If you’re looking for a reason to be thankful this season, how about the momentum behind medical cannabis? With a four for four winning streak on election night, MMJ dominated the polls. Measures approved in two states (Arkansas and North Dakota) will establish new medical cannabis programs, while Montana’s Initiative 182 broadens the scope of its current laws, countering restrictions put into place by 2011 legislation. Then there’s Florida.
A challenging path for Florida
This victory was profoundly felt in the Sunshine State, which has encountered numerous challenges to establishing a functional medical cannabis program. In 2014, a measure to develop a more workable system did not receive the supermajority (60 percent of the vote) it needed to pass, largely because of the efforts of Sheldon Adelson’s misinformation campaign.
The state has since put in place a very limited CBD-only law, which it recently enlarged to include full-spectrum cannabis. This can be recommended only for two conditions, though, leaving most patients still without safe access.
The overwhelming approval of Amendment 2, then, is a huge step for Florida and a signal of progress in the south. To get a sense of what this means for Floridians, Splimm spoke with Diane Czarkowski, of Colorado’s Canna Advisors, who worked closely with advocacy group United For Care to ensure this major victory for the state’s patients.
According to Czarkowski: “The fact that this was passed by such a huge margin – 71 percent voted in favor – is remarkable. What other measure has passed with that kind of backing? That should send a strong message to regulators that people want this.”
More logical regulations
United For Care, a campaign run by People United for Medical Marijuana, worked in tandem with other advocates to develop more logical regulations suited to Florida’s patient base and to demonstrate their necessity to the state’s citizens.
Amendment 2 ensures a less restrictive program, closer in structure to the one getting off the ground in Maryland, with a broad list of qualifying conditions and a robust community of cultivators, processors, and dispensaries to attend to those patients. State regulators have six months to come up with specific policies around patients, caregivers, and treatment centers.
Safe access for families
The benefits of safe access to medical cannabis for children and families cannot be overstated. “This will improve the lives of families, especially families going through hard times,” contends Czarkowski.
“I always think of a mother I knew who had been in a really bad car accident and had to have surgery on her neck. She had chronic pain and migraines and was taking pain medications that made her totally disengaged from her family. Her kids were toddlers; they wanted mommy to be interactive and play with them. She wasn’t able to do that with the side effects of the prescription drugs. With medical cannabis, she regained the quality of life she had lost. She could interact with her children, get down on the floor and play. She raved about how cannabis gave her her life back.”
Florida’s caregiver model further ensures that qualifying children can receive medical cannabis under the care of their parents or guardians.
Additionally, ripple effects, including the potential to mitigate the opioid epidemic, are significant. Czarkowski underscores the societal benefits of medical cannabis: “There’s the social justice component, with arrests for possession greatly reduced. We know DUIs go down, crime goes down, adolescent use goes down. And, of course, opioid overdoses go down. This is huge for Florida.”
Florida, with its enormous population of retirees, also foregrounds the impact medical cannabis might have for not just our children, but also our parents. Seniors are turning to cannabis in extremely high numbers, rejecting traditional pharmaceuticals in favor a more natural, and more benign, approach. More widespread adoption of medical cannabis laws, especially in places like Florida, has the potential to change the way we age.
Tell your stories
Of course, it’s imperative that we continue to build on these victories. We must avoid the temptation to become complacent in our progress. Czarkowski’s best advice: “Stay vocal. Stay engaged. Provide input, tell your stories. We can almost measure how people have opened up and embraced medical marijuana by all the stories people are sharing. We will continue to change people’s minds because it’s the right thing to do, bottom line. That makes it easy.”