People suffering from chronic pain can now get medical marijuana in New Hampshire, thanks to a law extending the treatment to cover new conditions that takes effect this week. Later in the month, people with post-traumatic stress disorder will also qualify.
Chronic pain is the most common reason why people seek out medical marijuana, according to a National Academies of Sciences report earlier this year. Add PTSD, and New Hampshire's medical marijuana market is looking at some major changes.
Two marijuana entrepreneurs talked with NHPR’s Rick Ganley about how their businesses will change.
Anthony Parrinello, executive director of Temescal Wellness, which operates two of the four dispensaries authorized to provide medical marijuana in the state, said he’s preparing for a rush of new patients. “Whether the program is going to double in qualifying patients or triple, that remains to be seen, but we certainly are expecting a large influx of patients."
Brett Sicklick, chief operating officer for Prime Alternative Treatment Center of New Hampshire, which runs a dispensary in Merrimack, shares that anticipation. “We don’t expect it to happen overnight, but it will ramp up pretty quickly,” he says.
The two providers offer marijuana in various forms to patients with cancer, glaucoma, spinal cord injuries, and other conditions. The companies formed after medical marijuana was made legal in the state in 2013.
Today, Parrinello and Sicklick agree that a remaining hurdle for their industry is education. “Because,” Sicklick says, “for most of our patients, this is something entirely new to them. They had never encountered cannabis during their entire life, so there’s a pretty significant learning curve.
“We have a multitude of different delivery methods that are available that all require explanations, how they are meant to be utilized. And certainly talking about dosage is very important, because everybody has a different required dosage.”
Parrinello says the need for education extends to doctors, as well. "One of the challenges is the number of physicians or advanced nurse practitioners that are willing to recommend therapeutic cannabis as a safe alternative. I was speaking with a nurse practitioner last week in Bedford, and right now, before pain and PTSD come online as qualifying conditions, she’s booking out through the end of November. And if you were to go in to see a specialist, that’s an awful long lead time to get an appointment.
"So I see lead times of current recommending providers to grow, and unfortunately, I wish, we all wish, that many providers would perhaps take a closer look at therapeutic cannabis as an alternative, and do some research, and be willing to write a recommendation."
One place the message about marijuana does seem to be getting through is local police department. “When I spoke to the former chief of police maybe four months ago,” Sicklick says, “I asked, how are we doing? Are we getting in the way, are we a problem? And he said, I don’t even know that you guys are there. You don’t present any challenges, you don’t pose any threats on the community, and you operate like any other business does."
Parrinello echoes that positive experience, and says he and his business “have ongoing relationships with law enforcement to keep them apprised of new products that we’re bringing to market, so they have an understanding of what products are coming from our facilities versus the street. I think the law enforcement officials are very appreciative of that.”
Sicklick and Parrinello both say a bigger challenge they face has to do with the way the medical marijuana law is written. The law has regulations meant to keep the drugs from falling into the wrong hands, requiring prospective patients to go through a screening process.
Parinello says those regulations can slow down the process of getting a prescription and getting it filled. “One thing that’s a little bit cumbersome for patients is having to burn a photo onto a CD and mail that in with their application. Many computers don’t come with CD [burners], obviously.”
Other regulations cover caregivers, people authorized to purchase medical marijuana on behalf of someone unable to travel to a dispensary. But Sicklick says getting that authorization, too, is a bureaucratic trial.
“That process now includes a criminal background check and fingerprinting, and it’s just above and beyond what’s required for someone to handle that responsibility. We don’t see that with opiates, which are obviously far more dangerous and far more of a problem, so if we’re not requiring it for a drug like that, I don’t think it should be that way for cannabis.”
New Hampshire's new law, establishing chronic pain as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis, goes into effect on Tuesday this week, and PTSD will be added to the list on August 27th.