Although medical marijuana is still considered illegal under federal law, in June, Florida joined 22 other states in passing legislation supporting the use of marijuana for some debilitating medical diseases.
Signed into law by Governor Scott, SB 1030 (also known as the Florida Compassionate Medical Cannibis Act of 2014) passed with a huge majority in the state legislature.
The bill’s aim is to decriminalize designated licensed medical professionals prescribing a particular strain of low level THC cannibis for Florida residents who have chronic seizures and persistent muscle spasms caused by cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and various medical conditions. This law would cover pediatric patients with severe epilepsy.
The bill does not, however, allow for treatment of patients with other serious medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s,other forms of severe dementia, or PTSD. Nor does it allow for the use of other strains of marijuana with higher amounts of THC that advocates argue helps the nausea and loss of appetite experienced by cancer patients.
Only 5 established nurseries located around the state will be allowed to cultivate, process and dispense the approved strain known as Charlotte’s Web and only in an oil (not smokeable) format.
Although SB1030 passed with majority approval, state lawmakers rejected proposals to legalize the recreational use of marijuana as well as a bill to allow Florida residents to cultivate 6 plants and legally possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana.
Given the restrictive nature of SB1030, citizen activists mounted a petition campaign to place an unrelated constitutional amendment on the state ballot.
Their success means that now voters will be able to approve (or not) an amendment formally known as the Florida Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative (“Amendment 2”) on November 4th.
If passed by the required 60 percent of voters, this would legalize medical marijuana for a wider variety of patients with severe disabilities including cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, hepatitis C, HIV, AIDS, ALS, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease as well as other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.
The Florida Department of Health would be responsible for overseeing the program, issuing and regulating identification cards for patients and personal caregivers, developing procedures related to treatment centers and instituting regulations defining reasonable amounts of marijuana for medical use. The department would also be required to protect the confidentiality of all patients.
If this amendment passes on November 4th, the 2015 Florida state legislature would then have to pass legislation specifying exactly how the program would operate.
While polls have shown strong support from Florida residents for legalizing medical marijuana (especially most seniors), large donors to the Republic party including people outside the state such as Sheldon Adelson have contributed to the opposition.
Governor Scott and the Florida Sheriff’s Association are also against the amendment.
Recently the Florida Medical Association (FMA) voiced its concerns that the amendment did not have enough restrictions as to who can prescribe the drug and under what circumstances they can do so, despite the fact that many physicians practicing in the state would like to see the use of medical marijuana decriminalized.
The FMA did say it might change its position if more research was presented showing the safety and efficacy of marijuana for certain illnesses. Unfortunately this stipulation may be a catch 22 as research is being hampered by stringent federal barriers.
Nationally, a number of medical associations have voiced their support for medical marijuana. These include the American College of Physicians, Institute of Medicine, American Public Health Association, American Nurses Association, American Academy of HIV Medicine, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Lymphoma Foundation of America, American Medical Student Association, and the state medical societies of New York, Rhode Island, and California.
Proponents of the Florida referendum include Charlie Crist who is running against Scott for governor.
United for Care, the organization that has sponsored the amendment has a blog which lists arguments debunking the opposition.
Hopefully Florida voters will take the time to read about the amendment so they can make an informed choice when they go the polls in November.