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Florida Matters: What's Next For Medical Marijuana

Florida voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 2 last November, expanding the state's medical marijuana program. But how is the government going to implement it? 

This week on Florida Matters we're exploring the state's rules on medical marijuana and what changes might be in store for the industry.

Our panel includes:

  • Jamie Howe, a medical marijuana patient diagnosed with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, which is like a partial pancreatic failure
  • Darrin Potter, Chief Horticultural Officer at GrowHealthy in Lake Wales
  • Daylina Miller, reporter with Health News Florida and WUSF News 

The show also features a discussion with Florida Matters' Lisa Peakes and Health News Florida's Abe Aboraya about the contentious public hearings on Amendment 2 the Florida Department of Health and the Office of Compassionate Use recently held across the state. 

Here are some highlights from Florida Matters host Carson Cooper's discussion with the panel:

COOPER: Daylina Miller, you monitored some of the statewide public hearings on medical marijuana, what were some of the complaints you heard from patients, doctors, caregivers, etc.?

MILLER: The 90 day waiting period for patients to receive a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana was probably the top complaint. Some of these patients had to change doctors because their doctor was not authorized to put them in the registry. So they’ve had an established relationship with their doctor for a long time and now they have to see somebody they don’t personally know.

COOPER: Some pain patients would not want to be waiting three months for their pain medication, but I presume this mechanism is in place to prevent folks from doctor shopping?

MILLER: The doctors that I’ve talked to are telling me they’re not really seeing that. The patients they say are coming to them may have tried marijuana illegally, but these are people the doctors say have legitimate pain concerns and legitimate medical issues. They’re not trying to shop around for a legal high, they’re coming to them because they have an issue they need addressed.

COOPER: Jamie Howe, you went to marijuana before it was legal for pain management, what made you try it in the first place?

HOWE: I had a lot of problems after I had gastric bypass in 2009. Since then I’ve had six abdominal surgeries within a 5-year time period and over 20 hospitalizations. And then I started having chronic pancreatitis…My diagnosis is exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, which is like a partial pancreatic failure.

During the time I was having chronic pancreatitis I was prescribed huge amounts of opiates…I got to the point where I was scared, because I was afraid I was going to die from the medication. I went in for rehab…then I had problems with my pancreas again…I had a friend at the time that said, “Hey, why don’t you try cannabis?” At first I was I was like, “There’s no way I can do this because it’s illegal.” Finally I got to the point where I couldn’t handle the pain anymore and [cannabis] totally changed my life.

COOPER: Darrin Potter, Pinellas County Senator Jeff Brandes filed a medical marijuana implementing bill, and he says current law promotes a cartel system that limits competition and will drive up prices. So he wants to open up the market beyond the seven companies licensed to grow medical cannabis. Would you welcome competition and risk lower prices if that were to happen?

POTTER: Strategic competition, yes. If it makes sense for the management of public health safety concerns. I’ve worked in Colorado and other markets across the U.S. in medical cannabis, and one of the things I’ve definitely seen on a rampant scale is that in other legal markets, you have people growing cannabis in their basements, in their garages, etc. and then selling that to people as medicine. There’s no regulatory framework in place to regulate the means and methods in which they cultivate, so to me, that’s a public health safety concern.

COOPER: Jamie, how do you receive your cannabis?

HOWE: For me, I have problems taking it orally, so I specifically have it for the smoking, for the vaporizing.

COOPER: I mean the side effect with the euphoric version of marijuana is that it gives you a buzz, does that bother you? I mean a lot of patients may not like that side effect, they don’t want to be “stoned,” if you will.

HOWE: Right, what a lot of people don’t realize is that there’s different levels of medicating. You can do what’s known as microdosing, which means you just take a couple puffs, and just a couple puffs will take away my nausea, will take away my pain. I don’t have to get stoned, I don’t have to get high to get relief.

COOPER: You’re in Pasco County, so you don’t have a dispensary nearby do you?

HOWE: I do not. I live 45 minutes away from the closest dispensary in Clearwater. My husband works, we have one car. Do you understand how very difficult that is for us to get around and for me to get down there? It’s taken me a month just to get down there. So I found out about their home delivery, but every 45 days they charge you $25 for home delivery. I mean it’s a lot of money.

I just did the math in my head, and for me to get my medicine and all my doctor visits and everything, it’s $4000 a year. Guess what? I get $1000 a month for disability, so you can imagine how much of my income is going towards my medicine. But let me tell you something, it’s worth every penny to me because it’s life to me.

COOPER: Darrin Potter, do you think patients should be able to grow their own marijuana?

POTTER: Do you think patients who consume Adderall should be able to make it in their basement?

HOWE: I’m sorry I have to disagree, because it’s a plant, number one, so anybody can grow it, it’s like a weed. Not only that, but it’s never killed anybody, Adderall has. The danger that everybody thinks is there with cannabis is not there, and so I believe patients should be able to grow their own at home.

POTTER: If I could, when an individual cultivates anything on their own and they use pesticides that are restricted, for example microbutenol turns to cyanide when you put a flame to it. When a person with an autoimmune deficiency or a compromised health condition is consuming cannabis that isn’t under a regulatory framework, they’re subject to contamination.

COOPER: Darrin, what’s the most difficult part about being a marijuana grower?

POTTER: I’m asked that question almost weekly. Everybody always assumes it’s the growing of the plant or the extraction process, but honestly that’s probably the easier part. The most difficult part that I would say is managing expectations. Managing the expectations of employees, managing the expectations of patients, managing the expectations of investors.

It’s difficult to help people understand that change takes time. We live in a culture in the United States where, you know, “I want my messages right now, I want my cheeseburger right now, I want everything right now,” and change never happens overnight, especially when you’re talking about public health and public safety.

MILLER: I think on the flip side of “change takes time” and regulation, is that this is a very emotional issue for a lot of people. And it’s hard to think logically and scientifically and public safety-wise when you’re a patient whose in a lot of pain and possibly terminally ill. So a lot of people are coming to this issue from the perspective: “I might not be around when these regulations are sorted, I’m in pain now, how can I get help now?”

POTTER: Personally I’ve lost family members to cancer who asked if I could help them. I’ve had friends when I moved back to Florida – “Can you please help me?” – who currently have cancer. It hurts to not be able to help them immensely but, at the same time, I look at the greater good and know that the little changes I make today will help somebody in the future.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
Carson Cooper has become a favorite of WUSF listeners as the host of "Morning Edition" on WUSF 89.7 since he took the job in 2000. Carson has worked in Tampa Bay radio for three decades.
Health News Florida reporter Abe Aboraya works for WMFE in Orlando. He started writing for newspapers in high school. After graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2007, he spent a year traveling and working as a freelance reporter for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, and working for local news websites in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently Abe worked as a reporter for the Orlando Business Journal. He comes from a family of health care workers.
Almost every day, I come before the microphone with the same enthusiasm as the Dani Rojas character in the “Ted Lasso” television series. I do 100 pushups, take some laps around the house, thank my supervisors and audience for giving me the opportunity to do what I love, bellow “Radio is liiiife” from the back steps, and bound back to my garret and get to work.
I took my first photography class when I was 11. My stepmom begged a local group to let me into the adults-only class, and armed with a 35 mm disposable camera, I started my journey toward multimedia journalism.