MASSACHUSETTS: Doctors at Massachusetts community health centers have been advised not to authorize any of their more than 638,000 patients to obtain marijuana for medical purposes because the centers fear they would lose their federal funding.
The Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers has advised its 36 federally funded facilities to hold off on issuing patient marijuana certifications under the state’s new medical marijuana law, because use remains illegal under federal law.
Health center physicians who believe marijuana might be beneficial for certain patients and authorize its use could be committing a “potential violation of federal law and could result in legal and financial exposure for community health centers,” according to a statement from the League.
This disconnect between state and federal marijuana law is cropping up in other areas as well; some rules restrict tenants who use medical marijuana from living in federally subsidized housing, or prevent Veterans Administration hospitals and clinics from authorizing medical marijuana.
It is not just federal funding at stake if the centers certify patients for marijuana use, but also loss of malpractice insurance, covered by a federal program known as the Federal Tort Claims Act.
Also, should a community health center physician be convicted under federal law for certifying a patient, the physician could be shut out of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the insurance that covers many who use health centers.
The National Association of Community Health Centers is unaware of any center or center physician that have faced federal sanctions for prescribing medical marijuana, but the threat of prosecution or funding loss looms large.
“Community health centers have been providing access to care for decades, but there is no assurance that they would not come under federal investigation or that their physicians would not face trouble for certifying medical conditions under state medical marijuana programs, given it is an unsettled area of the law,” said Kathryn Watson, an attorney at Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell, a Washington-based law firm that advises the national group.