Monday, June 6, 2011

How Your Employees Become Qualified Patients Allowed to Use Medical Marijuana in Arizona

Back to the basics after last week’s small news-induced detour.  The category of cardholders protected by the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) that is the largest and most problematic for employers is the Qualified Patient (QP).

Through June 1, 2011, the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) has approved 4,390 applications for ID cards for QPs.  There are only 109 approved Designated Caregivers (DCs) among the state-approved ID cardholders as of the same date.  Link: Application Weekly Report - Arizona Medical Marijuana Program

And there are no Dispensary Agents, and likely won’t be for some time.  That’s because of the hold ADHS has placed on the whole dispensary application process while Arizona sues federal government officials, the news development I wrote about last week.

To apply for a QP ID card, a person over the age of 18 must have a certification from an Arizona physician attesting that the patient has a debilitating medical condition. That term is defined in A.R.S. § 36-2801 as  one of eight specific medical diagnoses or the treatment of one of those eight diagnoses.  The eight diagnoses are: 

  • Cancer
  • Glaucoma
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
  • Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
  • Hepatitis C
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease)
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Agitation of Alzheimer’s disease

The AMMA also allows a physician to prescribe medical marijuana to treat five specific symptoms caused by any chronic or debilitating disease or the treatment of any chronic or debilitating disease.  Those symptoms are: 

  • Cachexia or wasting syndrome
  • Severe nausea
  • Seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy
  • Severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis
  • Severe and chronic pain

So far, it is the last symptom that is the debilitating medical condition for which the overwhelming majority – 84.8 percent – of the medical marijuana ID cards have been issued thus far.  Severe and chronic pain also is the most subjective and dependent on the self-report of the patient of all of the permissible debilitating medical conditions.  As the Arizona Republic stated in an editorial when the ADHS final regulations were issued, chronic pain is “something that is hard to verify and easy to fake.”

The next most prevalent conditions among Arizona QPs approved for ID cards thus far also are symptoms, muscle spasms, at 15.6 percent, followed by nausea, at 13.9 percent.  The most prevalent disease is Hepatitis C, reported by 7.3 percent of QPs who have been approved for ID cards through June 11, followed by cancer, at 5.6 percent.

The physician certifying the debilitating medical condition must do so on the ADHS-approved form.  The patient must submit an application online through the ADHS website and pay a $150 fee (which can be reduced to $75 for applicants currently on food stamps).

So far, the success rate for QP applicants is very high, with only one person being denied an ID card after submitting a complete application.  The QP cardholders as of June 1, 2011 are predominantly older Arizonans, with 41.6 % over the age of 51.  Across the rest of your potential workforce, however, cardholders are evenly distributed, with about 19 percent of them falling into each of the age ranges 18-30, 31-40, and 41-50.

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