The first medicinal marijuana dispensary will open Tuesday morning in Tallahassee. But parents and patients had to wait two years, one month, one week and three days since Gov. Rick Scott signed the Compassionate Cannabis Medical Act of 2014.
The 2014 bill was designed to help children with a severe form of epilepsy. There are an estimated 125,000 children stricken with life-threatening seizures that can be controlled with a strain of cannabis. However, only 25 Florida doctors are authorized to recommend medicinal marijuana. None is in Tallahassee.
Under state law, doctors must have at least a three-month relationship with a patient, pay $1,000 for an eight-hour on-line course, and register with the state before being able to provide a medical pot referral.
“We can have the best regulatory structure in the country and the medicine can be available but without a doctor in the mix nothing is going to happen,” said Ron Watson, a lobbyist who represents medicinal marijuana interests.
The on-line course is administered by the Florida Medical Association. The 20,000-member group opposed the medicinal marijuana amendment on the 2014 ballot. Its state-mandated marijuana course for practicing physicians was down much of this spring and summer, inaccessible – before going back on-line last week.
When lawmakers expanded the number of patients eligible to use marijuana with the 2016 Right to Try Act, the online course needed to be updated to include terminally ill people on the list of eligible patients. It also lifted the limit on THC content.
The 2014 Act authorized a low-THC cannabis first grown in Colorado and found to help people suffering from epilepsy, chronic seizures, and chronic muscle spasms. Endocannabinoid research in the 1980s revealed cannabis' medicinal qualities. Watson lobbied regulators while they developed the rules to allow marijuana to be planted and its oil processed into medicine.
On Monday, he was in his office discussing the next step — getting a corps of doctors certified to give meaning to the medicinal marijuana law.
Watson thinks there may be a generational component to the physician shortage for cannabis.
“We’re up against 90 years of misinformation,” said Watson. “If you went to medical school before the 1980s, you are probably skeptical about marijuana.”
That idea is echoed by Manny Johnson, CEO of the Compassionate Cannabis Community. His group has provided expert testimony to state legislatures in the Midwest, Far West and Tallahassee. Industry experts say that a mature Florida medicinal marijuana industry could generate as much as $700 million annually. Johnson, a Winter Park native, said the lack of enthusiasm among doctors may stem from too many regulations. The state authorizes too few patients, so doctors are passing on it.
“It’s a wait and see attitude,” said Johnson. “They don’t think it will help the majority of their patients so they are sticking with traditional medicine.”
The FMA didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday.
By James Call - Tallahassee Democrat/July 26, 2016
Illustration: David G. Klein, WSJ
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