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What Medical Marijuana Could Mean For Ohio’s Medical System

Pro-legalization groups are pushing to get Medical Marijuana on the ballot for this November. How could that decision would affect the role of doctors, insurance coverage, and pharmacy distribution?
Pro-legalization groups are pushing to get Medical Marijuana on the ballot for this November. How could that decision would affect the role of doctors, insurance coverage, and pharmacy distribution?

  At her Columbus apartment, Savannah takes a jar filled with medicinal Marijuana and places a large handful, or roughly five grams, on the kitchen counter. On average, she said, this is her average dosage for one week.

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Savannah, who has asked that we not use her full name, uses medicinal marijuana to treat major depressive disorder and insomnia. It is an alternative treatment that she said works for her, but it comes with a price—about $70 dollars a week.

Savannah works part-time in retail and said affording the type of cannabis she needs eats up about 15 percent of her income. In fact, she spends more on cannabis than groceries. She knows that using a prescription drug would be cheaper because it is covered by her health insurance, but if medical Marijuana were to be legalized in Ohio, she hopes that it might fall under her coverage too.

In early 2015 Ohioans voted against a bill that would have legalized recreational and medicinal Marijuana. Now pro-legalization groups are pushing to get Medical Marijuana on the ballot for this November. Many Ohioans like Savanah are wondering, could that decision would affect the role of doctors, insurance coverage, and pharmacy distribution?

Clare Kursing is a spokeswoman at AHIP, America’s Health Insurance Plan, the national trade association representing the health insurance industry. Kursing said that when it comes to medical marijuana, insurance companies are bound by federal laws. Even if the drug is legalized in Ohio, she said it is still not approved by the FDA.

“Because of that, Health plans have not incorporated that coverage of medicinal marijuana into their benefits, “explained Kursing.

Does that mean that we can pick up a medical marijuana prescription at the pharmacy? Ernest Boyd, executive director at the Ohio pharmacists Association, said, absolutely not.

“Even when these state laws change, they allow procession in that state but the federal law about controlled substances has not been impacted,” said Boyd.

Marijuana is a Schedule 1 controlled drug which means pharmacists are not even allowed to possess it. So if it is legalized, how will the drug be distributed and prescribed?

Boyd says that all depends on how the law is structured, and right right now that proposed law is starting to take shape. The Marijuana Policy Project recently released language for the constitutional amendment voters would decide in November. If it passes, patients would need their doctor’s approval to apply for a medical marijuana card. Only then could they purchase the drug from a dispensary and only 2.5 ounces at a time.

Of course, the issue will have to make it to the ballot first.

Copyright 2016 WOSU 89.7 NPR News