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Crackdown on medical cannabis education and promotion harms patients

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Week after week, thousands of new patients enroll in Missouri’s fast-growing medical marijuana program. Less than a year since the start of retail sales, nearly 150,000 Missourians with cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma and 20 other qualifying conditions can now safely purchase their medicine at any of the more than 150 dispensaries approved to operate so far.

What those patients can’t now do — thanks to a vague, overly broad and confusing rule interpretation recently announced by the state Department of Health and Senior Services — is access complete information related to the manufacture, quality, safety, contents, application and pricing of medical cannabis products in Missouri.

The department’s ban on “promotional events” may be rooted in the best of intentions, but its prohibition on “any activity, advertisement or publicity designed to increase interest in purchasing medical marijuana or a particular product or brand” is an unduly restrictive burden.

Many medical cannabis patients, including those we both treat at our St. Louis practices, as well as across the state, are on fixed incomes. It’s imperative that they know which dispensaries carry their preferred products and how much those products cost so that they can locate, budget and shop accordingly. Dispensaries offer promotional pricing to help patients afford their medicine and use these opportunities to educate and inform patients.

Such “sales” or “promotions” are no different than any other retailer reducing prices on items to help customers get the best value from their purchasing dollars. All retailers routinely use product discounts or specials to introduce new products to the market and to educate consumers about their products.

State regulators routinely refer to the importance of patient education in an arena in which many program participants may still be unfamiliar. The ability to discuss the direct-to-patient benefits allowed by dispensary education events cannot be realized if these patients are unaware of the cannabis retail outlet’s available pricing programs and products.

As the state program’s front-line representatives, dispensaries share the responsibility of ensuring that their customers abide by the appropriate and responsible procurement and use of medical cannabis — and to both discourage and disincentivize patient participation in the illegal market. This should not be seen as a promotion, but rather an obligation, a continued commitment to Missouri patients under a state constitutional amendment approved by nearly two-thirds of voters in 2018.
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