Legal does not = Accessible. Pediatric cannabis in MA

I live in a state where medical marijuana is legal. Was voted for by 63% of voters in 2012. And yet there is still no legal access for patients. I’m going to give you a minute to puzzle that out-how voters could have passed a law 3 years ago that still hasn’t been implemented. Wrap your brain around it yet? Yeah. Me neither.

Essentially the DPH f-d up. And every time the media pointed out another time they f-d up instead of addressing the problem, they stalled the process a little more. And a little more, and a little more. So now-nearly 3 years later there is not a single dispensary open. None. Not one. And the caregiver law is overly restrictive only allowing a caregiver to grow for 1 patient. So how exactly is it feasible for a caregiver to invest the time and resources into sourcing and growing a rare, valuable, finicky high cbd strain when they can only serve 1 patient who needs it? Short answer-it’s not. We passed a law, but in the after effects of writing the regulations the scope of that law got smaller and smaller and smaller until it became an unworkable law and left us where we are today.

So, let’s talk about some of the problems with it. I am obviously fighting for Haley to access cannabis, loudly shouting from the rooftops about it (I hope you are too!). Initially the pediatric regulations required Doctors to prove that a child was within 6 months of the end of their life to be eligible to use cannabis. Now Haley lives with the possibility of a seizure ending her life any day. But she doesn’t necessarily have an expiration date. We wrote to the committee and our epileptoligist Dr Thiele testified before the committee that pediatric patients with chronic conditions could greatly benefit from cannabis even if they weren’t terminal. We might actually save lives instead of just easing them-Imagine that. Eventually the end of life clause was removed from the final regulations.

Great news right? Yeah…BUT. The pediatric regulations became so burdensome for patients AND doctors that they may as well not exist. Pediatric patients are required to have signatures or recommendations (recs) from 2 separate doctors not in practice together that state that the benefits outweigh the risk of treatment. One of those doctors MUST be a pediatrician or pediatric specialist. And you must have and maintain an established relationship with the doctor writing the recommendation. At first glance it all seems workable in theory. Then we get to real life. Because I forgot to mention that only Doctors that have completed a certain number of continuing education hours specifically on cannabis are eligible to write cannabis recommendations. How many pediatric specialists do you think are completing those continuing education hours on cannabis?

I know several pediatric patients, us included, who lobbied our doctors, long time pediatricians and specialists. We put together folders of information, we painstakingly presented our cases. In many cases Doctors empathized and agreed with us but were blocked from writing recommendations by the hospitals they are employed by because they rely on federal funding that they fear losing. Other doctors refuse to write them because they don’t believe the program is regulated well enough and only support a pharmaceutical model of dispensing cannabis. And then there were the rarities, the doctors who said yes. I see the potential here. Yes I will help you. So last year we got 2 doctor recs and Haley became a legal patient. But still without access…(Compare that to our neighbor Maine where they allow nurse practitioners to write recommendations and you only need one and they have open dispensaries and working caregiver models. Or our other neighbor RI which also has a strong established cannabis program accessible for children without burdensome, unrealistic, unworkable regulations)

Now the DPH has decided in the interest of progress they will require patients to register, finally addressing the legal gray area of having no patient registration system and the arrests that were taking place because there was no legal recognition for patients. No card or certificate to carry other than the Dr rec. Sounds good. Progress. Finally! Uhhhh, not so much. Where exactly is the justice in collecting money from people to register as patients for a medicine they still have no foreseeable access to? I’m sorry? Is that shortsighted of me? Or just reasonable to expect that if you want my money to be a patient there better be medicine to buy? And when you go to the pharmacy to pick up your Valium does the Doctor disclose your condition to the pharmacist and everyone that works in the pharmacy? If you have anxiety or seizures or some other disorder being treated by this highly addictive, dangerous medication?  Of course not! That is a violation of HIPPA and patient privacy. Yet as a cannabis patient you have no right to privacy and your doctor is forced to disclose the condition they are deeming treatable. Now imagine being a parent and being put in the position of disclosing your child’s medical condition and status as a cannabis patient and location of their lifesaving plants to whomever the state decides should have that information. (coincidentally caregivers/patients often get raided just before harvest leaving the patient with nothing…again. Just saying I have seen/heard too many of these occurrences to be called coincidence) But ok. There is a way to be legally recognized as a patient without a legal way to get medicine unless you have a caregiver willing to cultivate just for you or if you live in a place that permits you to cultivate your own. And you don’t get raided and lose your medicine. I haven’t met one yet, but I’m sure they’re out there trying not to draw attention to themselves. To them I say-Keep it up! Save your child!

Until…Jan 1st. Remember those continuing ed credits Doctors must complete? They must be completed by January 1st. There have been barely a handful of pediatricians and pediatric specialists in the entire state willing or able to write recommendations. Of the dozen or so children I know who were able to secure them more than half were notified recently with the registration system roll out that their doctors either did not deem it feasible to complete the number of continuing education hours required in order to write the recommendation for the single patient they see that they are writing it for, or their permission from their overseeing hospital was reneged due to HIPPA violations of submitting to the DPH.

Now what? Now we have left our most vulnerable patients-the children-without any access at all. And you think that this program was set up to be safe for them? It was set up to fail. It was set up to let children die without access.

I live in a legal state with a child who several doctors agree would benefit from cannabis, yet there is no doctor willing to put in the work required to help her and no medicine to give her. But here you go DPH…here’s my $50 to try to register her as a patient until our recommendation expires and here too is my $100 for a hardship waiver so I can grow it myself. Because clearly you care about the money and not the lives at stake. We have a law. But it’s an unworkable law and children are suffering and dying because of it.

So, insert slow, sarcastic clap here for the writers of these regulations that are allowing children to die. Bravo I guess. You got what you set out to do. A whole lot of money and no cannabis…Maybe you can allocate some of that money to pay for the funerals of the children you are killing…

(*Image attached is Haley mid seizure. She is experiencing anywhere from 10-50+ seizures every single day while we wait for access. I know there will be people who don’t think I should share this vulnerable moment, (I struggled with it myself) but the truth is that every moment in our life right now is vulnerable. We might seize hope but we endure our share of despair and it would be wrong for me to sugar coat what Haley is enduring because of political and medical agendas. So here it is at its most raw…)

One thought on “Legal does not = Accessible. Pediatric cannabis in MA”

  1. Please take a listen to the following podcast http://disruptedphysician.com/2014/12/11/young-jurks-podcast-12614-discussing-massachusetts-physician-health-services/ Massachusetts is home to the Federation of State Physician Health Services (FSPHP) which is an arm of the corporate and political Front-Group The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). The ASAM is funded by the billion dollar drug and alcohol testing, assessment and treatment industry an is the biggest threat to MMJ there is and part of the strategy is to keep this hidden. I am writing a current blogpost on DisruptedPhysician.Com that explains why. Needless to say, as long as MA is headquarters of the FSPHP every obstacle that can be thrown in front of MMJ will be. These organizations need to be dismantled on a state level. The DPH and Mass Medical Society have no oversight over this. They are essentially accountable to no one, opaque and unregulated and that is how they get away with it.

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