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The Pharmacist’s Role in Medical Marijuana

Written by Melissa Nguyen PharmD’19
Published on October 11, 2017

The pharmacist’s role in healthcare is slowly evolving. Pharmacists are pushing for provider status so they can get reimbursed for their healthcare services. Pharmacists are the experts on medication use and an important member of the healthcare team. Pharmacists are responsible for being up-to-date on vital medical information. For example, marijuana is slowly becoming more accepted for medical use. Because medical marijuana is being legalized in more states, healthcare professionals need to apply this information to satisfy patients’ needs. Despite this, pharmacists are not always required to be part of a medical marijuana dispensary. This blog will discuss the need for pharmacists in marijuana dispensaries and the pharmacist’s role in managing and dispensing marijuana in Pennsylvania.

Including pharmacists in dispensaries may be controversial. In October 2015, Drugs Topics surveyed 715 pharmacists and discovered 48%were in favor of pharmacist oversight of state-approved medical marijuana dispensaries. On the contrary, 28% believed marijuana should be classified as a Schedule II Controlled Substance in order to be dispensed. Eighteen percent believe additional research should be done prior to pharmacists dispensing cannabis as well. Despite these beliefs, in some states, pharmacists are required to be in dispensaries. Conneticut (CT) requires pharmacists to be behind the counter in medical marijuana dispensaries. In Milford, CT, pharmacists Tejal Desai, Jay Patel, Deepa Desai, and Raj Patel opened a dispensary entitled Southern CT Wellness and Healing. To them, a dispensary is simply an extension of independent pharmacy. Their specialties range from retail pharmacy, pain, HIV/AIDS, oncology, and psychiatry. Collectively, they have over 80 years of experience under their belt, and they supplemented their clinical expertise with online research and continuing education. The pharmacist’s medical background ensures patients can integrate medical marijuana with their existing healthcare needs.

In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf signed Act 16 of 2016  on April 17, 2016 which legalized medical marijuana in PA. This bill outlines that when a dispensary is open for patients and caregivers, they must always have a physician or pharmacist on duty. According to the bill, pharmacists must undergo a 4-hour training program and other requirements to able to dispense marijuana. This 4-hour training program approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Health will educate pharmacists and physicians on medical marijuana research and information regarding marijuana’s risks and benefits.

The Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association (PPA) believes that in the dispensary, the pharmacist can serve as the medication expert by dispensing and counseling on medical marijuana use. According to the American Pharmacist Association (APhA), pharmacists are responsible for treating marijuana like any other drug. They need to review patients’ medication and medical history, check for drug interactions, and counsel patients on use and adverse effects. In 2018, medical marijuana will be implemented in Pennsylvania, and pharmacists will continue to serve patients as medication experts regardless of the dispensed medication.

In time, more and more states will legalize medical marijuana. Despite this legal traction, the same may not be said for pharmacists behind the dispensary counter. Pharmacists have a patient centered approach and are well versed in all aspects of medication. In Canada, the Canadian Pharmacists Association asserts pharmacists have a “frontline role” in dispensing cannabis to increase clinical oversight and increase patient safety and access. Pharmacists’ clinical expertise in medications makes them uniquely qualified to manage and dispense medical cannabis, enabling patients to have better care.

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