After spending two long years trying to figure out how to operate a restrictive medical marijuana program, one that allows only a handful of patients to gain access to low-THC strains of the herb, Florida officials announced last week that they were finally in the businesses of selling weed. However, while the news of this development may sound encouraging, some of the latest reports indicate that seriously ill patients are still struggling to get their hands of the state’s version of cannabis medicine because many doctors have simply refused to write recommendations.
In accordance with the Compassionate Cannabis Medical Act of 2014, patients suffering from cancer, epilepsy and a few other severe conditions can get a doctor to certify them to purchase a non-intoxicating brand of cannabis from any of the state’s licensed dispensaries. But, so far, the trick has been in locating a physician willing to sign off on this new therapy. A report from the Tallahassee Democrat indicates that there are currently only 25 doctors in the entire state of Florida that are authorized to make these recommendations. That is a substantial shortage of doctors, considering the state estimates 125,000 people will qualify for the program.
One of the problems is, much like the medical marijuana regulations in the state of New York, doctors interested in certifying patients for Florida’s program are required to take an eight-hour online training course before registering with the state. Although most physicians are not flinching at the $1,000 it costs to enroll in the online class, many are apparently turned off because the law also requires them to establish a three-month relationship with a patient before they can even consider issuing a referral.
Interestingly, there has been a wealth of problems with the online training course, which is managed by the Florida Medical Association, the organization that went up against United for Care’s “Amendment 2” back in 2014 in an effort to prevent medical marijuana from being made legal. The Democrat reports that the training course has not functioned properly most of the year, which has made it difficult for even the most tenacious doctor to get involved.
But some medical professionals are simply not moving toward joining the program for fear that it will somehow cause them trouble with the federal government. Even though the cannabis products being distributed across the state do not contain enough THC to get anyone stoned, these strains are still considered Schedule I dangerous drugs in the eyes of the law. For some, the ability to treat a select few patients with medical marijuana is just not worth the risk.
The other major issue that is destined to prevent Florida patients from using medical marijuana is many doctors practicing under old school ideaologies have no interest in being a part of the program because they do not believe in it. Medical marijuana lobbyist Ron Watson says that nearly a century of misinformation has caused a significant number of doctors to completely discount the idea of marijuana having any medicinal benefit.
“If you went to medical school before the 1980s, you are probably skeptical about marijuana,” he said.
Yet the attitude of the medical community is going to need to change quickly because it is almost inevitable that a more comprehensive medical marijuana program is headed for the books later this year. A recent survey conducted by Anzalone Liszt Research found that 77 percent of the Florida voters plan to support the second coming of United for Care’s proposal to legalize medical marijuana in the upcoming election. The same study in 2014 found support from 69 percent of the voters. If the latest predictions are even close to the actual outcome, several hundred thousand patients from around the state could soon be looking to their doctors to assist them in getting full strength medical marijuana – most likely rendering the current program obsolete.
photo: Brian Jahn