Colorado and California were the first two states to legalize marijuana. Currently, residents of 25 states and Washington D.C. can enjoy all the benefits of medical marijuana, the state and local budgets—the tax revenue, police officers—the decrease in violent crime and accidental death level, American workers—tens of thousands of new jobs, and physicians—easy money from writing recommendations for a medical marijuana permit, a card required for patients to access the drug at medical marijuana retail dispensaries in the states.
Although recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia, a medical marijuana card is still in demand. It allows patients to possess six plants instead of the recreational four, along with 24 ounces of dried buds, compared to the eight ounces allotted to regular users in their homes. Others hope that it provides some legal protection if they are arrested in a state where medical cannabis is outlawed.
This fall, Californian voters, as well as residents of the number of other states, will have to choose whether to legalize the recreational use of cannabis. According to Prop. 64 known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, adults 21 years old and older would be able to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana and purchase the substance in stores with no doctor’s recommendation required.
Many doctors believe that with the legalization of recreational marijuana use will end the era of the cottage industry that has both brought big profits and stigmatized the notion of medical marijuana.
In most of the states allowing medical cannabis, patients and/or their caregivers may possess and cultivate the plant for medicinal purposes. Some states place limits on the medical conditions that can qualify for legal protection (e.g., New Jersey, New Mexico, Washington). Others permit the distribution of marijuana by certain types of dispensaries (e.g., Rhode Island). Without exception, all of the state laws make physicians the “gatekeepers,” meaning that a patient cannot qualify to use marijuana for medical purposes unless they obtain a written recommendation from their physicians.
Because cannabis is still illegal under the federal law, doctors are not eligible to write a prescription for the medicine but only recommend it. Many physicians are unwilling to write such recommendations even despite the fact that the law protects them from any state criminal or civil liability for recommending or approving the medicinal use of cannabis by a patient. However, there are a lot of those who find it very profitable.
Because of the prevailing stigma among physicians, prescribing medical cannabis is a niche business for many clinics. And the worst is that it actually encourages a culture of drive-by doctors recommending marijuana on an a la carte basis rather that in the context of the real need for this kind of treatment. Besides, most physicians giving rubber-stamp recommendations have some problems with their licenses or other reasons why they are not able to do any other kind of medicine. They simply do not care. That is where the bad reputation of cannabis physicians came from.
Obtaining a medical marijuana recommendation has long been rumored to be remarkably easy and super-fast. There are hundreds of medical clinics that advertise the idea that you can get a pot prescription for 10-15 minutes.
“I am a person first, a scientist second and a friend always,” a Melrose Avenue physician says from the pages of a medical cannabis magazine. Thus, many “patients” chose to go to a “friend” rather than visiting a qualified doctor, because after you pay $50 and a “good physical examination” is performed, a “friend” can get you the desired piece of paper within minutes. You can also get a medical marijuana card online or via smartphone within an hour for as little as $25 and have it delivered to your doorstep or sent to your email.
For some physicians, medical cannabis means easy money: $50-$100 cash for a few minutes’ work, with a requirement that the recommendation will be renewed annually. Moreover, there are numerous clinics that have only one purpose—to prescribe marijuana. Some call themselves “marijuana clinics,” where a patient goes in, obtains a certification, and never sees that doctor again. Since such physicians’ practices consist principally or exclusively of recommending medical cannabis, a profound conflict of interest is intrinsic to the system. Although the law prohibits doctors to hold “an economic interest in an enterprise that provides or distributes medical cannabis” and to diagnose within dispensaries, the Internet is teeming with ads of a secure and speedy physician approval.