Parents urge lawmakers to support hospital use of medical marijuana – Press Herald
But Maine hospitals say they face federal penalties if they allow patients, including children, to use nonsmokable forms of medical marijuana prescribed by their doctors.
AUGUSTA — Medical marijuana patients, their caregivers and dispensary representatives on Monday urged lawmakers to support a bill that would allow patients to use smokeless forms of the drug in hospitals.
During more than two and a half hours of testimony before the Health and Human Services Committee, patients and caregivers described situations in which patients have been denied access to their cannabis therapy or were forced to take it surreptitiously because most Maine hospitals prohibit its use.
But several representatives of hospitals and doctors said allowing medical marijuana in the facilities puts them in the position of potentially losing federal certification and funding.
The bill, L.D. 35, is sponsored by Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, co-chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee. It would allow patients to use a tincture or other smokeless form of medical marijuana in hospitals.
Samantha Brown of South Berwick, the mother of a 3-year-old daughter who uses cannabis to treat severe seizures, said her daughter was denied her medicine during recent hospital stays. She said it left her in the “uncomfortable position” of sneaking her daughter the medication that best treats her condition.
“Patients need to be allowed to do what’s right for their bodies,” Brown said.
Susan Meehan, whose daughter also uses medical marijuana, said the committee should support the bill so patients and their caregivers can continue to use effective therapies even when they must stay in the hospital.
“I will not put my daughter’s life in danger by stopping a medication,” she said.
The bill faced opposition from hospital officials, who say they are prohibited by federal law from allowing the drug’s use. Hospitals could lose their U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration license to dispense many medications if they permitted marijuana use in their facilities, because hospitals are required to follow both state and federal law, according to Brian Marden, senior director of pharmacy at Maine Medical Center in Portland.
Both MMC and Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor dispense marinol, a synthetic form of marijuana, although officials say it’s not clear if it is as effective as medical marijuana. According to hospital officials, EMMC also permits use of – but doesn’t dispense – cannabidiol oil, which is derived from the hemp plant. Maine Medical Center doesn’t allow the use of any products of cannabis plants.
“Many of them are saying no but (the use of marijuana) is occurring,” said Jeff Austin of the Maine Hospital Association. “They are looking for a path to allow it to be used.”
Austin said hospitals would feel more comfortable allowing medical marijuana use in hospitals if the state – which does compliance enforcement on behalf of the federal government – provided guidance saying it was a permissible use for hospitals. Otherwise, hospitals fear they could lose Medicare reimbursements, he said.
“I think the risk (of losing federal certification) is small, but the consequences are great,” he said.