Healthcare News & Insights

Hospital wants to be first legal medical marijuana dispensary

Medical marijuana can ease pain, and relieve nausea and anxiety in cancer patients, calm uncontrollable leg spasms in multiple sclerosis patients and so much more. However, most hospitals won’t even considering dispensing it. 

494124545Why should they?

For patients who are seriously ill and can benefit from medical marijuana’s effects, purchasing it can be quite risky.

Officials at Chicago’s Swedish Covenant Hospital, however, are trying to change that.

Prescription drug

The facility would like to be the first legal dispensary of medical marijuana in Illinois. This would allow patients to go to the hospital pharmacy and buy cannabis just as if they were buying a dosed antibiotic or a powerful pain killer.

“We have professionals who very much would like to prescribe those drugs, we have the system in place to manage it and we have the patient population that needs it,” Marcia Jimenez, director of intergovernmental affairs for Swedish, told the Chicago Sun-Times.

So far, Illinois is just one of twenty-three states and Washington, D.C., which has legalized medical marijuana use.

Illinois has a Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act, which is a four-year pilot program. And it was recently updated to add the treatment of adults and children with seizures.

Eventually, up to 60  dispensaries will be in the state with Chicago getting 13. Swedish wants to be one of the first.

Federal law

However, despite the vast need, not one hospital in the 23 states and Washington, D.C., has sold medical cannabis.

Reason: Marijuana, whether it is or isn’t for medical use, is illegal under federal law. That means any hospital that fills marijuana prescriptions risks its Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. 

Marijuana’s continuing illegality under federal law puts hospitals in a very precarious position, Chris Lindsey of the Marijuana Policy Project told the Chicago Tribune. “[It] places large organizations such as hospitals in a very risky position, which could lead to criminal charges for officers, doctors or investors, and possible asset forfeiture for hospital property. There is too much on the line for hospitals to go there.”

Swedish’s executives and administrators are fearful that they could become targets for criminal activity and get in trouble with the IRS.

“It’s not something the hospital could risk and still stay financially viable,” Jimenez said. “So we’re outspoken about it. We think hospitals are the best choice for dispensing. Unless someone speaks up, we’re not going to be able to change the federal law.”

Additional barrier

There’s also a state requirement that dispensaries need to be 1,000 feet away from a school playground, child care center, public park or library.

This is also a problem for Swedish Covenant Hospital, which abuts a school.

But Mark Newton, president and CEO of Swedish Covenant, has asked the state to exempt his hospital from that requirement.

There has been some action at the federal level to help these hospital that want to become dispensaries. According to the Chicago Tribune article, in May, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to defund Drug Enforcement Administration crackdowns on medical marijuana establishments permitted by the states.

But anything short of 100% federal approval won’t allow Swedish Covenant to become a dispensary for medical cannabis, noted Jimenez.

“We really think that it’s very important for medical marijuana, just like all the other drugs we dispense here, to be (dispensed) in a medically professional way,” she said.

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