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Why Can’t I Buy Medical Marijuana at My Local Pharmacy?

The recent surge in support for medical marijuana is very exciting. Politicians, physicians, and everyday people are talking not just about legalization, but the tangible benefits marijuana can provide. As of now, thirty-three states and four U.S. territories have legalized medical marijuana. Most of the country can get a medical marijuana recommendation and drive a reasonable distance to a local dispensary. However, some people require multiple medications and must drive to both a dispensary and a pharmacy, and why is this the case? If, in some states, pharmacists work at dispensaries then why don’t pharmacies carry medical marijuana? In this post, we will investigate the history of medical marijuana in the U.S. and why pharmacies don’t fill medical marijuana recommendations.

If you live in Ohio and are curious about medical marijuana and its medicinal benefits, our physicians here at DocMJ are happy to help! The first step to becoming an Ohio medical marijuana patient is completing our online eligibility survey. Complete our survey today to see if you pre-qualify for a recommendation!

Marijuana in the United States

It may be surprising, but at one time marijuana wasn’t only legal in the United States, it was encouraged. Hemp was grown across the first colonies to make a variety of goods including rope, sails, and even clothes. In fact, in 1619, all landowners in Jonestown were required to grow at least 100 hemp plants specifically for export [1].

The production of hemp increased from there and into the nineteenth century. By this time, marijuana was being used to help anxiety, depression, and other ailments. William O’Shaughnessy had brought medicinal marijuana into the public eye in the west and it had been accepted into the US Pharmacopeia. At this point, medical marijuana products were stocked in general public pharmacies, so what changed?

To start, laws surrounding marijuana products started to pass. In New York, for example, the products were still legal, but the buyer’s address and intended use had to be recorded [2]. By now, hemp production had slowed, yielding most textiles to cotton, and more marijuana plants were grown for medicinal or recreational uses. 

In the 1900’s, the public’s view of marijuana began to change. Marijuana products became limited to pharmacies and required prescriptions to purchase. In 1913, California became the first state to outright criminalize marijuana products [3]. 

In the 1920’s, marijuana was federally regulated. In 1937 recreational marijuana was outlawed and in 1970 marijuana use for any purpose was made illegal as well under the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. 

As time went on, though, public opinion again started to shift back. In the early ‘90s, San Francisco voted on Proposition P, showing support for medical marijuana. This led to the encouragement of law enforcement to not arrest those using marijuana with a physician’s recommendation. In 1996 California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana after passing Proposition 215. 

Now, thirty-three states have legal medical marijuana, though marijuana is still federally illegal. Researchers and patients can get high quality, regulated products and more uses are being discovered daily. 

How Does this Affect Pharmacies?

So, if medical marijuana is legal in your state, recommended by a doctor, and used for the intended medical purpose, why can’t it be picked up alongside other prescriptions? Not surprisingly, the answer is more complicated than it initially seems.

One of the main reasons is that there is still a stigma surrounding marijuana. Despite the overall growing acceptance of medical marijuana, some still view it as a recreational drug. This is especially true in older generations and looking back at the history makes this clear. 

Access to marijuana has also only been easy very recently. Previously, high quality and highly regulated marijuana just wasn’t available to many researchers. Even today, researchers are just starting to get access to “research-grade” marijuana, meaning enough marijuana with known exact quantities of cannabinoids, to allow for the level of research some pharmacists and physicians look for. 

Generally, randomized controlled trials are considered the gold standard of research, and schedule 1 controlled substances are not easy to get a hold of. These types of experiments are also generally time intensive and expensive, so only recently are many of these studies being published. 

Legally, pharmacists are also in a tight spot. In some states, like Ohio, the pharmacy board oversees a portion of the medical marijuana program. Some places also have pharmacists working in, or heading, their dispensaries. However, pharmacies are licensed by the DEA, and are therefore held to federal laws. This means that if a pharmacy were to carry marijuana, still considered a schedule 1 drug federally, it would be at risk of losing its license. 

Despite all this, some pharmacists are putting pressure on the government. They are looking to reclassify marijuana and believe that it is important to learn as much as possible about any substance that could help patients. After all, physicians are not at risk of losing their jobs for recommending medical marijuana and, according to a Colorado court, insurance companies are required to pay out on policies for marijuana-based businesses.

In Conclusion

Considering the rocky history of medical marijuana in the United States, it is no wonder why pharmacies do not carry medical marijuana. Though this may change in the future, there are still many societal and legal problems to overcome before you can fill your recommendation at the local drugstore. 



[1] https://books.google.com/books?id=PKDrpeRRY94C&q=1619#v=snippet&q=1619&f=false 

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/1860/02/16/archives/senate.html

[3] http://www.canorml.org/background/caloriginsmjproh.pdf