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Physicians concerned with state’s medical cannabis law

MORGANTOWN — In the same amount of time it takes to watch Gone With the Wind, a physician can become certified to provide medical cannabis cards in the state of West Virginia.

About four hours.

Once certified, there is no limit on how many patients a physician can provide cards to.

This, according to Dr. James Berry, is a recipe for problems.

Berry, who chairs WVU School of Medicine’s Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry and serves as the director of Addiction Services, said these are among the reasons he is opposed to a recommendation from the state’s medical cannabis advisory board that would give doctors more leeway in providing cannabis cards.

“Issues other states have had when opening it up, like what we’re discussing, is you have a small number of providers who are then writing a large number of certifications. That becomes part and parcel of what they do and it becomes much more of an economic issue as opposed to really a health issue,” Berry said.

The board voted Thursday to recommend the legislature add “Or any other serious medical condition for which the physician believes the patient may benefit from the use of medical cannabis” to state code, which currently lists 15 specific diagnoses for which medical cannabis can be obtained.

Dr. Jeremy Hustead, an assistant professor of psychiatry with WVU School of Medicine and president of the West Virginia Society of Addiction Medicine, said while it’s being called medicine, cannabis will not be regulated as one.

This, he said, is why you can’t get a prescription for it.

“What they do is certify. You don’t write a prescription for how much people are supposed to use because there’s no consistency,” he said. “That’s one thing we want to make abundantly clear, the different formulations and strengths. A doctor doesn’t write ‘Use this much or that much.’ Basically it’s a card that says you can get as much as you want now. That’s the scary thing about it and it’s very much dependent on the dispensaries. ”

Of the 100 statewide, there were 14 cannabis dispensary locations approved for Monongalia County — 11 in Morgantown, two in Westover and one in Star City.

Berry and Hustead were among 22 individuals with WVU School of Medicine, including 21 physicians, who signed a letter supporting increased local regulations on cannabis dispensaries passed by the Monongalia County Board of Health.

The Monongalia County Commission blocked those regulations, explaining they were in conflict with state code.

Hustead said he fears people will seek out medical cannabis cards in lieu of proven treatment options.

“That’s the concern, that you’re going to have people who are poorly trained telling people to forego their treatment and instead use cannabis because, guess what, we make money with cannabis. We do not make money pushing effective treatment,” he said.

Hustead said he’s not opposed to medical cannabis in specific situations, like end-of-life care, but he’s treated thousands of patients with addiction problems, be that opioids or cannabis.

“It’s perceived that marijuana does not cause any harm, and that it helps people solely. If that were the case, then who would I be to object to any of this? I would be a fool. So it’s all good and not bad; it would be insane for me to think otherwise, but the reality is that’s not the case.”

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