Pharmacist ponders opening medical marijuana dispensary

This might be a bad idea–for the pharmacist

In recent years, a number of states, including Oregon, have “legalized” marijuana for medical purposes (and in fewer states, for recreational use).  As reported in the Okeecheobee News, Florida voters recently approved legalization of medical marijuana and now Florida cities must decide whether to opt out.  If the Okeechobee City Council decides to allow medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits, one local pharmacist urges that he be considered to run the dispensary, but that might be a bad idea–for the pharmacist.

Florida pharmacist Steve Nelson acknowledges that “medicinal marijuana is not an easy issue,” but he is sympathetic, and he has seen the benefits of medical marijuana in treating seizures, terminal cancer, and chronic arthritis.  I don’t doubt him. Mr. Nelson is also quite experienced (40 years as a pharmacist) and appears cautious, urging the city council to be careful, to ensure adequate controls are in place.  One difficulty, according to the Okeecheobee News, is that the city would have “little power” to regulate medical marijuana because “regulation falls to [the] new state law.” It is not that simple, however.

Marijuana: a Schedule I banned substance under federal law

Despite Florida’s new state law, marijuana is still a Schedule I banned substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), meaning that without a research permit or exception, marijuana cannot be possessed, prescribed, or dispensed for any purpose under federal law, and therein lies the rub.  Over the course of his 40 years experience, Mr. Nelson has practiced pharmacy with a state license as authorized in great part by a federal Registration administered by the DEA.  Now he wants to dispense marijuana contrary to the CSA’s drug schedules and DEA oversight?

Admittedly, for a number of reasons, federal law banning marijuana has been lightly enforced and, in those states where marijuana is “legal,” a lax attitude also prevails among the general public.  However, for those of us that possess a professional license, and especially healthcare providers also possessing a DEA Registration, we are held to higher standards.  In my experience, when there is a Board investigation, marijuana, medical or otherwise, is a complicating factor.  I know this to be true for Oregon physicians, whether recommending marijuana for medical use, or consuming marijuana for recreational use, and I fear my experience will prove true for Mr. Nelson should he choose to run a dispensary.  Yes, I know, Mr. Nelson’s state license and federal DEA Registration are not necessary to run a dispensary under Florida’s new law.  Still, Mr. Nelson is a state-licensed pharmacist, with two pharmacies dispensing controlled drugs as authorized by the CSA pursuant to separate DEA Registrations – does Mr. Nelson really want to run a third operation dispensing a Schedule I substance banned under the CSA?  As a lawyer, I recognize the legal distinctions and I can make the arguments to support Mr. Nelson’s goal of running a dispensary but, as a practical matter, I see the risks of unwanted scrutiny, and more.  Much more.  I earlier commented on physicians, marijuana, the new DEA, and the Oregon Medical Board and marijuana, the practice of medicine, and the Oregon Medical Board, cautioning Oregon physicians physicians not to become complacent when involved with marijuana.  I have also defended pharmacists and physicians for dispensing lawful drugs.  Given my experience, I cannot imagine recommending that a state-licensed, DEA-registered practitioner dispense a Schedule I banned substance, even if its “only” marijuana.