Florida has an opioid crisis.
In 2017, the state had 6,178 opioid-related deaths. That represents 17 Floridians dying every day. And it was an 8 percent increase over the prior year, according to the annual report from the Florida Medical Examiners Commission.
State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith had an idea about helping those Floridians struggling with an opioid addiction that in many cases can lead to death. He wanted to add opioid addiction to the list of medical conditions that qualifies patients to use medical cannabis.
“The reason I’m bringing this forward is not a secret. We have an opiate crisis in the state and around the country that keeps getting worse,” said Smith, who is an Orlando Democrat.
“What we have found is that for many patients, medical cannabis has become not a gateway drug, but it has become an exit drug for their addiction to opiates…. It has helped them wean themselves off an even more powerful medicine that has the ability to kill them,” Smith said.
But Smith’s idea died on Tuesday. A majority of the House Appropriations Committee rejected the measure in a voice vote.
During the debate on Smith’s amendment, Rep. Ralph Massullo, a Citrus County Republican and dermatologist, acknowledged Florida’s opioid crisis but said he was concerned the proposal would be substituting one addiction with an “equally addicting” drug.
Massullo also said opioid addiction is often a “secondary” medical condition for Floridians who are also suffering from problems like chronic pain or post-traumatic stress disorder. He noted those are conditions that already qualify patients for the use of medical cannabis.
Smith said he didn’t necessarily accept Massullo’s premise on switching addictions, but if that was the case, he said Floridians struggling with opioids should be given access to medical marijuana.
“An addiction to opiates can and will kill. An addiction to medical cannabis will not,” Smith said.
Smith was trying to amend a controversial bill (HB 7117) that would cap the potency of smokable medical marijuana. The bill was approved by the Appropriations Committee in a divided vote on Tuesday.
The measure, which is strongly opposed by medical marijuana advocates, limits the level of tetrahydrocannabinol – the chemical agent that causes the high – to no more than 10 percent in whole-flower products. It would take effect next January, giving growers time to adjust their products. The level of THC in edibles would be capped at 7,000 mg for a 35-day supply, or 200 mg per day.
The bill is on a fast track and is now available for a floor vote. A similar measure is not moving in the Senate, but leaders have said they are open to considering a THC cap.