Perhaps the only good news to surround Florida and medical marijuana has been the legalization of the plant itself. Otherwise it’s been cloudy skies for the Sunshine State. Because since voters decided to approve Florida’s medical marijuana throughout the state, it seems the institutions intended to work for their constituents are instead working against them.
Lawmakers ensured when the medical program was made available to the public, they received it in its most limp form possible. It bans Florida medical users from smoking marijuana — a rationale disguised as a health concern — and includes language that dissuades Florida’s medical community from participating in advising cannabis regulations. In the professional medical community’s place, crops of suspicious medical clinics have appeared across south Florida. These clinics have indulged in predatory and possibly nefarious tactics, taking advantage of patients who are only seeking aid from their pain and health problems.
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The latest controversy involves Charlotte Simpson, a Pasco County senior citizen. In addition to being confined to a wheelchair, she suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, arthritis, and other ailments. For her pain, she has a medical marijuana prescription and was approved for a compassionate use permit. Only her son Bert Greene says her nursing home is refusing to give Simpson the medicine.
“You should see the condition she’s in. It’s horrible,” Greene told WFTS ABC in describing his mother. “She’s got uncontrollably shaking, excruciating pain.”
This could potentially have giant ramifications in nursing homes throughout Florida. The nursing home sent reporters a statement making it clear it is trying to obey federal law while understanding the flexibility afforded under state law.
“They have the prerogative under medical decision-making and their medical director to say we do not believe that this is something that we want to offer and administer in our facility because there are alternatives, and it’s going to be very difficult to force them to do that,” said University of South Florida Healthcare Vice President Jay Wolfson.
In addition, a recent sobering report from the Tampa Bay Times depicts a system that woefully underprepares medical professionals to offer sound advice to patients. Previously, state law dictated physicians take an eight-hour course that cost $1,000 in order to receive necessary qualification to prescribe marijuana. Recent changes to the law slashes the course to a two-hour seminar that costs only $250 and chiefly concerns itself with educating doctors on the legal consequences of medical marijuana.
“Nothing helps my nausea or decreases my need for opiate pain control,” one patient told the Tampa Bay Times. “I feel I need a more experienced physician to help me maneuver this totally unknown alternative to mainstream medicine. … At this point we are out there on our own and there is no connection between the physicians and the providers of the cannabis.”
The medical ecosystem in which many currently practicing physicians were taught did not include curriculum on marijuana’s medical efficacy. Though that’s beginning to change as some schools now afford medical marijuana degrees interested students, many universities still don’t focus intensely on cannabis. This is why additional seminars and courses that properly teach these subjects are so vital—and yet the state of Florida isn’t doing any of that. Most patients, instead, are feeling “adrift” and alone in navigating how to use marijuana as a pain management tool and/or medicinal treatment.
As of now, Florida doctors must teach themselves on how to accurately prescribe medical marijuana. Until the state health department finishes constructing a proper system to coincide with Florida’s new medical marijuana law, it will create problems for medical professionals and more pain for patients.
As Savara Hastings, executive director of the Florida-based American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association, told the Tampa Bay Times, “Until that happens, physicians are concerned that this compliance ambiguity will lead to increased risk and liability. Medical marijuana may have incredible value in the treatment of certain medical conditions, however, we need to proceed cautiously as more studies need to be completed.”
The message for medical marijuana patients as administered by its legislative and medical communities is loud and clear — you’re on your own.