Floridians say goodbye opioids, hello medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana is now legal in Florida
Medical marijuana is now legal in Florida

Beginning this week, residents of Florida can say goodbye to addictive opioids and move to the more relaxing marijuana for pain relief.

Amendment 2 has rolled out in Florida. It was supported by 71 percent of voters in November and doctors are now gearing up to put the herb into the hands of patients.

Right now, there are 91 doctors in the Tampa Bay area, with most in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties, who can now recommend medical marijuana as a treatment option.

“I think it’s a lot easier for doctors to make a decision on marijuana than for opioids. They get a lot of people in a lot of pain. It’s a scary decision to make as a physician,” says attorney Sunai Edwards.

You may remember, Amendment 2 allows the higher-strength drug to be used for a wider list of debilitating medical conditions as determined by a licensed physician.

In 2014, the Legislature approved the use of low-THC and non-smoked cannabis for patients suffering from cancer, epilepsy, chronic seizures and chronic muscle spasms. It was expanded last year to include patients with terminal conditions under the Right to Try Act and allowed them to use higher strains. Patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or other similar conditions will now be covered.

Doctors are taking on more burden to lay out known side effects.

“With any highly regulated product, there are certain risks involved. There’s always a risk of medical malpractice or a lawsuit could be brought, but in making the decision, he has to weigh all the medical benefits and any of the potential risks,” says Edwards.

Edwards’ practice, Gray Robinson in Tampa represents one of the six current marijuana dispensaries in the state.

Attorney Richard Blau says some rules are already in place to prevent medical marijuana from becoming a repeat of the pill mill problem.

“There has to be this existing physician-patient relationship for at least 90 days. No one wants to see dispensaries on every street corner doling out marijuana to anyone who says they have a headache. The patient would have a certification, they go to a dispensary, they present the certification, and they received the medical marijuana,” says Blau.

Blau says the legislature has a lot of work to do this session revising the current dispensary rules by July. “I think they’re going to work hard to try to provide clarity, so the state of Florida can move forward effectively but also responsibly in what is really a brave new world for the state,” Blau says.

The regulations will give direction to doctors and patients who have been waiting years to legally ease their pain.
There’s a lot on the line for the health and economic impact. A recent study shows Florida is on track to top $1.5 billion in medical marijuana sales by 2020, rivaling Colorado, and providing tax money and jobs.

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