Treat medical marijuana "like medicine," advocates say - SaintPetersBlog

Treat medical marijuana “like medicine,” advocates say

The right way to put the new constitutional amendment on medical marijuana into effect is to “treat (it) like medicine,” supporters said Tuesday. 

The Senate Health Policy committee held its first workshop for the 2017 Legislative Session on medical cannabis implementation.

“The states that have done it poorly, with a lack of regulation, allowed folks to market and advertise the notion of getting high,” said Ben Pollara, who leads Florida for Care, the organization advocating for “a strong, well-regulated medical marijuana system.”

“The average recreational marijuana user is not what this is about,” he told lawmakers. “It has to be treated, at every step of the way, with the seriousness that we treat medicine and other health care decisions. There needs to be clear restrictions put in place.”

Pollara is in favor of childproof packaging for medicinal marijuana, for instance.

Lawmakers now are faced with creating a regulatory system for the dispensing of marijuana to thousands of patients who now qualify for it in Florida. The amendment technically goes into effect on Jan. 3 but the Legislature first must create that structure.

“We’ll continue having conversations with the stakeholders,” said committee chair Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, after the workshop. “No decisions have been made yet regarding specific legislation … but this is a topic we’re taking very seriously.”

Voters approved the initiative by 71 percent, well over the required 60 percent needed. That was two years after it missed passage by roughly 2 ½ percent.

In Florida, the “non-euphoric” version already has been approved for children with severe seizures and muscle spasms and is regulated by the Department of Health.

The state later passed a law allowing terminally ill patients to use a stronger form of marijuana during their final days.

The amendment now grants a state constitutional right to marijuana to people with debilitating medical conditions, as determined by a licensed Florida physician. It defines a debilitating condition as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among others.

Those in law enforcement and addiction treatment, while saying they respected the “will of the voters,” warned lawmakers to allow for a good amount of local control.

“We are not here to be obstructionist; we want to be honest brokers,” said Walton County Sheriff Michael A. Adkinson Jr. “But we want to address the concerns that will come up … This is a herculean task.”

He suggested prohibiting selling marijuana as candy or cookies, likely to entice children, and to require tamper-proof ID cards for marijuana users. Adkinson also said the state should give leeway to towns and cities to zone for marijuana dispensaries.

But state Sen. Bobby Powell, a Riviera Beach Democrat, said he was concerned some areas would “zone out” medical marijuana entirely from their communities.

Ellen Snelling, chairwoman of the Tampa Alcohol Coalition and member of the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance, added that marijuana isn’t harmless, telling the panel of her teenage daughter’s decline into drug use after trying pot.

Snelling argued for strict rules and regulations: “Don’t let Florida become California, where anyone can get a medical pot card.”

But Kim Rivers, CEO of Trulieve, one of the state’s first medical marijuana dispensing organizations, said she and others in the business in Florida are “all about product quality and patient safety.” Trulieve operates a retail marijuana store in northeast Tallahassee.

And Rivers said she expects business to only grow.

Her company now can serve 72,500 patients, she said. After an upcoming expansion, Trulieve will be able to accommodate up to 650,000 patients with 20 milligrams of cannabis a day.

Dr. Mark Hashim, a pain specialist in Hudson, disagreed with the Health Department’s proposed rule banning telemedicine to prescribe marijuana. It’s been described as “allowing doctors and patients to connect virtually, rather than face-to-face.”

He said it would help those in rural areas or simply too sick to get to a doctor: “I don’t see a reason why we are disallowing this.”

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.
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