Green Health Docs gives area residents hope of medical marijuana prescriptions

Paige Crocker, left, of Overland, works on entering patient information data as Patrick Wilson watches at Green Health Docs in Creve Coeur in June. Green Health Docs is one of a handful of companies in Missouri set up specifically to certify Missourians for marijuana use by confirming they have a qualifying condition. 

Post-Dispatch photo

With medical marijuana about to be legalized, Missouri doctors are issuing certifications that will allow patients to fill their prescriptions starting next year. We still think Missouri voters made the right decision to legalize medical marijuana, but it’s also important that the letter of the law still applies.

The temptation will be high (no pun intended) for people to obtain prescriptions even if they have no valid medical reason to use marijuana. Prescription abuse, whether it involves drugs as seriously addictive as opioids or as seemingly benign as marijuana, is abuse nonetheless. Once a patient or doctor starts down that slippery slope, it opens the door to corrupt practices. Already, more than 10,000 Missourians have been certified to use medical marijuana, the Post-Dispatch’s Jack Suntrup reports.

To some, this might seem like splitting hairs considering that prescription-free recreational marijuana soon will be available for legal purchase throughout Illinois. Missourians who want to take advantage of that opportunity have every right to cross the river and purchase to the legal limit — provided they don’t bring it back to this state.

Within this state’s borders, Missouri’s laws must be respected. Otherwise, why have them? Lax enforcement of drug laws opens the door to black markets, bribery and organized crime.

More important is the need to keep an eye on the doctors managing the prescription process. Without a statewide monitoring system, some Missouri doctors went wild with prescriptions for highly addictive opioids. Other states imposed monitoring systems to help crack down on doctor-shopping — the tactic used by addicts to get their prescriptions filled elsewhere when their normal doctors refuse. For some doctors, writing opioid prescriptions became an easy way to rake in profits, yet Missouri lawmakers repeatedly rejected legislation mandating a prescription drug monitoring program.

The threshold for prescription abuse is far lower for marijuana because it’s already been legalized for recreational use in 11 states, while others have reduced possession penalties to the equivalent of a parking ticket. In Florida, where prescriptions are monitored, 7% of doctors were responsible for 56% of all medical marijuana certifications issued over a six-month period, an analysis by the News Service of Florida found.

Before recreational marijuana use was legalized in California last year, the process for obtaining a medical-use certification was the stuff of jokes. Doctors were rated online according to the ease with which they would help concoct a medical need and write prescriptions after a quick and cursory patient visit.

Jack Cardetti, who led the campaign for legalization of medical marijuana in Missouri, suggests it’s unlikely doctors here would abuse their privileges. Considering the vigor with which he pushed for legalization, perhaps he can now lead the charge for prescription monitoring to help ensure the abuses seen in other states don’t materialize here as well.