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Medical marijuana is legal in Virginia, but Eastern Shore’s largest healthcare providers won’t prescribe or discuss it

Emergency entrance to Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital in Onley, Virginia. File photo by Jay Deem.
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By Carol Vaughn, Eastern Shore Post

What if there was a medicine that relieved patients’ pain or alleviated their ailments, but the doctor was not allowed to tell them about it?

This is the situation some patients and doctors on the East Coast find themselves in when it comes to medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana is legal in Virginia, but some patients on the beach find it difficult to learn about it, including whether it will benefit them, and how to access it.

The East Beach Rural Health System and the Riverside Health System serve the majority of the area’s health needs.

Rural Health will not allow its physicians to discuss medical marijuana. A public relations spokesperson for the Riverside Health System declined to discuss medical marijuana with the Eastern Shore Post.

In addition, the nearest state-licensed dispensary for East Coast residents is in Virginia Beach – many miles away and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Virginia residents cannot use Maryland dispensaries.

Telehealth option

Retired Jacqueline Craft has tried multiple methods to relieve the pain she suffers from spinal stenosis – including cortisone injections, radiofrequency ablation, and prescription pain relievers.

She can’t take NSAIDs – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – because she’s taking a blood thinner.

“When the pain hits me from my back, … to say the least, it drives me to my knees. So I was desperate. All I could take was Tylenol,” she said.

She sought a medical marijuana certification as a last resort, even though she was wary of the drug.

She was able to consult with a medical professional she knew via Zoom. He wrote down information about her condition and what she experienced, and then issued her a certificate in August.

A certification issued by a board-registered practitioner is needed to access Virginia marijuana dispensaries.

The state’s database lists five beach medical professionals among hundreds of doctors who have signed up to provide medical marijuana certificates to Virginia patients.

It is forbidden to discuss

Rural Health prohibits providers from discussing medical marijuana with patients, providing the certification required to access Virginia dispensaries, or even referring patients to another physician who can provide them with a certification.

The reason, according to rural health officials, is that marijuana is illegal at the federal level.

Kimberly Savage, chief compliance officer at Rural Health, said the federal Controlled Substances Act prohibits the possession, manufacture and distribution of marijuana, even for medical purposes, regardless of state law.

“In this case, federal law supersedes state law,” Savage said in an email response to the patient’s query.

She also wrote that Rural Health’s status as a federally qualified health center — a federal Section 220 beneficiary — means it is obligated to prohibit federal marijuana.

In addition, a rural health employee may be violating the organization’s conflicts of interest policy if they provide testimonials outside of their rural health jobs, according to Savage.

“(P) Practitioners who see patients at our centers who provide a medical cannabis certificate may be in violation of our conflicts of interest policy, particularly if they refer Eastern Shore Rural Health patients to their practices outside the health center to provide a medical certificate.

“The Physician Self-Referral Act, also known as ‘Stark’s Law’, prohibits a physician from making referrals to an entity (or themselves), if the physician has a financial relationship with the entity,” she wrote.

Employees are required to notify human resources in the organization of all “overtime” activities in advance.

According to written responses provided by Rural Health to questions posed by The Washington Post, “Federal law, approved or not, prohibits our providers from directing patients or connecting patients to sources of medical marijuana—that’s a tough stop.”

Matt Clay, CEO of Rural Health, has contacted other community health centers in the state, as well as the National Association of Community Health Centers, about the issue of providing medical marijuana certification.

Other CEOs I’ve spoken with also don’t allow their providers to direct patients to resources for obtaining medical marijuana.

“When cannabis becomes legal at the federal level, we will reassess this issue,” rural health officials wrote in response to the Post.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Riverside Health System wouldn’t even discuss medical marijuana with a reporter who asked for answers to questions about it.

“At this time, Riverside is not available for discussion,” was the response provided by the organization’s public relations firm.

‘legitimate response to pain’

Although retail recreational marijuana sales are not yet legal in Virginia, about 20,300 patients are currently receiving medical marijuana products legally in the state, according to Ngsite Abebe, vice president of public policy at Columbia Care, the company that has two state licenses to process medical marijuana. Marijuana for medical use.

Abebe was quoted in an article published on September 30 in Axios Richmond.

Pain, anxiety, and insomnia are the most common reasons why patients seek medical marijuana products. Anecdotally, the average Virginia patient appears to be 55, according to Abebe.

Dr Shirley Mason-Randall, who owns Eastern Shore Pain Management in Exmoor, said many of her patients were “very interested” in medical marijuana.

It estimates it has provided testimonials to about 60 to 100 patients in the past two years, after medical marijuana became legal in Virginia.

Most patients say that using cannabis relieves anxiety and helps sleep. So far, the benefits from pain relief are minimal, but I will continue to monitor this,” she said.

She added, “If a patient gets a great deal of relief from cannabis use, that will be good, as there will be less need for narcotic treatment.”

For Craft, medical marijuana helps, and the professionalism of certification procedures and dispensaries has helped ease her concerns about what she once saw as a drug gateway.

She said, “I will not do anything illegal.”

“It’s very professional looking. They have pharmacists on duty,” she said of the dispensary.

After discussing her condition with the pharmacist, he recommended half a 10-milligram pill for her pain.

“It doesn’t get me high. She said… I take it on days when I’m not going anywhere because I don’t want to drive, but I don’t feel any high.”

“My experience has been, what I’m taking now doesn’t make me dysfunctional but it does help with the pain,” Kraft said.

Her son noticed the difference in his mother’s behavior when he visited her on her birthday in October.

“I was a completely different person,” he later told her.

Kraft says medical marijuana should be viewed as just another drug that may be beneficial.

“It’s a legitimate answer to pain.”


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