Several Northeast Ohio health systems not allowing physicians to recommend medical marijuana

CLEVELAND – Medical marijuana will be sold by dispensaries in Ohio soon, but thousands of doctors employed by Northeast Ohio's three major health systems will not be allowed to recommend the drug for patients.

The Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals and MetroHealth each said they aren't allowing their doctors to recommend the drug.

The hospitals said the bans are rooted in the lack of FDA approval for marijuana products or conflicts between federal and state law over the drug's legality.

Many of the more than 300 doctors currently certified by the state to recommend medical marijuana are in private practice and not directly employed by a hospital system.

Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Angie Kiska said in a statement that the hospital feels the Food and Drug Administration’s approval process is “the most effective way to ensure the safety, efficacy, and purity of medications provided to patients across Ohio. Until the marijuana products receive regulatory approval, we will not be involved with the distribution of unapproved cannabis products through dispensaries.”

University Hospitals spokesperson Katelyn McCarthy said the system is not allowing its nearly 4,000 doctors to recommend cannabis “due to the discrepancy between state and federal law with regard to the legality of marijuana use.”

The ban does not apply to doctors affiliated with, but not directly employed by, the hospitals.

MetroHealth said its current practice is that physicians do not recommend medical marijuana due to a number of factors, including the conflict between federal and state law.

“MetroHealth is currently reviewing the available information (the current regulatory framework, the science supporting medical cannabis, and the needs of our patient population) to develop a policy,” spokesperson Tina Arundel said in a statement.

Psychiatrist Noah Miller, M.D. said HIS Pepper Pike medical marijuana practice, Compassionate Cleveland, is getting referrals from doctors in the major hospital systems.

“I think, unfortunately, it is sending the wrong message. I think it's sending the message to our patients that even though medical marijuana is legal in the state of Ohio that it must somehow still not be, or maybe not be accepted or not be ok,” Miller said.

“In this case, I think that the major hospital systems are really limiting their patients' access to it in a way that could be very detrimental to their patients.”

Miller said he was at first skeptical about the use of cannabis in medicine but has found a large amount of anecdotal evidence from patients that it’s helpful, particularly as an alternative to opiates in the management of chronic pain.

“I really found that medical marijuana posed to have a lot of benefit for patients without as much risk as I think people perceive,” he said. “I think now that we have a better understanding of cannabis and some of the positive and negative effects, I do think it should be considered as an option for patients.”

Ohio law requires patients to have one of 21 qualifying conditions to receive a recommendation for medical marijuana. Patients who do so and are registered with the state by their doctor will then receive a card to purchase marijuana from an approved dispensary. The Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program said dispensaries are expected to open soon