Frederick Mayer, a retired Marin pharmacist says in some cases marijuana can be substituted for the more dangerous narcotics used for pain management, which are leading increasingly to addiction problems. (Thinkstock/Getty Images)

Patients may soon be able to use medical marijuana in California hospital

In a first-ever for California, patients at Marin General may soon be allowed to consume medical marijuana in the hospital.

If members of the Marin Healthcare District approve the resolution introduced by Dr. Larry Bedard at Tuesday’s meeting, the hospital’s staff would begin a review process examining the legal and medical implications of using medical pot at the acute-care center.

Patients, however, would not be allowed to smoke the drug, which doctors have been legally prescribing in California since the late 1990s because smoking is banned in the state’s hospitals.

Last month, Bedard told Media News about his plan.

“I want to have Marin General be the first hospital in California to openly and transparently allow patients to use medical cannabis,” said Bedard, a retired emergency medicine physician who used to work at Marin General and is now a member of the district board.

Last year, the pro-marijuana activist group California NORML reported that more than 1,500 physicians in the state had recommended medical marijuana under Prop. 215. The so-called Compassionate Use Act of 1996 effectively legalized the medicinal use of cannabis by seriously ill Californians. A federal court decision later established that California physicians who follow certain guidelines in recommending or approving the medical use of marijuana are immune from sanction or criminal prosecution.

Under the law, physicians are free to recommend marijuana for their patients, so long as they don’t actually assist them in obtaining it.

Bedard is no stranger to the often controversial subject of medical marijuana. He helped author the rebuttal to the argument against Proposition 64, an initiative appearing on the Nov. 8 ballot that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana. If voters pass the measure, California would join a handful of states and cities that already allow the practice, including Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, as well as Portland and South Portland, Maine, and Keego Harbor, Michigan.

Proposition 64 would make the recreational use of marijuana legal for adults age 21 and older in California; adults would be allowed to grow small amounts at home for personal use. The initiative would limit the sale of non-medical marijuana to be regulated as licensed businesses that only adults 21 and older would be permitted to enter.

Bedard said he is passionate about legalizing marijuana because he believes people of color are suffering disproportionately under existing law.

“Four times as many blacks and Latinos get arrested as whites with virtually the same use rates,” Bedard said. “If you want to reform the justice system, this is by far the easiest and most effective way.”

He also believes that adults should be able to choose whether they want to use cannabis or alcohol, which he considers to be far more harmful.

“As an emergency physician, I know that marijuana is safer than alcohol,” Bedard told Media News.

Bedard served on a California Medical Association task force on marijuana that led to the association recommending the legalization of cannabis.

Last month, after Bedard had sent his resolution to the administrators at Marin General, along with his fellow board members and other interested parties, the reaction was mixed.

“I think it is a fantastic idea,” said Frederick Mayer, a retired Marin pharmacist who heads Pharmacists Planning Services Inc., a nonprofit pharmacy education organization.

Mayer said hospitals in Israel have pioneered the use of cannabis for palliative care. He said in some cases marijuana can be substituted for the more dangerous narcotics used for pain management, which are leading increasingly to addiction problems.

Others, though, are more cautious, a reflection of the public’s mixed feeling about legalizing all uses of pot. District board member Jennifer Rienks said last month that she still has “a lot of questions” about Bedard’s proposal.

“At this point, I really need to hear more about it,” Rienks said.

In his resolution, Bedard acknowledges that Marin General administrators are “concerned that the federal government could/would retaliate by lifting the hospital’s Medicare provider number and the state could withhold Medi-Cal funding.”

But he says such fears are overblown since a federal budget amendment authored by California Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican and Democrat Sam Farr prevents the government from using federal funds to penalize patients, physicians and hospitals that are complying with state law.

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