Progress has been made. Medical marijuana is now legal in twenty states here in the U.S. This is a good thing for the many people that rely on it to treat the symptoms of varying conditions from multiple sclerosis and muscle spasms to crohn’s disease. Unfortunately, even in the states where medical marijuana is legal, it is not easily accessible for every patient that needs it. Although the government can discriminate on whom they choose to enforce certain laws based on race or socioeconomic status, and health insurance providers can choose who they cover; cancer, HIV, and seizure disorders are fair game.
Such information should not come as a surprise. Anyone living in the United States knows that our health insurance system works solely for the pockets of the CEOs of the insurance companies, the lobbyists they hire, and the politicians they conveniently support. However, we are still in the first quarter of a new year after a presidential election and the Trump administration has promised to “repeal and replace” Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act). The new bill GOP lawmakers have offered could leave many people without coverage, cause insurance providers to increase their premiums, and/or force some providers out of the market altogether and negatively affect the economy as whole. Moreover, the new health bill they are proposing will probably not protect medical marijuana patients and may in fact make it more difficult for any American to receive necessary treatment.
News like this may make some happy, others feel dejected and abandoned. Some may just say, “Screw it, I’m moving to Canada.” I am going to ask questions and make this government work for me the way they pretend they do. The following questions have been posed but not adequately addressed in mainstream media or by our recently elected officials. What does this mean for medical marijuana patients? Will medical marijuana be covered by the new healthcare plan the Trump administration and Paul Ryan are promising is so great?
If I had to guess, I would say no. First of all, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) has repeatedly refused to reschedule marijuana in a lower class, even when they had their most recent opportunity in July of 2016. If you are not aware, the DEA currently has marijuana classified as a Schedule I substance and it has been this way since the ‘70s. This classification of substances according to the DEA’s website is for “drugs, substances, or chemicals…with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” The website then lists several examples of the substances they include in this schedule. Among marijuana, they also include heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy) and peyote. Can you guess which one is not like the others?
If you guessed marijuana, you would be correct. Why? Because twenty states have now legalized it for medicinal purposes and eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of marijuana. If you can do basic arithmetic, then you can conclude that twenty eight states of our fifty have legalized it to some degree or another. That’s more than half of our country.
Hopefully, at least two basic questions should be racking your brain right now and filling your Google history. 1) If twenty states legalized it for medicinal purposes, how does it still qualify to be a Schedule I drug? 2)Why hasn’t Medicaid or private insurance providers decided to cover medicinal treatments for patients with a doctor’s note in a state where marijuana is legalized for medicinal use?
Unfortunately, while significant progress has been made and more research has been done, it has only skimmed the surface. The research to confidently say that cannabis can be used for medicinal purposes and be more effective than harmful has not been completed. Only about 6% of marijuana research is dedicated to its medicinal uses. This leaves a lot of room for uncertainty and liability than insurance companies are willing to cover. Furthermore, there is still a very negative connotation and stigma about cannabis use and many insurance providers do not want to associate their brand with such ideas.
I do believe that it should be covered and that more research into its medicinal properties should be conducted by federal agencies as well as those in the private sector. According to NPR medical marijuana patients may pay up to $400 per month for their treatments. That is roughly the same as a car note for a decent vehicle. In some parts of the country, that is the rent of a duplex.
Some states have legalized private growth in your own home. That’s nice. Being able to grow your own does not make it anymore accessible to say someone on a fixed income like Social Security. Growing your plants is expensive and a tedious process. First you have to buy the seeds, which can range approximately from ten to forty dollars per seed depending on where you buy them. Then you have to have the proper equipment: pots, lighting, fertilizers and growth hormones seeing as cannabis can only be grown in certain conditions. On top of that, you have to factor in the additional charges to your electric bill for powering your lights and heating systems and timers.
Not only is the cost an issue, growing cannabis does not just happen at the snap of your finger. On average it takes a plant 3-4 months before it is ready to be harvested. What are patients that need more immediate treatments supposed to do in the meantime? Tell the depression and cancer to stop? If they could do that, medical marijuana would not be necessary. On a day to day basis, in the earlier stages of growing, your plant needs more attention. Like, eighteen hours of light and regular watering. While being able to grow your own plants may be helpful in the long run, if you can financially sustain it, it is not a legitimate option for the majority of the population.
Much progress has been made but more legislative change is still ahead of us. I am a woman of action. Growing up, my father always warned me that if you do not take action, then you leave yourself at the mercy of others to make decisions for you. I have never liked others being in control of me. I also do not like to complain about things without having some solution to offer, regardless of whether or not it will work. Having said that, on the matter of protecting those that rely on medical marijuana and access to health coverage in general, I offer the following. Get out and vote. By voting on the right people to put in office you can have some say in how medical marijuana is regulated and whether or not the government allows insurance providers to cover it. You may even be able to get the government to foot the bill. Do not just wait for four years to go by and allow the GOP (Good Ol’ Party) to pass any health care bill that may affect you one way or another. Your local elections are arguably more important than whatever happens four years from now and they will influence that election. Do you know who your mayor is? Do you know who your representative in Congress? Do you know your Senators? Do you know what these people stand for and how they are voting on Capitol Hill? If you do not, fret not, there is time to acquaint yourself with these people. Go to your town hall meetings and raise your questions and concerns. Find out how they got elected. What platform did they use when they were campaigning? Are they being true to their word? When are they up for re-election? Hold them accountable. You are a tax paying citizen, your voice and vote matters. Make sure you are registered. Make sure your family members that are eligible are registered. Take your children to these meetings and the polls. Make sure they ask questions and know what their politicians are doing to protect them and their future. Midterm elections are coming in 2018, they are very important and will affect the 2020 election. If some form of legalization is not a measure on your state’s ballot, make sure it is by time elections come back around. Every step of legalizing it puts us as a whole one step closer to giving patients with the tools they need to stay healthy and live happy lives. Do not be blindsided, be prepared and take action.
****Disclaimer: DocSavage is not a licensed or practicing doctor and should not be referenced as such for any reason.****