OKLAHOMA CITY -- Doctors gathered statewide Friday to learn more about Oklahoma's burgeoning medical marijuana industry and its potential benefits, perils and pitfalls.
Some physicians, meanwhile, are wary to participate until lawmakers act. Several issues arose after voters approved the state's new medical cannabis law in June.
"(Supporters) realized it was a broad state question, and it was intentionally created that way because they knew there were gaps, but that the Legislature here in Oklahoma would fix that," said Dr. Jean Hausheer, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association.
She said the measure passed, "and now the legislators don't really want to touch it because they're all up for re-election. We knew that would happen."
Under the new state law, patients must obtain a physician recommendation in order to receive a two-year medical marijuana license. While it's not required to register, more than 60 physicians have, which indicates that they're willing to issue those recommendations, according to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority.
One physician, though, pressed Oklahoma State Department of Health Commissioner Tom Bates, asking how his agency's Health Board plans to handle a series of testing requirements proposed by a joint legislative working group.
Earlier this month, the committee approved a set of nonbinding rules designed to govern laboratory testing and labeling of medicinal products. Lawmakers said the rules are key legalization efforts and must be addressed as soon as possible. Hundreds of dispensaries are scheduled to open and start selling product in the coming weeks. Lawmakers currently have no authority to actually implement them without a special session, so they're calling on the Board of Health to adopt them.
"Those recommendations have not been formally submitted to the Board of Health," Bates said Friday.
He said when they're formally submitted, they will be reviewed. Then officials will meet with Attorney General's Office to decide the next step forward.
Hausheer said doctors remain concerned that there are no limits on levels of THC -- tetrahydrocannabinol, the plant's main psychoactive component -- or pre-qualifying medical conditions. Some physicians are worried about the potential of edible cannabis products having packaging geared toward children, she said.
Physicians are also concerned about what interactions cannabis might have with other prescribed medications, she said.
Meanwhile, some doctors have discovered their malpractice insurer will not cover them if they choose to recommend medical marijuana certificates. Also, federal employers prohibit doctors from participating, she said.
Attorney Cori Loomis, with the Christensen Law Group, told doctors that every state but four now have some sort of medical marijuana law on the books, but they're all different.
She said most doctors don't need to worry about losing their licenses as long as they're practicing good medicine and adhering to the standard of care.
For instance, she said a Colorado doctor lost his license because he set up shop in tattoo parlors and hotels. All his patients received a recommendation.
An Arizona physician faced reprimand for issuing 483 certifications without checking patients' prescription drug histories even though he swore he had, Loomis said.
And a Maine gynecologist lost his license for recommending men, who -- of course -- were not his patients, she said.
Still she cautioned that some doctors could see their hospital privileges affected. Facilities that accept Medicaid or Medicare must agree to comply with all federal laws. Marijuana remains illegal federally, she said.
"There really is just not enough information for physicians, and some are very uncertain about it," said Jennifer Dennis-Smith, a spokeswoman for the Medical Association.
She said there's a need for clear-cut guidelines and protections for patients, physicians and everyone.
"Until that is straightened out, you're going to have fewer physicians who feel comfortable participating than you might have had otherwise," she said.
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.