cannabis policy

A Focus on Cannabis Policies: An Insightful Call to Prioritize Medical Patients

by | Dec 11, 2023

cannabis policy

Written by Kristina Etter

A freelance writer and journalist based in Colorado, Kristi is a seasoned pro in cannabis industry content creation and reporting. Her career includes two decades of corporate IT roles at major firms like Maytag Appliances, Wells Fargo Financial, and DuPont Pioneer, which provided her with a unique perspective on the intersection of technology and cannabis.

In the hazy corridors of cannabis legalization, it was the whispers of compassion from medical marijuana recipients that first echoed through legislative chambers. Their stories of resilience, healing, and the pursuit of a better quality of life paved the winding path toward adult-use markets.

Yet, as the green tide of legalization sweeps across states, and new cannabis policies take shape, it seems the very pioneers who blazed this trail, the compassionate care patients and legitimate medical cannabis consumers, find themselves forgotten amidst the evolving policies and legislative measures.

In the ever-evolving landscape of cannabis legalization, the stories of medical marijuana consumers seem to be fading into the background. As policies shift to regulate the recreational wave (and the profits therein), unintended consequences are casting shadows on those who use cannabis with intent.

After witnessing my husband get turned away at a medical dispensary in Denver, despite having the required Colorado medical card and state-issued ID, I’ve become painfully aware of how policies can restrict legitimate patients.

Why was he rejected? He didn’t have digital access to a PDF version of his med card to email to the dispensary.

I’ve learned, this is nothing new. Restrictive policies across many states negatively impact medical consumers and medical access isn’t getting any easier.

chelsea boyd, cannabis policies
Chelsea Boyd

I spoke with Chelsea Boyd, an esteemed epidemiologist, about her groundbreaking study, “Putting Patients First: Medical Cannabis Use Patterns and Policy Protections,” uncovering the untold challenges faced by the medical cannabis community.

The Impact of Cannabis Policies on Medical Access

Boyd emphasized the importance of harm reduction in approaching substance use. “Harm reduction generally is a non-judgmental way of approaching life and substance use, where we try to move people along the risk continuum and give them options for ways to make healthier choices,” she explained.

Since California’s pioneering move in 1996, 38 states and the District of Columbia have embraced medical cannabis, but the journey doesn’t end with legalization. Complex cannabis policies and regulations, varying from state to state, govern the access and usage of medical and recreational cannabis. The study highlights the considerable variability in cannabis markets and product standards, stemming from the decentralized nature of state-level regulation.

Yet Medical Cannabis Patients Still Face Challenges

Despite legal status, medical cannabis patients encounter unique challenges:

  • Variability in Product Standards: Lack of federal standardization leads to notable variability in cannabis markets, affecting the safety and efficacy of medical cannabis products.
  • Access to Preferred Products: Pressure from the adult-use market can limit availability, hindering medical users from accessing products tailored to their specific needs.
  • Labeling and Transparency Concerns: Inconsistent state-level labeling rules create confusion, hindering informed purchasing decisions.
  • Market Trends and Potency: Increasing potency raises questions about suitability for medical use, making it challenging for patients to access products with preferred cannabinoid ratios.
cannabis policies

Unveiling Insights into Medical Cannabis Use

Boyd’s study emphasizes the multi-faceted ways medical cannabis patients interact with their preferred products, emphasizing their distinct needs. Patients, unlike recreational users, seek therapeutic benefits rather than psychotropic effects. The study champions a rich variety of products, dosages, and applications to empower patients to find the most beneficial combinations tailored to their unique conditions.

Preserving the Essence of Medical Markets

Recognizing the distinct preferences and challenges faced by medical cannabis patients, the study advocates for the insulation of medical markets. Safeguards should ensure patients maintain access to products aligned with their preferences, shielding them from harm-reduction pressures arising from the adult-use market.

Boyd noted in our conversation, “We were hearing from people she interviewed that they felt like there was a contraction of the medical market,” echoing her colleague Stacy McKenna’s previous study on barriers to medicinal medical use.

The study spotlights the critical role of accurate and comprehensive labeling, advocating for state-level standards. Transparent information becomes a cornerstone for patient safety and informed decision-making.

Prioritizing Patient Well-Being

By grasping the unique approach to cannabis consumption demonstrated by medical patients, lawmakers can make better, more informed decisions about policy design. Boyd proposes a few actionable solutions in her report:

  • Evidence-Based Purchase Limits: Policymakers can enact evidence-based purchase limits, ensuring patients receive an adequate supply without compromising public safety.
  • Tailoring Cannabis Policies to Medical Markets: Advocating for policies that address the unique needs and challenges faced by medical cannabis patients.
  • Cannabinoid Content Preferences: Crafting cannabis policies considering patient preferences for cannabinoid profiles, THC, and CBD content.
  • Self-Titration and Dosing Challenges: Acknowledging the lack of standard doses, emphasizing the need for cannabis policies accommodating individualized dosing practices.

Simply stated, medical cannabis consumers do not consume cannabis like their recreational counterparts and shouldn’t be held to the same constraints.

Transparency and Safety Standards: Safeguarding Patients

Transparency and safety standards are pivotal for cannabis patients. The study also revealed challenges in labeling practices and emphasized the need for clear ingredient lists and heightened safety measures.

Boyd advocates for ingredient lists, akin to disclosing allergens in food products, extending transparency beyond labels to enhance safety standards. Her study drives home the urgency of robust testing protocols to maintain trust between patients and the medical cannabis market.

Cannabis Policies Must Consider Product Diversity and Patient Access

Regulations can impact both product diversity and patient access. State-imposed limits and restrictions can inadvertently limit the number and type of products available to medical cannabis patients.

As states balance legalization, Boyd’s study hints at the potential sidelining of medical dispensaries in the name of greater profit margins. Unfortunately, economic considerations often favor adult-use dispensaries, potentially reducing access to products catering to medical cannabis patients.

The intricacies of economic, administrative, and regulatory costs often tip the scale, making it more financially viable to operate adult-use dispensaries. The consequence? A potential reduction in the number of dispensaries catering specifically to the unique needs of medical cannabis patients.

Addressing the sluggishness of policy response, Boyd noted in our conversation, “The question is always how quickly can policy respond to these unintended consequences of a policy, and historically we don’t see very quick action.”

Forging a Path Forward: Prioritizing Compassion

Despite the proliferation of medical cannabis policies, the journey is far from over. The call is for policymakers to embrace a deeper understanding of the needs of medical cannabis patients. Transparency, safety standards, and diverse product availability should guide policy decisions, ensuring a delicate balance between regulations and patient well-being.

As the medical cannabis narrative unfolds, compassion should remain the constant thread stitching cannabis policies and patients into a tapestry of well-being. After all, in the world of healing, putting patients first should be the paramount focus.

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