- Although so far no hospital in the 23 states (plus D.C.) where medical marijuana is legal has sold the drug, some hospitals are interested in becoming dispensaries. However, the possibility of federal action (medicinal marijuana is still illegal on the federal level) puts Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement at risk.
- Hospitals wishing to act as dispensaries are restricted by challenges other than the federal prohibition. For example in the state of Illinois, where medical pot was legalized last year, dispensaries must be 1,000 feet away from school playgrounds, child care centers and public parks and public libraries.
- Says Illinois representative Lou Lang (D), a supporter of medical marijuana: "It’s clear the federal government is trying to stay out of the way of legal medical marijuana sales, and it may be [hospitals operating dispensaries] wouldn't have a problem, but if it was me I wouldn't take that chance."
Despite the federal restrictions, providers report seeing a huge amount of consumer interest in medical marijuana, and given the industry-wide trend towards consumer-driven medicine, it seems likely that hospitals that are positioning themselves to be ready for legislative changes will be rewarded for their foresight. Still, different hospitals are responding to demand for the drug in different ways. Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago is actively petitioning the federal government to keep up with state regulations by legalizing the drug:
"We have professionals who very much would like to prescribe those drugs, we have the system in place to manage it and we have the patient population that needs it," Marcia Jimenez, the hospital’s director of intergovernmental affairs, said. "It just made a lot of sense." If the hospital were to provide the drug, it would be out of the hospital's existing pharmacy, and director of pharmacy services Ramesh Patel points out that the hospital already provides patients with opioids and narcotics—how is marijuana any different?
And, says president and CEO Mark Newton, marijuana is a money-making proposition for hospitals.
Other Chicago hospitals are taking a less aggressive tack than Swedish Covenant. Northwestern Memorial likely will not be prescribing medical marijuana and Rush University Medical Center is taking a "wait-and-see" approach. Swedish Covenant is not yet providing the drug—but Newton has asked for an exemption to the 1,000-foot rule (Swedish Covenant is adjacent to a school).
"We have to find ways of getting out and in front of issues and really looking at opportunities where we can stay on track and on par with what the consumer is looking for," Newton said.