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Roach clips medical marijuana

By Staff | Apr 21, 2021

Saying Florida’s relatively new medical marijuana program “is a recreational drug program masquerading as a medical marijuana program,” House District 79 Rep. Spencer Roach has introduced legislation to address “the long-term societal carnage attendant with unfettered access to high-potency THC.”

HB 1455 would impose caps on both the amount of THC contained in medical marijuana as well as set a maximum dose level. Its companion bill, SB 1958, is sponsored by another member of Lee County’s Legislative Delegation, Sen. Ray Rodrigues, District 27.

HB 1455 would place a 10 percent cap on THC for smokable marijuana and limit THC levels to 60 percent on concentrates. The bill would limit patients to 15,000 milligrams of THC every 35 days.

There already is a state cap on so-called “flower,” a smokeable product.

THC — odelta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol– is the active ingredient in marijuana. Rep. Roach defines it as “the main psychoactive component of marijuana that gets you high.”

“The doctors, manufacturers and patients abusing this program are doing so for two reasons — to get rich and to get high — not as medicine,” he said in a guest commentary that appeared on these pages last week. “The consequences of unlimited access to high potency THC are a greater high, increased tolerance, more addiction, more users, and of course –more profits. We have seen this movie before in Florida, and we know how it ends. We do not need a sequel.”

We, indeed, do not need a sequel to the opioid crisis. As he does not provide “abuse” numbers, though, Rep. Roach is wielding a pretty broad brush for a layman who erroneously classifies THC as a narcotic, defined legally and legislatively as a substance that results in physical addiction.

His justification, in fact, tars a large number of individuals with an implied stigma: More than 500,000 Floridians have medical marijuana cards; 2,500 doctors from among Florida’s approximately 83,000 have filled state-mandated requirements to become certifying physicians; and nearly 300 facilities, all staffed, have been approved as medical marijuana treatment centers, or MMTCs, as the state already restricts who gets it, who can prescribe it, and where patients can purchase medical marijuana.

We will point out here that physician groups are opposed to the THC cap legislation proposed, saying it would require more of the drug to achieve the medicinal benefits and symptom mitigation medical marijuana is intended to achieve. It also will cost patients more. Maybe much more.

Rep. Roach is OK with that.

“Opponents argue that a potency limit would only force them to buy more marijuana to achieve the same effect; they are correct: if they are using medical marijuana to get high, this bill makes that more difficult, which is precisely the intent,” he states.

Rep. Roach points out that 33 states now have medical marijuana programs, and 10 have potency caps. Eighteen have supply, or dose limits.

What Rep. Roach does not share is that the 35-day dose limit contained in HB1455 is lower than the dose limit in 12 of the 14 states cited in the bill analysis. Nor does he share that the dose limit proposed is less than half the limit in seven of those states and about a third of the dose limit in two.

No verifiable scientific justification for the 15,000 mg supply limit is provided.

A couple of things.

First, medical marijuana has a relatively short history in Florida.

Its legal use only dates back to 2014 when then Gov. Rick Scott signed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act into law, allowing the use of a low-THC strain of the drug dubbed Charlotte’s Web.

In 2016, more than 70 percent of voters — a record number — passed the constitutional amendment legalizing the use of medical marijuana for patients with “debilitating medical conditions” — specifically listed as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, post-traumatic stress disorder, ALS, Crohn’s and Parkinson’s disease, MS as well as medical conditions deemed of the same kind or class to those enumerated.

Legislative wrangling, of course, followed.

It took a court ruling in 2018 to find that a legislative ban on smokeable marijuana was unconstitutional and it wasn’t until 2019 that smokeable forms of the drug were included in the program.

Gov. Ron DeSantis supported that legislation.

And Gov. DeSantis is among those who have said they do not support the caps legislation proposed in HB1455.

While the governor has stated he is concerned about high-THC products, he has applied his efforts to funding for better quality control and testing of medical marijuana.

Gov. DeSantis has proposed a $4 million allocation for the Florida Office of Medical Marijuana Use to include funding for state testing, including personnel; expansion of the office’s call center; software updates to track THC potency and for audits of private testing lab results.

This makes sense to us.

Much more sense than does Rep. Roach’s proposal to impose caps and limits that, at best, appear to be arbitrary and capricious, a non-medical term no doubt much more familiar to the representative whose background is in law.

Our guess?

Given the still-fresh voter mandate and the thousands of signatures on new petitions opposing the restrictions, strong opposition from the medical community and a lack of key support, this legislation is likely going to go up in smoke this year.

As well it should.

— Citizen editorial