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Legalizing marijuana in the U.S. could have a positive impact for nursing home residents

Last month, President Joe Biden asked federal officials to review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. If marijuana is reclassified, it could impact the long-term care industry.

Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias can be tough to manage. Especially if a person struggles with behaviors or anxiety stemming from sundowning.  As KJZZ first reported in 2019, caregivers are giving their loved ones marijuana. But it's illegal to use it in certain long term care settings if they get federal dollars.

"And the federal government classifies marijuana as a schedule one drug," said David Voepel, CEO of the Arizona Health Care Association, which represents the state’s 147 skilled nursing homes. 

Which is the same as heroin and LSD. It’s even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine.

"So technically, even though the state says you're good to use it, the federal government says, 'No, sorry.," said Voepel.

Voepel says he’s hearing that marijuana could be reclassified as a schedule V drug, "which would mean, from what I've learned, that you could get it by prescription. So that anything other than a Schedule I would be helpful in our mind."

KJZZ senior field correspondent Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.