PolitiFact Florida Clears The Haze On Competing Medical Marijuana Claims

Aug 24, 2016
Originally published on October 11, 2016 10:27 pm

Battling claims about the upcoming referendum on medical marijuana are creating a cloud of confusion. So WUSF's Steve Newborn attempts to clear the air on Amendment 2 with Josh Gillin of PolitiFact Florida.

Two years ago, an amendment that would have allowed the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes came up just short of the 60 percent it needed to pass a state referendum. But organizers are back at it again, and voters will take another hit on Amendment 2 on November's ballot.

Kim McCray, outreach director for United for Care, said in an Aug. 11 South Florida Times op-ed that the well-known euphoric effects of cannabis aren’t an issue.

"What is also important to know is that although some debilitated patients may require higher levels of THC than others based on their specific medical condition, medical-grade marijuana alone, will not get that patient ‘high,’ no matter what level of THC, CBD or any other compound is found in the plant," McCray wrote. She pointed out that medical cannabis can not only be smoked, but be packaged as ointments, oils, pills and skin patches.

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling on that:

Cannabis contains roughly 500 compounds, 70 of which are psychoactive. THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive ingredient in the marijuana plant.

The level of THC in a plant varies based on the strain, the part of the plant used, and how it is processed for consumption.

Also present is a substance called cannabidi, known as CBD, which is an antioxidant and has properties that are thought to protect the brain. It’s also not psychoactive like THC. United for Care spokeswoman Bianca Garza said McCray meant to dispel the notion that medical marijuana patients obtain their medicine for the sole purpose of feeling its well-known euphoric effects.

"The point being made in the statement is that doctors and patients will decide on a care plan that will enable them to become more normal," Garza said in an email. "In other words, they'll decide on a dosage appropriate for their debilitating condition to feel less pain, to have fewer seizures and spasms, etc. It will be decided by a Florida licensed physician and will not lead to patients being ‘high.’ "

Essentially, their argument is one of semantics: Medical marijuana patients won’t be getting stoned, they’ll be using medication under the supervision of a doctor as a form of treatment. That precludes the idea that patients will just be taking marijuana as a recreational drug, although Garza conceded that "like any medicine, there’s the possibility for abuse."

United for Care’s point of view still doesn’t mean some forms of medical marijuana aren’t capable of getting patients baked. Marijuana still has physiological effects, whether it’s doctor-approved or not.

Dr. David Casarett, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book Stoned: A Doctor's Case for Medical Marijuana, said that low-THC strains or oils that have only CBD don’t produce the same buzzed feeling as a joint. But higher-THC marijuana still "will most certainly get you high," he said.

"Just calling something ‘medical grade’ won't prevent you from getting high," Casarett said. "It's like alcohol. Laboratory grade ethanol will get you just as drunk as home-brewed moonshine with the same alcohol content."

Also,  the Vote No On 2 group recently mailed out a pamphlet that says:

"Because there's no local option to allow communities to ban, limit or restrict the location of pot shops, if Amendment 2 passes you can expect the seedy elements of the pot industry to move in right next door to your neighborhood, your church, your business and even your child's school."

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling on that:


The state has estimated there could be almost 2,000 medical marijuana dispensaries in Florida should Amendment 2 pass, though there may be far fewer than that in reality. The proposed amendment requires the Legislature and the health department to figure out all the details of implementing medical marijuana should the measure pass — including the number of dispensaries and where they’re allowed to be.

Vote No on 2 spokeswoman Christina Johnson pointed out to us that Amendment 2 does not include any language about a local option, and therefore doesn’t guarantee the state will allow them. The group believes that if a community passes an ordinance, the issue will have to be settled in court due to the amendment’s wording, and a right to access will trump local law.

But the amendment also doesn’t prevent the state from letting local jurisdictions create their own rules. While no one knows exactly what will happen, chances are good that there will be some leeway for local rules.

Kate Bell, legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, said it wouldn’t be appropriate for an amendment to try to codify regulations into the state’s constitution. Instead, regulations would have to spell out specifics, such as setbacks from schools and how dispensaries must follow local zoning laws. If the state doesn’t make distinct rules about dispensaries, local zoning rules would likely apply.

As for Florida, we don’t have to wait to see whether towns or counties will create their own laws shunning medical marijuana. It’s already happening, in part because of a 2014 law allowing low-THC cannabis products for patients with muscle spasms, cancer, epilepsy and terminal illnesses.

More than two dozen cities have regulated or completely banned medical marijuana sales. Boca Raton, for example, has a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivation, processing or distribution until city zoning rules are ironed out. Pasco County has banned any type of marijuana business.

And while cannabis is still illegal in Plant City, the city commission passed an ordinance on Aug. 8 in anticipation of Amendment 2 winning at the polls. If federal law one day changes, medical marijuana dispensaries would be allowed, but they still have to be at least 500 feet from schools, churches, daycares, drug treatment centers, public parks and residential areas.

Any dispensaries also would be confined to an area smaller than four acres in the city, next to a hospital and a fried chicken restaurant.

 

Copyright 2016 WUSF-FM. To see more, visit WUSF-FM.