The Will Of The People, Unless It Involves Cannabis
As the final day of the Florida legislature’s 2017 session inches ever closer (May 5), both the House and Senate are advancing bills that would reshape the medical cannabis program statewide.
It is of utmost importance that lawmakers craft a program that is geared the interest of the patient; one that allows doctors to qualify people with chronic and debilitating illnesses into the system easily and a seed to sale system that allows for those patients to easily access the medication that their doctor believes in their best interest.
Unfortunately, 86-year old Mel Sembler and his Drug Free America Foundation are fighting to prevent access to patients from many angles.
You may remember Mr. Sembler from the drug treatment facilities he founded and operated in Florida from 1978 to 1993. In that time, Straight, Inc., treated 50,000 adolescent patients and was eventually shuttered in 1993 amid FBI investigation after it was discovered patients were tortured, raped, and otherwise abused within treatment centers that dotted the state.
Straight, Inc., was renamed the Drug Free America Foundation and now advocates nationwide for complete prohibition of cannabis. Calvina Fay, the organization’s director, thanked Representative Rodrigues for his legislation during the House Health Quality subcommittee meeting on March 28th and noted in her public input speech that she had provided personal guidance to Rodrigues regarding the text of the bill.
As a token of favor to the “honorable” Sembler, the Florida House has advanced legislation that would actually fund DFAF with $500,000 in taxpayer money annually to advocate against the “abuse of medical marijuana”.
If passed into law, HB 1397 would create the most tightly regulated medical cannabis program in the United States. As currently written, this bill would:
- Keep the 90 day patient establishment period intact.
- Establish a medical review board where every physician certification would be reviewed by an independent panel who would have the ability to invalidate recommendations within 30 days of them being made.
- Prohibit flower from being sold or smoked by patients.
- Prohibit vaping of any sort, unless the patient was suffering from a terminal illness.
- Create many new criminal penalties for patients, such as the creation of a misdemeanor charge for patients that neglect to carry their ID card on their person.
- Keep the vertical integration system in place and only allow new licenses to be granted after 150,000 patients were added to the registry.
All of these factors combined would effectively kill the program that 71.3 percent of Floridians voted for on November 8th. Doctors won’t participate out of risk of disciplinary action from a mandated bureaucracy, and patients won’t participate due to lack of access to product. Both factors will result in a skyrocket of price and an overabundance of supply, which will eventually strangle the 7 licensees out of the cannabis business.
While the picture could be bleak, the time is now to try and steer the ship away from the rocks.
In order for a bill to become law in Florida, both the House and Senate must pass identical bills. Once passed, the final bill is sent to the Governor for either signature or veto. Only then will a piece of proposed legislation become law.
There is still time to build a patient-centric cannabis program within the state of Florida, and we must.
I’ve had the good fortune of health, but many people do not. The answer of conventional medicine to a chronic illness is generally to prescribe pharmaceutical medication. When one manufactured pharmaceutical stops working, the dosage is increased or the medication changed altogether. Patients desire a more natural substance that doesn’t have the side effect profile of many of the legal drugs they take daily. Individuals desire anything that will help them battle their illness and live their lives, without having to trade temporary relief for nasty side effects.
Should I ever suffer the misfortune of a diagnosis of cancer or become chronically injured, I would want to try absolutely anything I could to maintain any quality of life. Who wouldn’t?
Cannabis has been vilified for decades, and its absolute worldwide prohibition is the single most successful marketing campaign in history. In 2017, 80 years after prohibition began, the Reefer Madness mentality exists within the minds of individuals like Mel Sembler.
No matter the science, no matter the personal stories of suffering relieved, no matter what anyone says nothing will change the minds of these anti-drug dinosaurs, fighting a sad failure of a “war” that was lost well before I was even born.
From a purely economic standpoint, a positively regulated medical cannabis system would be an incredible benefit to the state of Florida. This legislature finds itself in a unique position in history where it could cement a solid system that would serve as the model for the other 27 states with medical programs, as well as the world. Benefits would be seen by the constituency as increased tax revenue can pay for expanded public programs, along with the tens of thousands of jobs that could be created in this revolutionary industry.
With President Trump and his deconstructionist ideology wanting to gut Federal funding for the states, legislatures nationwide need to be vigilant in discovering new sources of revenue. Cannabis offers boundless economic investment opportunities.
But yet, Florida’s lawmakers say we need to proceed with caution.
“We’re not talking office supplies and lawn mowers,” quipped Senator Rob Bradley during a senate committee workshop on March 22nd. Bradley is the author of the main senate legislative vehicle for medical cannabis reform.
He is correct.
20,000 Americans are killed annually by office supplies and lawn mowers. No people have been killed by cannabis, ever. In fact, research shows the average person would have to consume 1,500 lbs of cannabis (or 100 lbs of cannabis concentrate) in 15 minutes to experience acute toxicity from THC. Looking at those statistics, there is no comparison. Cannabis is actually safer than office supplies and lawn mowers.
Since opening our doors to patients on January 3, we’ve seen nearly 500 people face to face, each one with their own story of personal health struggle. Our oldest patient is 92, our youngest is 14, and our average patient age is 51.45 years. Many are local but some travel as far as Orlando to see Dr. Gordon, who’s fast become a medical authority on cannabis treatment benefits in Florida.
Each of our patients desire three simple things; to feel the best they can and the hope to feel better, to integrate a more natural product to do so, and to be legal in their pursuit of wellness. Those are concerns we take very seriously, and have ignited a fire of advocacy inside of us.
71.3 percent of Floridians voted for the right of patients suffering from debilitating illnesses to pursue this form of treatment.
The reality of the situation in cannabis is that, in Florida, the discussion lately has been led by lawmakers apparently out of touch with simple reality and completely devoid of compassion for suffering Floridians. The legislative ego acts as if they are the first to introduce such a radical form of treatment to sick patients, but omit the fact that cannabis was used as a remedy for a variety of ailments for millennia.
Another big elephant in the room is the black market. While I’ve heard legislators like Rep. Ralph Mussullo (a doctor) say, “I’m worried about what marijuana is going to do to the population”, I can’t help but laugh.
Cannabis is nothing new to Florida, as demonstrated by the nearly 40% of our practice that admit to currently self-medicating with street product. Flower, concentrates, and edibles are all readily available on the black market and will continue to be until the legislative body realizes that only legal competition will curb illicit sales.
Advocates are now calling for the 2018 elections to right this sinking ship, pushing for the Regulate Florida initiative and urging people to vote some of these officials out of office. While it’s beneficial to look to the future and ending this ridiculousness of prohibition of a plant, now is the time to fight for patient access. Lives are on the line. Some current patients simply will not survive without cannabis until November 6, 2018, and that is morally reprehensible.
We must all fight now for the right of doctors to practice, for patients with debilitating illnesses of a wide variety that which cannabis has shown positive benefit to become qualified, for medication to be available in many forms, and for that medication to be affordable.
On behalf of patients statewide, please keep involved. We have until May 5th to get this done. Call your state officials, call committee members, take a weekday and go to Tallahassee and make in person calls on lawmakers.
We have truth on our side, but most importantly we have a moral obligation to help those in need and honor the words and spirit of Amendment 2.