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A Marin County hospital could allow medical marijuana use.

Hospital Might Let Patients Toke

In what could mark a major development for medical marijuana patients, a Northern California hospital could soon allow patients to openly use pot as medicine.

Officials at Marin General Hospital in Kentfield, Cal., are considering a policy change that would make Marin the first mainstream healthcare facility in California to officially allow marijuana use on its campus.

Members of the Marin Healthcare District Board, the hospital’s governing panel, voted Sept. 13 to direct their staff to study legal and medical issues arising from cannabis use on hospital property. California residents have had access to medical pot since 1996, but none of the state’s clinics or hospitals allows on-site consumption.

U.S. law poses the biggest barrier for local healthcare officials. Federal anti-drug statutes prohibit marijuana for any use, including medical, giving the Department of Justice and other federal agencies wide latitude to punish hospitals that open their doors to pot-smoking patients.

Patients already consume marijuana discreetly in hospitals

But board members, including medical practitioners, said the proposed policy change would recognize reality in modern hospitals. Patients already routinely carry hidden vape pens and edibles into hospitals and use them when nurses, orderlies, and doctors aren’t looking.

Patients commonly use cannabis “undercover” at hospitals across California, said board member Larry Bedard, a retired emergency room physician. Much of it is smuggled into patient rooms by their family and friends, Bedard said.

Marin General Hospital
Marin General Hospital

Among other benefits, a policy allowing open vaping or consumption of THC-laced food in a hospital would make it easier for doctors to ensure their patients aren’t sneaking more dangerous drugs via their vape pens (Spice, K2, flakka, and other synthetics, mostly). The policy would also allow physicians to keep track of other medications that could interact with marijuana.

“Cannabis use in this hospital is ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,.’ ” Bedard said. “So I think there’s a cannabis closet.”

Openness is a far better policy, he said. Without honest communication and informed clinical observation, doctors lack all the information needed to treat patients.

Smoking will remain prohibited

Bedard noted that patients won’t be lighting actual joints in their hospital beds anytime soon. Smoking of any kind is banned in all hospitals in the United States and in most other settings in California. That includes marijuana.

Instead, patients would consume cannabis vapor, infused edibles, THC pills, tinctures, or other medicinal preparations. And hospitals are the perfect setting for supervised medical use of the drug, said Larry Cohen, executive director of the Prevention Institute in Oakland and a longtime public health advocate.

“It’s far better for the medical staff to know what people are using and to ensure the right quality and the right fit with other medications, so this is probably smart,” Cohen said. “One of the biggest disadvantages of edibles has to do with unsupervised risk related to children, and clearly this is far less of a concern in a medical institution.”

If Marin General Hospital moves ahead with the proposed policy change, it would likely be the first U.S. hospital to officially allow pot consumption on campus. Maine and Connecticut passed laws that protect medical staff from legal or disciplinary sanctions for giving medical cannabis to patients.

But at least one other California hospital has given patients freedom to use. San Francisco volunteers were allowed to bring edibles to patients during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, said Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML.

“Brownie Mary used to distribute medicated brownies to AIDS patients in San Francisco,” Gieringer said. “I remember hearing that she visited hospitals.”

Tell us what you think: Would you be more likely to use a hospital that allows patients to use medical marijuana? Leave a comment.

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on marijuanaandthelaw.com and californiamarijuanamarket.com.

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