The Commission on the Administration of Justice raised last week a list of concerns about how the state’s medical marijuana program operates.
The issues ranged from the medical conditions that qualify for a patient card and whether the need for a patient card is ever reviewed to whether a short list of doctors are handing out a large percentage of the card applications.
Chad Westom, administrator of the Public and Behavioral Health Division, and his staff managed to answer most of the questions, which have been raised repeatedly by law enforcement, prosecutors and judges who have made clear they oppose the voter approved medical marijuana program.
Chuck Callaway representing Las Vegas Metro raised the question of whether, after initially getting a medical marijuana card, the need for that card is ever reviewed. He said some of those medical conditions may be eliminated, removing the justification for a card.
“We should have those follow up mechanisms in place,” Callaway said.
“On an annual basis, the patient does need to go back to the primary physician and get another recommendation,” said program manager Steve Gilbert.
Justice Jim Hardesty questioned what he has said is the open ended justification for a card — severe pain. He and Douglas County District Attorney Mark Jackson argued the other justifications including glaucoma and cancer can be proven medically. Jackson said there’s no way to prove someone has severe pain.
Hardesty asked if there is any definition in statute of severe pain. Gilbert said that’s up to the doctor who examines the patient.
Attorney General Adam Laxalt pointed out it appears a majority of the cards issued by Nevada are for severe pain. He asked if the program tracks the doctors issuing those recommendations.
Gilbert told him they do track the doctors, ensuring they are Nevada licensed, and record how many recommendations to approve marijuana cards they have made. He said that information is forwarded to the Board of Medical Examiners for potential investigation and action every year. He said there are currently 461 Nevada licensed physicians who have signed applications.
Lt. Jorge Pierrott of Parole and Probation questioned who those doctors are; he said some seem to be from chiropractors. He was told the doctors are all Nevada licensed MDs or DOs (Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine).
Westom told the commission Wednesday there are now 15,238 Nevadans who have a medical marijuana card, nearly two-thirds of them aged 45 or older. There also are 1,144 licensed caregivers in the state with medical marijuana cards for their patients.
He and Deputy Administrator Joe Pollock said that number is dramatically higher than the 4,892 cardholders there were before the state started licensing dispensaries in late 2014. Before that, growing your own was the only legal way to get marijuana, Pollock told commissioners.
“Once establishments started opening, most of the public doesn’t want to grow their own marijuana,” Pollock said. “They want to go to a store and purchase it.”
Since the process started, he said the state has issued final licenses for three dispensaries, nine cultivators, seven producers and two laboratories in the north — all in Washoe County.
In the south, a total of 67 licenses have been issued including 19 for dispensaries. All are in Clark County except four licensees in Nye.