There are plenty of medical doctors, physicians’ assistants, nurse practitioners and optometrists in the Golden Triangle, but for the time being at least Dr. Jack Walters stands apart from them all.

Under the state law that created medical cannabis, anyone who wants to have access to legal cannabis must obtain an identification card issued by Mississippi Department of Health. The application process for the card requires meeting with a state-approved medical professional whose sole responsibility is to verify that the patient suffers from one of the diseases/conditions approved for medical cannabis treatment.

That’s where Walters, a pain management specialist at Columbus Orthopedic, comes in. He is currently the only state-approved medical professional in the Golden Triangle who can certify patients for medical cannabis.

It’s a distinction Walters wasn’t necessarily looking for, but Amy Bogue, owner of Allegro Family Clinic, was.

Amy Bogue

“We were trying to come together as a medical community to determine how we were going to handle this and who wants to take the lead,” said Bogue, whose business operates four clinics in Lowndes County. “I had been talking to Dr. Walters for a year, off and on, about this. We needed someone approved by the state that we could send referrals to and Dr. Walters stepped up to fill that role.”

Early in their discussions, Walters agreed to meet with Allegro Clinic professionals about how the process would work.

“Being super active in the health care community, Amy approached me about talking with her staff about what they would need to be aware of,” Walters said.

He also saw the obvious need for a state-approved medical professional to certify medical cannabis patients, although he was neither a strong advocate for medical cannabis nor opposed to it.

“The way I saw it, this was something that was voted on by the people of Mississippi and then passed by the legislature, so it’s somebody’s job to make sure patients are correctly certified to be eligible,” Walters said.

Walters plans to set aside one day each week for the sole purpose of seeing patients who are in the process of applying for the medical cannabis program.

“The whole medical cannabis thing is a separate deal from what we do on a regular basis,” Walters said. “It’s not an approved treatment for Medicare or billable for insurance. So the idea of dealing with that separately made sense to me.”

Walters said he will also devote one day per week to certify patients in Starkville out of Pause Pain and Wellness, which plans to open clinics in Starkville, Tupelo and Oxford.

Walters expects to begin seeing those applying for medical cannabis cards in the next few weeks.

“We’re still getting organized at this point,” he said.

Walters’ role is simple: Verifying that the patients he sees have a qualifying medical condition, but Bogue said Walters’ knowledge of pain management — and what he has learned about medical cannabis from the required training he completed to be approved by the state — will help patients have a better understanding.

“There are a lot of things patients need to know about,” Bogue said. “People know you can’t drink and drive, for example. Well, you can’t get high and drive, either. With the edibles, you may not feel the effects right away, so you might be tempted to eat another. Then it hits them all at once. There are also questions about how cannabis might interact with whatever prescription drugs you are taking. Those are just a few of the things people need to know about.”

Walters agrees.

“Yes, we can certainly address those issues, help identify any pitfalls the patients might encounter, make a recommendation about the products that are best for them,” he said. “We’re happy to share what we know. We don’t make recommendations to patients about whether or not they should use medical cannabis. That’s their decision.”

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is ssmith@cdispatch.com.

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