is through the medical cannabis card.

A License of Sorts

medical cannabis card
Source: leafwell.com

Think of a medical cannabis card as a license of sorts. It is similar to a driver’s license or a hunting and fishing license.

A license affords certain legal rights that unlicensed people do not enjoy. Where medical cannabis cards are concerned, they represent a license to buy medical cannabis legally.

Zion Medicinal is a medical cannabis pharmacy in Utah, serving the St. George and Cedar City areas of southern Utah. Anyone with a valid medical cannabis card can stop in and purchase their medications.

Without a card, a potential patron could not even get in the door. No license means no medical cannabis.

What is true in Utah is also true in other states where cannabis is only permitted for medicinal purposes.

In states permitting adult use, the medical cannabis card seems like an extra license not worth getting. However, that is another topic for another post.

Doctors Cannot Prescribe

doctors cannot legally prescribe cannabis
Source: verywellhealth.com

Now that you know the basis for the medical cannabis card, the next thing to understand is why the cards exist.

Here is the simple answer: doctors cannot legally prescribe cannabis.

Cannabis remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law. That means federal regulators do not believe it has any therapeutic benefits while also having a high potential for addiction. Doctors are not allowed to prescribe medications on the Schedule I list.

If a doctor were to attempt to write a prescription, there would immediately be several problems:

  • The doctor would be violating the law.
  • The doctor’s malpractice insurance would not cover related claims.
  • Traditional pharmacies could not fill the prescription.

State lawmakers need to grapple with the prescription problem whenever they entertain the idea of decriminalizing medical cannabis.

Since they know doctors cannot prescribe and traditional pharmacies cannot dispense, they need to come up with some other game plan. That game plan involves medical cannabis cards and specialized cannabis pharmacies.

Some Doctors Remain Reluctant

doctors with legal medical cannabis
Source: forbes.com

Although the majority of U.S. states have approved medical cannabis, the total number of doctors actually recommending it to patients is comparatively low.

They remain reluctant out of fear of violating federal law and creating problems between themselves and their insurance carriers. Until medical cannabis becomes a federally recognized prescription medication, we are likely to see the reluctance continue.

States will have to content themselves with medical cannabis cards and physician recommendations.

And by the way, doctors in states with legal medical cannabis only recommend it as a medication on a patient’s medical cannabis card application. Recommending gives those who wish to participate an opportunity to encourage medical cannabis consumption without jeopardizing their licenses or insurance coverage.

Medical cannabis cards are necessary because doctors cannot prescribe cannabis and traditional pharmacies cannot dispense it. It is a workable solution to a problem rooted in the fact that state and federal laws conflict.

Will cards ever be replaced by traditional prescriptions? It could happen. We will just have to wait and see what federal regulators decide to do.