By Omar Sacirbey and Bart Schaneman
Connecticut research could benefit the entire medical cannabis industry, a survey shows most Ohio physicians won’t write MMJ recommendations, and Maine’s adult-use program is a go after recount is halted.
Here’s a closer look at some notable developments in the marijuana industry over the past week.
Marijuana beats opiates
Research announcements this week from two respected Connecticut medical institutions provided a fitting year-end reminder that one of the biggest gains cannabis reform has made over the past 12 months is on the medical and scientific fronts.
That’s positive news for the MJ industry, because it ultimately could encourage more physicians to recommend medical cannabis and spur sales.
Connecticut Hospice in Branford, the nation’s first hospice, said it would study how cannabis affects pain and stimulates appetite in terminally ill patients, while Hartford’s St. Francis Hospital received state approval to research whether cannabis can be an alternative to opiates in treating patients with traumatic injuries like broken bones.
Policy makers and the public are recognizing more and more that cannabis can treat pain without the addictive and other side effects of opiates. That stems partly from a growing number of studies that suggest opiate abuse and overdoses are down in states with medical cannabis laws.
Could marijuana wrest some of those pain patients away from the U.S. opiate market?
There are plenty to go around: The U.S. opiate market brought in $11 billion in 2014 and likely will grow to $17.7 billion by 2021, according to a report by GBI Research.
But for marijuana to pose a serious threat to opiates and achieve greater legitimacy in the medical world, more scientific research will be required.
“Marijuana businesses are going to have to come together as a group and do some medical education,” former U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders said in an interview with Marijuana Business Magazine earlier this year.
Encouragingly, many respected medical and scientific institutions became involved with marijuana research in 2016, including Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pittsburgh Medical School, the University of Miami, and Colorado State University.
Do Ohio doctors need educating?
Survey results released this week found that the majority of doctors in Ohio were unlikely to recommend medical marijuana.
At first blush, that could be bad news for the state’s new MMJ industry and limit the potential patient pool.
However, one industry analyst believes the poll doesn’t tell the true story.
Sri Kavuru – former president of the Legalize Ohio 2016 campaign, one of the groups that sought to legalize MMJ in the state – said the survey might have reflected the physicians’ concerns about one of the requirements to recommend rather than their feelings about medical cannabis itself.
“The issue is the continuing education requirement,” he said. “Is that going to be too big of a burden to make them not want to recommend?”
The Ohio Department of Health’s draft rules would require physicians who want to recommend medical cannabis to complete a two-hour educational course to become certified.
“A lot of doctors are just apprehensive about wanting to go through it,” Kavuru surmised.
He also said physicians’ concerns about MMJ’s effect on the business side of their practices could hurt the state’s medical cannabis market.
If a limited number of physicians are available to make medical cannabis recommendations, there will be fewer patients for dispensaries to serve.
“If there’s a lack of patients,” Kavuru said, “the costs go up, the revenues go down, and it creates a system that’s going to fail.”
Will rec hurt Maine’s MMJ market?
Now that opponents of Maine’s vote to legalize recreational marijuana have conceded their demand for a recount was a lost cause, the state’s cannabis industry can move on to another potential hurdle.
What will happen to Maine’s medical marijuana market?
Maine Gov. Paul LePage has questioned the necessity of medical cannabis once the adult-use program is in place.
David Boyer, manager of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, believes the governor’s remarks are those of someone who isn’t knowledgeable about cannabis, either medical or recreational.
“Marijuana doesn’t lose its medical properties if it’s sold at the adult-use window rather than the medical marijuana window,” Boyer said. “I don’t think the governor is aware of some of the nuances in these programs.”
Maine’s new law allows marijuana use and sales for adults 21 and older. The governor’s remarks don’t take into account the MMJ patients who are younger than 21 and need cannabis to treat symptoms such as seizures from epilepsy.
Another reason Boyer cautions against folding the medical program into the rec program is the tax rate.
“Medicine shouldn’t be taxed at the same rate as adult-use marijuana,” he said.
His group would like to see the sales tax on medical marijuana removed once revenue starts coming in from recreational cannabis.
“We’re ready to move forward with implementation, making sure this is a smart law that works and successfully eliminates the black market,” Boyer said. “We’re grateful that the ‘no’ side decided to concede after the numbers weren’t adding up in their favor.”
Omar Sacirbey can be reached at [email protected]
Bart Schaneman can be reached at [email protected]