April 20 has long been celebrated as a counterculture holiday promoting the use of cannabis, or marijuana, which remains illegal under federal and most state laws. This year, 4/20 takes on a special meaning for many Floridians who suffer from cancer, AIDS, and similar debilitating conditions. Medical marijuana is now legal in Orlando and throughout Florida.
Over 30 Orlando Doctors Authorized to Recommend Cannabis
Last November an overwhelming majority of Florida voters–more than 71 percent–approved Amendment 2, an initiative that added a new section to the state constitution. The new Article X, Section 29 states the “medical use of marijuana by a qualifying patient or caregiver in compliance with this section is not subject to criminal or civil liability or sanctions under Florida law.”
To be clear, Florida has not legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Rather, a licensed physician or a caregiver authorized by the Florida Department of Health may administer marijuana to individuals who suffer from certain conditions, including glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and Parkinson’s disease, among others. According to the Orlando Sentinel, approximately 32 Orlando-area physicians are now authorized to “recommend medical marijuana to patients.” Here’s a sample for your information:
Documenting the Medical Benefits of Cannabis
While legalization remains a politically contentious issue, there is a significant body scientific literature supporting the therapeutic use of marijuana, or “medical cannabis.” In fact, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), a division of the National Institutes for Health, reports more than 25,000 peer-reviewed scientific and medical articles published that references marijuana.
Most of these studies undercut the federal government’s argument that cannabis is a dangerous, addictive drug with no medical benefits. For example, a study published by the Open Neurology Journal in 2012 found that medical cannabis “can be useful in the management of neuropathic pain, spasticity due to multiple sclerosis, and possibly other indications.”
These conclusions were based on clinical trials conducted by the University of California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research. Two trials studied patients suffering from intense neuropathic pain related to their HIV-positive status. The researchers said their results “consistently indicated that cannabis significantly reduced pain intensity, with patients reporting 34-40 percent decrease on cannabis compared to 17-20 percent on placebo.” Roughly half of the cannabis users experienced a “30 percent reduction in pain intensity,” as compared to 18-24 percent of the patients receiving placebos.
A broader review, published by two European authors in 2010 looked at “37 controlled studies evaluating the therapeutic effects” of medical cannabis. Among the results:
- In extensive clinical trials involving multiple sclerosis (MS) patients, the authors noted there is “much anecdotal evidence suggesting that cannabis and cannabinoids have beneficial effects on disease-related pain, bladder symptoms, tremor, and particularly spasticity.”
- The use of cannabis–and specifically its active ingredient, a chemical compound known by the abbreviation THC–“clearly” had “beneficial effects on pain, appetite, and weight gain” of HIV-positive and AIDS patients.
- Since the 1970s, research has shown cannabis and THC use can “lower intraocular pressure” in glaucoma patients.
- Similar to AIDS patients, THC is an approved appetite stimulant for cancer patients suffering from the ill effects of chemotherapy; the authors said data suggested using THC “directly before or after chemotherapy may offer more benefit” in treating loss of appetite and nausea.
Finding a Licensed Medical Marijuana Dispensary
As noted above, not every doctor may recommend or prescribe medical marijuana, but once a patient obtains a doctor’s approval, medical marijuana can only be legally obtained from a dispensing organization licensed by the Department of Health. These organizations are approved to cultivate, process, and sell low-THC and medicinal cannabis for qualified patients. There are presently at least three such dispensing organizations approved for operation in or near Orlando:
- Knox Medical – Located in Winter Garden, Knox Medical is the only dispensary actually in Orange County. The business is an extension of Knox Nursery, a 23-acre facility currently owned by Cansortium Holdings LLC, a Miami-based investment firm that focuses on developing professional cannabis markets.
- GrowHealthy – Based in Polk County, GrowHealthy recently opened a 187,000-square foot medical marijuana production facility in a former mattress warehouse in Lake Wales. The company’s CEO, a former IBM executive, said he expected the firm would “eventually produce enough medicine to supply half a million patients.”
- Surterra Therapeutics – Based in Hillsborough County, Surterra advertises the “purity and quality” of its “natural” cannabis and a statewide delivery program.
Can Cannabis Help Curtail Florida’s Opioid Epidemic?
Like many states, Florida is dealing with a major public health crisis related to the abuse of opioids. Many good people become addicted to prescription painkillers every day and eventually die as the result of an overdose. The legalization of medical marijuana in Florida may provide many opioid addicts (and potential addicts) with a safe alternative.
In 2014, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study produced by a team of investigators from three major medical and public health schools. The investigators looked at 13 states that had legalized medicinal cannabis prior to 2010. In these states there was a “24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws.” On average, opioid overdoses decreased by 20 percent in the first year after marijuana was legally available; after six years overdoses were down 33 percent.
While the study cautioned did not conclusively establish a causal link between legal medicinal cannabis and fewer overdose deaths, one of the authors told USA Today, “We can speculate … that people are completely switching or perhaps supplementing, which allows them to lower the dosage of their prescription opioid.”
Medical Marijuana’s Legal Status Remains Unsettled
Despite Florida voters’ embrace of medicinal marijuana last November, many legal challenges remain. State legislators and Department of Health officials are still finalizing regulations. And as long as marijuana remains illegal under federal law, many Florida physicians are still reluctant to recommend it to their patients.
If you have questions or concerns about the laws regarding medical marijuana and would like to speak with an experienced Orlando drug crimes attorney, call the offices of Moses & Rooth, Attorneys at Law, at 407-377-0150.