Today, cannabis-based therapeutics provide relief to millions of Americans, often serving as a crucial alternative when conventional treatments have failed or as a safer option compared to pharmaceuticals. However, the integration of cannabis into broader US healthcare systems still faces many hurdles, ranging from regulatory and legal barriers to a lack of education among healthcare providers to a mistrust of mainstream medicine by consumers. 


While some healthcare providers have embraced cannabis therapies, many still have reservations. State-level medical cannabis programs and cannabinoid-derived hemp products operate independently of the broader healthcare system. Moreover, the US healthcare industry, with few exceptions, has remained largely passive in embracing medical cannabis over the past three decades. Organizations like the American Medical Association have refrained from supporting access to cannabis outside the FDA approval process, citing the need for more research into its medical efficacy.

The endocannabinoid system, crucial to understanding cannabis therapeutics, was only discovered in 1994. Despite its significance, education about this system has not yet found its way into pre-med or medical school curricula. 

Furthermore, cannabis's classification as a Schedule 1 drug and the lack of demand for cannabinoid medications that are available by prescription contribute to healthcare providers' limited knowledge and understanding of cannabis therapeutics.

While a few cannabinoid-based pharmaceuticals achieved FDA approval with federal support, their efficacy has been inferior to the cannabis and cannabinoid products available outside these legal options. Scientific discovery has demonstrated that the medicinal benefits of cannabis are derived from multiple active compounds that align with highly personalized endocannabinoid systems. This complexity makes applying the pharmaceutical model for drug development challenging. Moreover, the commercial success of these pharmaceutical products has been lackluster, and patent-related challenges for cannabis formulations make it unlikely that major pharmaceutical companies will continue to pursue the pharmaceuticalization of cannabis.

Expanding Definitions of Medicine and Improving US Healthcare

The integration of cannabis into healthcare systems offers an opportunity to redefine medicine and enhance the overall quality of healthcare in the United States. By incorporating cannabis-based therapeutics into treatment plans, healthcare providers can broaden their understanding of effective treatments and cater to a wider range of patient needs. Cannabis has shown promising results in managing various medical conditions, from chronic pain to epilepsy, providing patients with alternative options when conventional treatments have fallen short.

Embracing cannabis as a legitimate medical tool challenges traditional notions of medicine and encourages a more holistic approach to healthcare. The endocannabinoid system, discovered in 1994, underscores the intricate relationship between cannabis and the human body, highlighting the potential for personalized and targeted treatments. By acknowledging cannabis's therapeutic potential, healthcare systems can adapt to evolving scientific knowledge and offer patients comprehensive care that addresses their unique physiological and psychological needs.

Pathway for Insurance Coverage

Currently, the absence of insurance coverage for cannabis treatments presents a significant barrier for patients, particularly those facing financial hardship. Without insurance support, many patients struggle to afford the cost of cannabis-based medications, limiting their access to potentially life-changing treatments.

By integrating cannabis into mainstream healthcare, policymakers can work towards ensuring that these treatments are covered by insurance plans. This would not only alleviate the financial burden on patients but also promote equitable access to care. Insurance coverage for cannabis treatments would enable more individuals to explore alternative therapeutic options without fear of exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses, ultimately improving health outcomes and quality of life for patients across the country.

Civil Protections and Other Privileges  

For patients, integrating cannabis into healthcare systems would mean accessing treatments without fear of legal repercussions or discrimination. The legal status of cannabis in the United States is complicated & varies depending on the state, the age of the patient, & even the chemical composition of a product. Even when cannabis is legal in a state, protections and privileges afforded to other Americans such as employment, housing, healthcare, and child custody rights are not always clear for cannabis patients and consumers. 

Some employers have strict drug policies that may prohibit cannabis use, even for medical purposes. Unless prohibited by state law, employers can still drug test & discipline their employees for cannabis use. 

Cannabis use is used as ammunition for child custody during divorce proceedings and by child protection services as evidence of an unfit home. Cannabis use may be a violation of probation or parole and can complicate immigration proceedings. 

Cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, which means that state protections are not extended to patients who work for or have contracts with the federal government, patients who live in federally subsidized housing, veterans receiving care from the VA, or patients in hospitals and hospice programs. 

Federal courts have found that the medical use of cannabis does not qualify patients for protections provided to patients under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Fair Housing Act (FHA). This means that individuals do not have protected rights to use medical cannabis if landlords prohibit it.

Healthcare providers also stand to benefit from integration. Many healthcare professionals hesitate to recommend cannabis due to legal uncertainties and concerns about professional liability. By formalizing the role of cannabis in healthcare systems, policymakers can clarify legal frameworks and provide safeguards for healthcare providers, enabling them to confidently incorporate cannabis therapies into their practice.

Americans for Safe Access is calling on Congress to pass Comprehensive medical cannabis and cannabinoid legislation to address the gap in state and federal cannabis policies and public health concerns and to give federal agencies the robust guidance they are seeking from Congress. The Medical Cannabis & Cannabinoid Act of 2024 (MCCA), was drafted by Americans for Safe Access with input from patient organizations, regulators, researchers, and medical professionals. It has two primary functions: changing the schedule of cannabis to a newly created schedule (Schedule VI), and creating the Office of Medical Cannabis & Cannabinoid Control (OMC) housed under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Integrating cannabis into healthcare systems will expand the definition of medicine, improve access to alternative treatments, and pave the way for insurance coverage for these treatments, enhancing the overall quality of healthcare in the United States. By creating a regulatory pathway that acknowledges cannabis therapeutics, healthcare systems can adapt to evolving scientific knowledge and offer patients comprehensive care that embraces personalized and targeted treatments.