Medical marijuana: New health dept. rules could be devastating for patient access, advocate says

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At 2 p.m. this afternoon, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's medical marijuana advisory committee will meet to discuss new regulations for physicians (they're on view below) that Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of the Rockies executive director Vincent Palazzotto feels could be devastating for patient access in the state. In his view, "The draft proposal the department of health would put quite a few people out of business."

How so?

"As it's written, it states that you can't have a clinic that's just doing MMJ evaluations," says Palazzotto, who hopes to speak at today's meeting. "And I think the problem with that is, a lot of people aren't doing MMJ evaluations -- so where would people go?"

The health department has been concerned about doctors specializing in medical marijuana for quite some time. Last December, Dr. Ned Calonge, who until recently was Colorado's chief medical officer, complained that the vast majority of MMJ recommendations were coming from a small handful of doctors who he saw as providing substandard care due to a lack of followups, among other things.

To counter this impression, Palazzotto recently co-founded the Medical Marijuana Doctors Association. Among the organization's goals, he notes, "is to weed out those kinds of physicians, to let people know about doctors who are truly interested in pain management, and to create standards above and beyond what the health department is recommending or has even thought of.

"There really are good physicians who provide followup care," he continues. For instance, Mobile Doctors of America, a Palazzotto-associated project that brings medical care to outlying areas, "always provides a hands-on doctor -- and if we go to Salida or some mountain community, we're committed to going back to those communities at least once a month to provide followup care."

The Mobile Doctors of America concept is necessary, Palazzotto believes, because many people in Colorado still don't have access to medical marijuana -- and if the CDPHE draft is accepted, he's certain the situation will grow worse due to a shortage of other doctors willing to consider and recommend MMJ treatment.

"I think there's still a huge stigma" among many physicians about recommending medical marijuana, Palazzotto says. "Maybe some patients will be able to get a recommendation from their family practitioner, but the number of doctors most of them would have to go through before finding someone who could consider this treatment would make the situation very, very difficult."

In Palazzotto's view, "the doctor is the gatekeeper" -- and he thinks select members of the advisory committee who oppose the expansion of medical marijuana are using this fact as a way to limit patient access "because of their personal beliefs."

Page down to read the aforementioned draft proposals, as well as to see an agenda from this afternoon's meeting courtesy of the Cannabis Therapy Institute:

Cannabis Therapy Institute release:

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee Meeting

Date: Wed., Dec. 8, 2010

Time: 2:00-4:00 p.m.

Location: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Sabin Conference Room 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South Denver, CO

*Agenda* 2:00-2:05 Welcoming Comments and Introductions 2:05-2:20 Public Comment 2:20-3:05 Discussion of Rules to Add Debilitating Medical Conditions 3:05-3:50 Discussion of regulations regarding physicians who recommend Medical Marijuana 3:50-4:00 Discussion of the definition of Significant Responsibility of a Caregiver 4:00 Adjourn

Click here for detailed agenda: http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/hs/medicalmarijuana/MMAC%20Agenda%2012_08_10.pdf

*Comments* The CDPHE Advisory Committee will discuss issues related to redefining primary caregivers. Specifically, they would like your comments on these questions:

"Is significant responsibility helping the patient with daily tasks, such as cooking, bathing, or other household chores? Is it arranging medical care across several medical providers? What makes a person a primary caregiver?"

Comments on these topics and any other can be sent by email to the Advisory Board at any time: cdphemedicalmarijuanacomments@cdphe.state.co.us

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of the Rockies aims to put patients first."

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