Illinois Doctors Have Mixed Feelings About Medical Marijuana

Aug 19, 2013

Credit NPR

Illinois’ new medical marijuana law is considered one of the toughest in the nation. But some in the medical field are still lukewarm about having pot dispensaries across the state.

As Illinois became the 20th state to legalize medical marijuana, the Illinois State Medical Society turned some heads when it took a “neutral” stance on the matter. Some observers questioned the move, saying a prominent group shouldn’t be on the sidelines when it comes to this issue.

In a recent newspaper editorial, the group’s director Dr. Eldon Trame defended their stance. He says physicians are ready to discuss what lies ahead as the state prepares to implement the new law. But he notes there is still a wide range of opinions expressed by members of his organization.

“We have some who feel that it can fill a niche for patient symptoms and complaints. We also have those who are strongly against it,” Trame said.

Those against it Trame says include ER doctors and addiction specialists, who are worried about things like abuse of the new law and scenarios where accidents occur because the drug ended up in the wrong hands.

Meanwhile, some doctors feel uneasy about how state law stacks up against federal law, which still prohibits written prescriptions of the drug. Illinois’ law gets around that by only letting physicians certify patients before they can register with the state to obtain the drug. While some of those concerns have eased, Trame says they’re still worried about being pushed into a gray area.

And Trame says, some members aren’t convinced yet about the effectiveness of the treatment:

Patients who are deemed eligible won’t be able to buy medical marijuana at their regular pharmacy. But the Illinois Pharmacists Association also has concerns about the pilot program. The Association’s Garth Reynolds says like other situations where patients are on multiple medications, they’re worried a lack of communication will create dangerous side-effects because pharmacists aren’t caught up to speed.

"It's very important and essential for any patient who ends up on this pilot program that they let their pharmacists know so we can properly review the medications they're on," Reynolds said.

Reynolds says he thinks there’s a belief that pharmacists automatically know everything about a patient’s history when it comes to prescription drugs. That’s not true he says, and failure to notify a pharmacists about the new treatment is their chief concern.

But like the State Medical Society, the Pharmacists Association also has members who are fully supportive of the effort.

Those who advocated for the new law say medical professionals who are against it shouldn’t feel threatened. Dan Linn is with the Illinois Chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws.

"Doctors are trained and licensed, if they feel this a medication they want to recommend, they can. But we're not forcing every doctor and every patient to use this medication," Linn said.

Linn says they acknowledge not all doctors will be willing to certify patients for the drug. If that happens, Linn says there will be other doctors a patient can establish a relationship with in order to be certified.

That’s something State Medical Society Director Eldon Trame says they will try to stay on top of.

In the meantime, Trame says they hope to be part of a major educational process for doctors, to prepare them for dealing with these situations whether or not they support the new law.