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Compassion, Reason over Florida’s Marijuana-Prohibition Status Quo

By: Guest Contributor - Oct 31, 2014, 9:32 am

By Mike Liszewski

Editor’s note: this commentary is in response to an article regarding this year’s Florida ballot initiative for medical-marijuana legalization at the state level (“November Ballots Offer Wave of Marijuana Legalization”). Kevin A. Sabet has offered an opposing view, against legalization.

EspañolThis election day, voters in Florida will have the chance to improve the health and well-being of their fellow Floridians by approving Amendment 2, a comprehensive medical-marijuana law. If it passes, Florida will become the 24th state in the country to adopt legal protections and create safe access to medical marijuana for patients with a physician’s recommendation.

If it fails, Florida’s patient population will continue to face a difficult dilemma: obey the law and not have access to medicine that works safely and effectively, or face the consequences of obtaining their medicine from an unregulated black market. Patients who could benefit from using medical marijuana under the recommendation of a physician should not be forced to make this decision.

One of the most notable components of Amendment 2 is that it puts physicians, not politicians, in charge of determining who should have safe and legal access to medical-marijuana therapy. There are over 50 medical conditions among the laws in the 23 states with medical marijuana programs, ranging from common conditions like cancer and Crohn’s Disease, to rare conditions such as fibrous dysplasia and causalgia.

In states where politicians have determined the list of conditions, many common conditions that can effectively be treated with medical marijuana are left out of the law, and rare conditions stand even less of a chance. The brilliance of Florida’s Amendment 2 is that it would bypass a restricted list of conditions in favor of empowering physicians to decide which of their patients should use medical marijuana to treat a given condition.

Perhaps the most common condition that can safely and effectively be treated by medical marijuana is chronic pain. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, approximately 100 million US Americans live with chronic pain on a daily basis, with 51 percent of sufferers saying they cannot control their pain. Medical marijuana affords chronic-pain patients a treatment option that can reduce or eliminate a patient’s need for opioid medication.

Some opponents of Amendment 2 have said the law would not be strict enough to ensure against diversion; however, the law would give great authority to the Department of Health (DOH) to create a strong regulatory system to oversee the program. For example, DOH would be free to draft rules requiring that only the parent or guardian of a patient under the age of 18 can acquire, possess, and administer his child’s medicine. In fact, Amendment 2 provides DOH with the necessary discretion to set up whatever regulatory safeguards must be in place, such as lab testing of medicine and dispensary staff training.

Whether Floridians cast their ballots through early voting or at the polls on election day, they have a choice to approve a compassionate and intelligent health-care law, or maintain the status quo, where medical-marijuana patients are treated like criminals. Amendment 2 will give Florida a medical-marijuana law that it can be proud of.

Please vote yes on Amendment 2.

Mike Liszewski (@MikeLiszewski) is the policy director for Americans for Safe Access (ASA).