Last week, New Hampshire became the 19th state to legalize medical marijuana—meaning that doctors will in effect be able to prescribe pot for their patients. But people waiting for a prescription shouldn’t hold their breath: Even after medical marijuana comes to a state, it can take months to find a doctor willing to recommend the treatment.
The waiting list for an appointment at MarijuanaDoctors.com, a booking site for physicians specializing in weed, is already up to 650 patients in New Hampshire—even though doctors there aren’t permitted to sign off on pot for another year. In Illinois, where a medical marijuana bill still awaits the governor’s signature, there are 1,800 patients on the appointment waiting list. In Massachusetts, where the waiting list is some 3,000-people long, many patients are still waiting to see a doctor since legalization took effect Jan. 1.
Part of the reason for the long lines is that patient demand far overshadows the number of doctors willing to recommend marijuana, especially in states that have only recently allowed it. In Massachusetts, only seven doctors are currently listed on MarijuanaDoctors, though a few more offer the services without publicizing them, Nicolazzo says. In New Hampshire, two doctors may be ready to start seeing patients as soon as mid-August, he says. Meanwhile, four or five Midwest doctors with medical marijuana practices in legal states like Michigan have expressed interest in traveling to see patients in Illinois.
The shortage of pot docs is mostly due to physician skepticism and ambivalence from medical societies towards marijuana, which the government still considers a Schedule 1 controlled substance, or a drug “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Even though a federal appeals court unanimously ruled in 2002 that doctors’ licenses can’t be revoked for recommending medical marijuana, a lot of doctors have an anxiety about this. Indeed, there are so few docs willing to prescribe marijuana that when a physician first signs up on MarijuanaDoctors.com, patients often request appointments within 30 to 45 minutes.
Of those pioneering physicians, some find the grass is actually greener in the weed business, and abandon traditional medicine altogether. Patients pay $150 to $300 per marijuana prescription, as insurance doesn’t cover the appointment or the drug,