New rule may allow more Colorado docs to prescribe pot
DENVER – Marijuana doctors in Colorado will now be required to physically examine patients before recommending pot – but state health authorities on Wednesday decided against stricter rules such as a ban on marijuana specialists.
Rules adopted by the state Board of Health 4-1 also change which doctors can recommend pot.
The rules address marijuana recommendations from doctors with conditional licenses, such as a surgeon who develops arthritis and is banned from surgery but not from prescribing drugs. Currently Colorado has about 2,000 would-be marijuana patients in limbo because their recommendations came from such doctors.
The health board considered banning all doctors with conditional licenses from recommending pot, but marijuana advocates complained that would unfairly rule out some doctors whose conditions have nothing to do with pot. Instead, the board voted to allow those doctors to seek written clearance from a separate licensing board to write marijuana recommendations.
The state health board also adopted a loose definition of a “bona-fide” doctor-patient relationship, which the Legislature last year directed them to do.
The new rule requires physicians to physically examine a patient and make themselves available for follow-up care.
The board decided against a tighter suggestion opposed by marijuana advocates, that physicians be responsible for the ongoing care of a patient.
Currently New Jersey and Washington, D.C., are the only medical marijuana areas that require recommending doctors to be a patient’s primary physician, with ongoing care. Marijuana advocates complained that an “ongoing care” rule hurts patients because many doctors won’t recommend pot, so patients would have to change doctors instead of seeing a physician specifically to seek medical pot.
The board also decided against a ban on mobile pot docs. Some wanted to see a crackdown on so-called “marijuana mills” in which traveling vans offer marijuana recommendations at festivals and concerts, but others pointed out that mobile physicians provide important care in rural areas.
“For some medical services, medical vans are currently utilized,” said Ann Hause, director of legal and regulatory affairs for the department.
The new rule on conditioned licenses means the 2,000 patients are still in limbo. Their physicians may seek written clearance from the Colorado Medical Board to recommend pot, which is a requirement also pending in the state Legislature. In the meantime, those 2,000 people can continue using their applications to buy medical pot at dispensaries, but they don’t have permanent marijuana cards.
Board of Health commissioner Laura Davis said during the debate that state health authorities tried to balance patient access to the drug with legislative direction to clamp down on the unscrupulous doctors recommending pot.
“There’s going to be people who aren’t happy with the outcomes, but I thought the process was very fair,” Davis said.
The board also adopted rules banning doctors from getting a financial cut of pot sales or performing medical examinations in dispensaries, though those prohibitions already exist in law.
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