In the past four years, more than 2,000 doctors have issued cannabis recommendations to more than 500,000 Florida residents, allowing them to obtain medical marijuana cards and buy a wide range of cannabis products to treat a wide range of ailments. Cardholders range from senior citizens with glaucoma to children with epilepsy and everyone in between.
In 2016, 71 percent of voters in Florida approved an amendment to legalize medical marijuana, despite Republicans ’efforts to derail the measure. Voting was a rare display of unity in a politically divided state.
Republican lawmakers in Florida responded by launching an ongoing campaign based on lies, myths and misinformation to restrict access to the plant, despite polls showing that more than half of the Republican voters in the state support the legalization of cannabis.
The latest Republican attempt to sabotage the industry involves the party’s relentless obsession with THC levels. Account sponsored by State Representative Spencer Roach of North Fort Myers would limit the level of THC in the cannabis flower to 10 percent. The bill would also limit other cannabis products, such as concentrates, to 60 percent. A similar law was not passed last year.
THC is a psychoactive cannabinoid that elevates people, but is also effective in relieving pain and managing the symptoms of cancer, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, Crohn’s disease, nausea, anxiety, depression and insomnia, among other conditions.
Miami-based doctor Herve Damas, who has been certified by the state to recommend cannabis to patients, is one voice in a chorus of doctors who oppose the bill.
“The only people this [bill] Services are alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical interests, “says Damas.” The reason is that when you have medical marijuana or adult programs, you will notice a drop in alcohol purchases, you will also see a drop in alcohol purchases. Tobacco, you will see a decline in the purchase of over-the-counter and prescription drugs. “
Roach’s law would also make it harder for children to obtain medical marijuana, requiring two pediatricians to approve one recommendation for a child before they can receive cannabis.
“They make it almost impossible for any child to get a recommendation, because there are perhaps only three board-certified pediatricians in Florida who can recommend cannabis,” said Moriah Barnhart, one of the country’s leading marijuana activists.
Barnhart’s advocacy began after her now 10-year-old daughter Dahlia was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer at the age of two. Dahlia responded better to cannabis than to traditional treatments.
“Nothing has helped my daughter in the way that cannabis does, even with all the world’s best scientists and researchers and all the best drugs at hand,” says Barnhart. “Cannabis improves her quality of life. It allows her to sleep, eat and drink without a feeding tube, allowing her to gain weight enough to walk. Cannabis has probably saved her life.”
Limiting THC would also affect adults like Jenifer Perdomo, a Miami woman who turned to cannabis after being diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2015. Perdomo uses cannabis concentrates with a THC level close to 90 percent, but the bill will reduce that to 60 percent.
“I need cannabis to be as strong as possible because I’m allergic to painkillers like morphine, which is prescribed for my type of pain,” Perdomo says.
In February, after successfully holding cancer with cannabis for several years, Perdomo says the disease began to attack areas of her body that had previously been spared, and she was hospitalized again.
“This fear at this exact time was the worst for my mental mind – not knowing if I would have the cannabis I need during this upcoming treatment is one of the most unjust things the state has done to me,” Perdomo wrote in a Facebook message from the hospital.
Damas says there are many cancer patients like Perdom who prefer cannabis to opioids.
“The traditional analgesia prescribed for these patients are opioids, so they come up with cannabis because it gives them a chance to relieve pain without fear of addiction and without side effects like allergic reactions, constipation, loss of focus, mental acuity,” he says. “It’s going to be hard for that person to reduce their pain to a control point when you limit their THC, and they’re going to have to consume them more and more.”
Forcing cannabis production companies to reduce THC levels will complicate cultivation because marijuana growing companies already have seeds in the soil that will eventually sprout plants with higher levels of THC that cannot be sold as a flower, reducing supply and potentially forcing people to move away from legal cannabis to illegal cannabis.
“It will cost twice as much as it costs now, and people are just starting to go black,” Damas predicts.
Roach’s bill stuck in the house Committee on Health and Human Services, it should be adopted by the full House and Senate, and signed by Governor Ron DeSantis before it becomes law.
The governor told reporters this month that he did not “approve” the law, but said today’s cannabis contains “really bad things” compared to street weeds from 30 years ago – probably a reference to THC levels. In Florida, state regulations require cannabis companies to obtain and submit laboratory reports on their products to ensure they are contaminant-free and safe for human use.
Currently, most cannabis flowers sold in Florida range from 12 to 28 percent THC. From the 1960s to the 1980s, weeds typically contained less than 5 percent THC because they were wildly grown worldwide and smuggled into the United States. It wasn’t until growers in California began crossing strains in the 1970s that THC levels began to rise. The newly created strains were used to grow even stronger strains, resulting in those available today.
Even with rising THC levels, the greatest danger from cannabis consumption over the years has always been caught by the police. Marijuana generally does not result in an overdose, unlike legal prescription opioids that kill thousands of people each year.
Yet Roach has drawn a false equivalence between the state medical cannabis industry and the illegal pill mills that covered the state more than a decade ago.
“Our medical marijuana program is becoming a recreational drug use program operating under the guise of a medical marijuana program,” Roach argued during a subcommittee to approve home health services, according to WFSU. “And just like the opioid crisis, we saw it prescribed and we saw this drug being trafficked across state borders. We saw it end up in our high schools and be sold to children.”
Damas, a doctor who recommends marijuana to his patients, says the comparisons are harmful. He believes lawmakers in Florida need a more progressive approach to regulating the cannabis legal industry.
“The ban never worked,” he says. “The ban on alcohol was an absolute failure. The ban on marijuana – an absolute failure. The war on drugs – an absolute failure. So I think it’s time to start rethinking these draconian and manual policies and consider some advanced efforts and less regressive approaches.”
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