This is the situation facing would-be medical marijuana patients in Arkansas, which joined the swelling ranks of medical cannabis states last fall. It’s not a secret that people suffering from one of 19 afflictions qualify to become marijuana patients, and use the plant legally. But first, you first need to find a doctor. That’s been a challenge, and a reason why only 16 physicians across the state are in the business, and why only about 800 patients have been certified with the health department, according to Arkansas Public Radio.
“The physicians are not available. The patients are not coming forward and there’s a disconnect for this program from being successful,” said Dr. Phillip Din, in an interview with CBS affiliate THV-11.
So few doctors in Arkansas have proven willing to meet with patients and certify their sicknesses for the Arkansas Department of Health — in part because of “peer pressure” from colleagues — that Din, a nevertheless enterprising physician, felt compelled to put up a billboard along the interstate in order to promote his new website.
On EvergreenArkansas.com, patients can set up an appointment at a motel off of the highway, and for $225, they can walk away with paperwork to certify them with the state. Apparently that’s cheaper than the prices charged by other physicians in the state, Din told the television station.
One explanation for why doctors are so hard to come by comes from Dr. Tammy Post, herself a board-certified physician and, along with Din, one of the few Arkansas doctors certifying patients for a state card.
“I was one of those doctors that thought marijuana was all the myths we believed about a gateway drug,” she told Arkansas Public Radio. “I believed it to be illicit and dangerous, like ecstasy and heroin and cocaine.”
And in order for Post to become cannabis-friendly, it took reading medical articles online to become convinced that cannabis was legitimate medicine. Not professional education, not encouragement from a physicians’ association. Googling.
There’s no marijuana available quite yet. At some point, patients will be able to acquire cannabis at one of 32 dispensaries statewide, which will in turn be supplied by five marijuana cultivator. Post believes that the Arkansas dispensary experience will be akin to entering a pharmacy, with budtenders able to dispense medical advice, including matching strains and THC-CBD ratios to patients’ specific needs.
That’s a level of sophistication lacking at dispensaries in many others states — in no small part because having someone who is not a medical professional offer medical advice can create legal problems. But in Arkansas, dispensaries are required to have a board-certified pharmacist on board to make those decisions.
There are some other odd wrinkles. According to Post, people who come her way are subject to “pre-tox” screenings that check for drug use. “We do a urine tox screen to make sure that these aren’t people coming in to get drugs,” she told APR. Right… drugs, like the drug medical marijuana.
At some point, as many as 40,000 people will enroll in Arkansas’s medical marijuana program, Post told the radio station. Since Arkansas is in the top 10 of states nationwide where patients are prescribed the most opiates, that number is probably conservative. Or it would be, if there were more doctors in the house.
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