When veterinarians uttered the phrase, “Medical cannabis for pets” even a few years ago, most people looked at us like we were from Mars. Today, the benefits of cannabis for pets are well known to help with a variety of common ailments including pain, inflammation, seizures, gastrointestinal disorders, cancer, anxiety, and more. As with any medication, appropriate medical guidance is needed in order to make sure medical cannabis is used safely and effectively in pets. There is a problem, however.
Veterinarians in California are legally forbidden to recommend or even give advice to pet owners about the use of medical cannabis.
The situation seems crazy. We have had medical cannabis in California for over 20 years and now we have recreational use for anyone over 21. How could this have happened?
When Prop 215 passed in 1997 allowing for medical cannabis in California, the legislation only listed physicians (MD or DO) as qualified to recommend cannabis for their patients. No one considered veterinarians and pets at the time because there was no demand for it. Here we are 20 years later and cannabis for pets is at the forefront of veterinary medicine and pet care.
Medical (and recreational) access to cannabis in California and other states is legal because the state specifically made it legal. As far as the federal government is concerned, however, cannabis is an illegal substance. Despite the contradiction, Congress and the courts have decided not to enforce federal law in states where cannabis has been legalized (Jeff Sessions not withstanding).
So here is the rub: There is no state law specifically allowing veterinarians to discuss or recommend cannabis for their patients. Without state protection, federal law makes a veterinarian discussing the medical use of cannabis for animals illegal.
The California Veterinary Medical Board and the California Veterinary Medical Association have both recognized the legal quandary and have recommended veterinarians refrain from discussions about the benefits of medical cannabis with pet owners due to the potential legal liability. While their efforts are intended to protect pet owners and veterinarians, we are all left in an impossible situation.
Should pet owners rely on medical instructions received from a dispensary, pet store, or the Internet when it comes to dosing cannabis? Wouldn’t that be a better and safer discussion to have with your veterinarian?
Cannabis is one of the most broadly effective medicines available today. It has so many potential uses; we have only scratched the surface. It is not, however, a completely harmless substance. Pets can be hurt and, in rare circumstances, be killed by accidental overdoses of cannabis. Preventing veterinarians from being part of the discussion about keeping pets safe is not only counterintuitive, it creates a potential animal welfare crisis.
Our best course of action as Californians is to do what we do best: Stand up and support a change for the better. The State Legislature has the power to remedy the situation by passing a bill granting veterinarians the same rights as physicians when it comes to the discussion and recommendation of cannabis for animals. They can also create a system protecting pets by providing a framework by which pet specific cannabis products are labeled and sold.
Veterinarians take and oath to keep animals safe. Regardless if you are in favor of cannabis as medicine or not, preventing the veterinary community from providing medical advice places animals at risk. Leaving pet owners to fend for themselves in the ever-expanding landscape of available cannabis products is an invitation for ineffective treatment and unintentional animal abuse. Ultimately, this is about improving quality of life by promoting access to a medicine that frequently works when nothing else does.
You can help pets in two ways.
Go to HolisticVetCare and voice your support of cannabis legislation for animals by signing the petition and share your personal story about how medical cannabis helped your pet. Your story will help provide support to enlighten state lawmakers to how critical this issue is.
Broad public support is the most effective way to create change. Let’s all get behind the effort to keep pets safe in California!
Gary Richter, MS, DVM
Micki McCabe, DVM, DACVIM
Rachael Feigenbaum, VMD
Jean Dodds, DVM
Darren Hawks, DVM
Tamara Hebbler, DVM
Trina Hazzah, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)
Rene Gandolfi, DVM, DABVP
Amy Crain, BVMS
Christine Merrick, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)
Dianne Sequoia, DVM
Katy Sommers, DVM
Eric Eisenman, DVM, MPVM
Kim Schmidt, DVM
Are you a San Francisco Bay Area veterinarian who would like to write an article for the Ask Dr. Dog column, which is authored by guest veterinarians practicing in the Bay Area? Bay Woof is accepting submissions. Send email to Editor@BayWoof.com.
Main article photo by: Photo by istock/ PABimages