Two years ago, the people of Florida overwhelmingly voted to approve Amendment 2, creating a constitutional right for those with medical conditions to seek treatment through medical marijuana.
Two years later — where are we now?
There are now over 150,000 patients licensed to use medical marijuana in the state of Florida. Most of the wave of incoming leaders after our recent midterm elections, at the state and federal level, support expanding access to medical marijuana. Across the state, there are doctors — like me — who have started up clinics to help determine and facilitate treatment for those who need it most. The taboo of medical cannabis as a valid form of treatment is lifting. What was once seen as a criminal enterprise or “alternative medicine” is quickly becoming mainstream.
At my clinic, which opened in 2016, we now have seen about 2,500 patients — veterans struggling from post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer patients looking for alleviation from the effects of the disease and from chemotherapy, folks struggling with chronic pain in one form or another who are seeking an alternative to often-harmful opioids or pharmaceutical drugs — many who have never tried marijuana before.
I previously worked as an emergency room doctor and have witnessed firsthand how helpful this drug can be for patients struggling with chronic pain and a myriad of symptoms. When I recommend cannabis-based treatments to my patients, I don’t have to fear that they might perish from consuming too much, and there just isn’t the same level of abuse potential in comparison with pharmaceutical alternatives.
Before the amendment was passed, opponents said that approving access to medical marijuana would result in a veritable plague of social ills. Car accidents would increase, they said. More teenagers would start obtaining and consuming marijuana, they claimed.
None of these things have come to pass.
Instead, most news stories involve the state government’s unwillingness to fully implement the will of the people. Our outgoing governor, Rick Scott, made no secret of his aversion to medical marijuana, and the state Department of Health dragged its feet in supplying licenses. In the meantime, over 30 states across the country now offer medical marijuana, with the number growing every year (two more states approved referendums just this past month).
Now, for the first time, it looks like we might have leaders with the political willpower to deliver compassionate care. By and large, the results of last month’s elections brought in advocates, new and old, who support expanded access to medical marijuana at varying degrees — such as our new agricultural commissioner, Nikki Fried.
As a practitioner, I feel there is much that can be done to streamline, professionalize and expand this burgeoning new field to provide better-quality cannabis-based care to the thousands who need it. There are policy battles at the federal level in Washington, and more local issues in our state that can be fought in support of medical marijuana during the next legislative session in Tallahassee.
If our duly elected legislators choose to act in the interest of the public, our state, my profession and the patients we treat, we will be all the better for it.