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Monday, March 20, 2017

Editorial: Pot law should follow voters’ will

March 20, 2017




In November, 71 percent of Florida voters said "yes" to a sensible, narrowly drawn ballot question allowing the use of medical marijuana. The language of the constitutional amendment set out a class of diseases — including cancer, PTSD, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease — where marijuana use has been shown to relieve symptoms, and sketched a regulatory framework designed to ensure that Florida didn't see drive-through pot shops or doctors willing to write prescriptions for everything from general stress to hangnails.
Unfortunately, some lawmakers want to whittle away access even more — and some of their proposals would clearly undermine the compassionate intent of Florida's new constitutional mandate.
Some concern over marijuana use is certainly legitimate. Florida voters' first look at medical marijuana, presented on the 2014 ballot, was just too broadly drawn; it would have opened the door to the kind of nudge-nudge-wink-wink atmosphere that surrounded the introduction of medical marijuana elsewhere. It fell short of the votes needed to pass.
But many who opposed the 2014 amendment (including this newspaper) believed those concerns were adequately addressed in the 2016 language — and that it would be cruel to deny relief to people whose genuine suffering could be eased.
Unfortunately, the state Department of Health is recommending regulations that would make it extremely difficult for many of those suffering Floridians to use medical marijuana. And some lawmakers want to make the state's regulatory framework so strict that they risk thwarting voters' will. Among some of the provisions gaining traction, particularly in the House bill:
— A ban on marijuana edibles, and a near-ban on the sale of cannabis oil for use in vaporizers — two forms that many sick patients find most manageable. So that basically leaves patients to cook up their own dosing solutions. It would be far safer to allow the dispensing of premeasured, ready-to-use doses in forms that are easy to manage.
— A requirement that doctors can only prescribe to patients they've been treating for at least 90 days. On its surface, it's clearly aimed at opportunistic doctors who will freely authorize anyone to use marijuana. But it ignores the reality in Florida: The patients currently being treated for qualifying ailments have relationships with doctors — sometimes a dozen or more doctors — but most of those doctors won't seek licenses to authorize pot. Finding yet another physician is an undue burden, particularly for those whose life expectancy is measured in weeks or even days.
— The number of dispensaries will be sharply limited, something that is almost certain to drive up prices.
None of the five Senate versions of the marijuana legislation match up exactly with the over-strict House language. But they still include unreasonable restrictions, and many hand a huge advantage to the seven companies already allowed to dispense under the current, extremely limited state law.
Only one bill really lines up with the intent of the 2016 vote. It's sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, and balances common-sense restrictions with market-driven regulation that offers the best prescription for compassionate but controlled access. Under most of the other bills, Florida leaders can expect that many patients with legitimate needs will still be forced into the black market to ease their pain, nausea and other symptoms.
Lawmakers have a simple choice. They can write laws that make it as difficult as possible to access medical marijuana — and brace themselves for a flood of litigation and stories about dying patients and war veterans suffering needlessly. Or they can take the better, more compassionate path, which is to honor the will of voters and write a law that allows access to medical marijuana without inviting abuse.
http://www.ocala.com/opinion/20170320/editorial-pot-law-should-follow-voters-will

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