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Doctors Push Back On Marijuana Potency Arguments

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
tharms5 (Flickr)
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The physicians spoke out after a committee approved a controversial proposal on THC limits being pushed by Republican lawmakers in the state House.

Florida doctors on Thursday pushed back against allegations that the state’s medical marijuana program is being used by people seeking to get high for fun.

The physicians spoke out after a committee approved a controversial proposal being pushed by Republican lawmakers in the state House.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, would impose THC potency limits for smokable medical marijuana and other cannabis products.

Opponents of the measure maintain that it would force patients to purchase more products to achieve the relief they need from tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive component in cannabis.

The measure (HB 1455) approved by the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee on Thursday would impose a 10 percent THC limit on whole flower marijuana, which is used for smoking, and put a 60 percent THC cap on most other medical marijuana products.

Roach said the caps are necessary to dissuade Floridians from using the state’s highly regulated medical-marijuana program for entertainment.

He pointed to the state’s rapidly growing number of patients since voters approved a constitutional amendment broadly authorizing medical marijuana in 2016. More than 500,000 patients in Florida are qualified to use cannabis as a treatment for a broad swath of medical conditions, and the number of patients continues to climb.

“It might be hyperbolic of me to say that this is the case, but I think we are heading in the direction where our medical marijuana program is becoming a recreational drug use program, under the guise of a medical marijuana program,” Roach said before the House panel voted 9-6 to approve the proposal.

But Democrats pushed back, pointing out that Roach acknowledged he had not spoken about the bill with doctors who are allowed to order marijuana for their patients.

“How many e-mails did you get from people in your districts saying, ‘Please cap THC, we must do this.’ You didn’t get any. There is no point. There is no point to any of this,” Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat who is a fierce advocate for medical marijuana patients, said.

Florida for Care, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the 2016 constitutional amendment, held a video news conference with doctors shortly after the meeting ended.

Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist and marijuana researcher at the Scottsdale Research Institute in Arizona, said studies Roach relies on are outdated. A dearth of research about the effects of high-potency THC exists because the federal government only allows marijuana from a single source --- the University of Mississippi --- to be used in the studies, she noted.

But Sisley, who led a federally authorized study of marijuana’s effects on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, said “allowing people access to high-THC flower is essential.”

Doctors who have been authorized by the state to order marijuana for patients disputed Roach’s claim that the medical program is being abused by people who want to use cannabis for recreational purposes.

“He’s uninformed,” Apollo Beach physician Sasha Noe said. “There are no signs of that. Where is the data? I think he’s just using these inflammatory statements to make a point.”

Some of her patients experience “terrible issues” with PTSD and are “using their medications appropriately,” Noe said.

Roach “really doesn’t understand what I do, what all these physicians do on a daily basis with our medical patients,” she added.

Doctors, who have to undergo training before they can be authorized by the Florida Department of Health to order marijuana for patients, can spot drug-seeking patients who don’t qualify for cannabis treatment, West Palm Beach physician Melanie Bone added.

“It’s our job to show and prove that we can pretty easily identify the people who don’t meet criteria. I stop them at the front door,” she said. “Yeah, we do have patients, but we each have our own way of making sure we don’t compromise our integrity as physicians.”

In a 2017 law aimed at implementing the constitutional amendment, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature banned medical marijuana operators from selling smokable cannabis. But lawmakers authorized smokable medical marijuana in 2019, at the insistence of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Since then, House Republicans have tried to impose a THC cap on smokable cannabis, but the Senate blocked the effort.

This year, however, Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said his chamber is interested in pursuing the pot potency limits.