Medical-pot docs raise fears of 'certification mills'

A few physicians who prescribe marijuana to half of card-holding patients in the AZ medical pot program raise concerns about prescribing behavior
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Although a Massachusetts ballot question legalizing the use of medical marijuana passed on Nov. 6, the future of physicians' pot-prescribing practices remains hazy. For starters, the Massachusetts Medical Society has continued its opposition to the vote, stating in a recent blog post that "marijuana has not been proven to be medicine. ... Until its effectiveness is proven clinically and accepted by the FDA, we urge physicians to refrain from recommending it to their patients."

What's more, most physicians have not been educated in how to prescribe cannabis and to whom, The Boston Globe noted in a blog post. For that reason, David Bearman, a pain management physician from Santa Barbara, Calif., and president of the American Academy of Cannabinoid Medicine, advocates for physicians to receive several hours of continuing medical education training and accreditation before they start treating patients with marijuana, which he considers to be a very effective drug for pain relief. In addition, he says physicians should spend at least 40 minutes with first-time patients to evaluate whether patients are appropriate candidates to receive a marijuana card.

Meanwhile, even well-established medical-marijuana programs continue to grapple with the implications of allowing physicians to recommend the drug. In Arizona, which has had a medical pot program in place since 2010, a new report found that just 475 physicians recommended marijuana for 28,977 patients and that 10 of those physicians certified nearly half of all patients, AZCentral.com reported.

According to the newspaper, State Department of Health Services Director Will Humble said the numbers may indicate the presence of "certification mills" run by a small number of doctors as the majority of their colleagues refrain from approving cards.

Even in Maine, where medical marijuana has been legal since 1999, recent growth of the program and looser restrictions have raised questions over whether the system invites abuse, the Portland Press Herald reported. However, the recent termination of the state's program head, John Thiele, "could signal a shift in the direction of state policy," according to the newspaper.

To learn more:
- read the post from The Boston Globe
- see the statement from the Massachusetts Medical Society
- read the story from AZCentral.com
- see the article from the Portland Press Herald

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