DEA: Pharmacists dispensing marijuana would be in violation of federal law

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma Board of Pharmacy says they will have to work multiple agencies now that emergency rules for medical marijuana are in place.

On Wednesday, Governor Mary Fallin signed the emergency rules on the medical marijuana program approved by the Oklahoma Board of Health. Part of those rules include requiring a pharmacist at every dispensary. According to Dr. Chelsea Church, the executive director of the Oklahoma Board of Pharmacy, the pharmacist's responsibilities at the dispensary would be similar to what they currently do at pharmacies.

"That person makes sure all of the policies and procedures are followed, all of the training of employees is up to date for keeping the inventory all controlled and dangerous drugs," Dr. Church said. "All other medications are dispensed through the pharmacy with a pharmacist oversight, we don’t feel like medical marijuana should be treated any differently."

Church acknowledged, however, there is a risk for pharmacists.

Assistant special agent-in-charge Rich Salter with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) told News 4, the medical marijuana program as a whole is in direct conflict with federal law. Marijuana, a schedule 1 drug, is still illegal under federal law.

According to Agent Salter, any pharmacist licensed with the DEA would be in violation of the law if he or she were to dispense or prescribe an illegal drug and could be at risk of losing their license if they were to work at a dispensary.

Dr. Church said they have a good working relationship with both the DEA and the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics (OBN).

"We feel like as long as this is treated as medical marijuana, regulated as such as we do with pharmacies, I think DEA would be excited for there to be pharmacy involvement," she said.

Mark Woodwood, a spokesperson for OBN, said the important thing to keep in mind is the fact that Oklahoma is not the first state to legalize medical marijuana.

"There’s been other states that have had to reconcile the fact that they have legalized something on the state level that is still illegal on the federal level," Woodward said. "One of the things we can do in Oklahoma is work with our partners and look at these other states and how have they navigated these waters and use that as a go-by as we move forward in Oklahoma. These other states from what we’ve studied have kind of found a balance, and I think we’ll be looking at those states and see what that balance is."

Dr. Church said the board may also review their own administrative rules while working with the DEA and OBN.

"I think the big thing will be training. We want to make sure that pharmacists are being trained adequately," she said. "We would probably have a recommendation of 'X' amount of hours of training, seminar, etc. and if they’re going to have any dispensary technicians, then we would have to promulgate those rules, too."

Agent Salter said this week, the DEA will meet with three U.S. attorneys to discuss a policy or strategy on how they will respond from the federal level.