Medical Marijuana Could Help Prevent Brain Diseases

We already know that smoking a blunt (or you know, using small doses of cannabinoids under medical supervision) can help everything from cancer pain, PTSD, stress and anxiety. Now new research is showing that the drug could potentially be used to ward off certain brain diseases.

Researchers have found that certain cannabinoid compounds found in weed — namely THC and CBD — can help treat and possibly prevent Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.

They do this by reducing the formation of plaques in the brain that cause inflammation — which is thought to be one of the leading causes of degenerative brain diseases. Cannabis can also help manage symptoms, you can use THC to fall asleep and stay asleep, and CBD to help decrease the involuntary movements caused by Parkinson’s.

However, all of these finding are preliminary, mainly coming from anecdotal evidence given by patients and through animal studies.  We won’t know the full benefits until a clinical trial is conducted, so don’t take this as a reason to light up just yet.

Florida Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Implementing Bill

The Florida Legislature appears close passing medical marijuana legislation.

The Senate approved a bill enacting the state’s constitutional amendment expanding the use of medical marijuana by a 28-8 vote on Friday as part of the special session. The bill must pass the House before it can go to Gov. Rick Scott.

The bill collapsed on the final day of the regular session last month over disagreements about caps on retail dispensaries and if cannabis should be taxed. Both chambers reached agreement on Wednesday that there would be a cap of 25 dispensaries per treatment center and that there wouldn’t be a sales tax.

The legislation allows patients who suffer chronic pain related to one of 10 qualifying conditions to receive either low-THC cannabis or full strength medical marijuana..

Florida Department of Health Moves Forward With Medical Marijuana Initiative Despite Political Discord

After state lawmakers failed to act, health officials on Thursday laid out a framework for adopting regulations required by a voter-approved constitutional amendment that could make Florida one of the nation’s largest medical-marijuana markets.

The Florida Department of Health on Thursday issued a “Notice of Regulation Development Procedure” establishing the process the agency intends to use to carry out Amendment 2, given a thumbs-up by more than 71 percent of voters in November.

The amendment gave doctors the authority to order marijuana for a broad swath of patients with debilitating conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Doctors also have the power to order marijuana for “other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated, and for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.”

During the legislative session that ended May 8, lawmakers failed to reach agreement on a measure to carry out the constitutional amendment. A key sticking point involved a cap on the number of retail outlets the state’s licensed medical-marijuana operators would be allowed to run.

Currently, Florida’s seven medical marijuana operators can open an unlimited number of dispensaries. That’s based on a 2014 law, intended to provide non-euphoric cannabis treatment for children with severe epilepsy. That law paved the way for the state’s medical marijuana industry.

The industry is expected to explode after the passage of the constitutional amendment, under which at least 420,000 patients in Florida could be eligible for medical marijuana, according to the most recent health department estimates.

The regulation-creating process proposed Thursday by the Department of Health is a shift from typical proceedings, governed by Florida administrative law.

The constitutional amendment gives health officials until July 3 to craft rules to implement the amendment and until Oct. 3 to put the rules into effect.

But typical administrative-law procedures include timelines for challenges and revisions that could push finalization of the department’s regulations far beyond the constitutional deadlines.

Under the process proposed by the agency on Thursday, health officials would give notice 15 days before adopting a new rule. The public would have three days to weigh in on the proposal.

The framework, which would do away with the administrative-law process, lacks guidelines for how to challenge or appeal agency decisions about the pot regulations.

The implementation scheme also apparently does away with a proposed rule that health officials floated earlier this year to try to implement the amendment.

The proposal comes amid bipartisan demands that lawmakers revisit the medical marijuana issue during a special session. The could be unlikely to happen unless Gov. Rick Scott vetoes portions of the budget, forcing the Legislature to come back to Tallahassee for issues other than pot.

In a telephone interview Thursday with The News Service of Florida, Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who was instrumental in passing the state’s 2014 non-euphoric cannabis law and who remains a major player on medical-marijuana issues, credited the health department’s attempts to move forward with regulations to meet the July deadline.

But Bradley said he feared the department would develop regulations built on current Florida law — finalized before the constitutional amendment went into effect — while awaiting guidance from the Legislature.

If so, agency officials likely won’t revisit key issues such as a required 90-day waiting period before doctors are able to order marijuana treatment, something patients have strenuously objected to because they say it creates a significant barrier to treatment for dying or extremely ill Floridians.

“I don’t see the department doing anything bold. My sense is they are going to preserve the status quo until such time as the Legislature acts. I support the department’s desire to remove any legal cloud over people’s ability to receive this medicine pursuant to the current provisions that are in place,” Bradley, a former prosecutor, said. “We need to do more than that, though. And that’s the Legislature’s job.”

Even if lawmakers don’t take up the issue during a special session this summer, committee meetings will begin in the fall in advance of the 2018 session, which begins in January.

“The Legislature is going to be in Tallahassee no later than around 100 days from now, and possibly earlier if the governor vetoes all or a portion of the budget,” Bradley said. “There are opportunities for the Legislature to deal with medical marijuana.”

Florida’s Medical Marijuana Program Is A Disaster

Remember when 72 percent of Floridians voted to usher in a new era of open access to medical marijuana? That triumphant moment for medical weed was just in November, but for Florida patients this morning, it feels like a lifetime ago.

Late this past Friday, a bill to regulate the new weed industry imploded in Tallahassee. Then medical marijuana’s two biggest champions — über-lawyer John Morgan and United for Care campaign consultant Ben Pollara — viciously turned on each other in a spicy Twitter beef.

Now the fate of medical marijuana access lies in the hands of Gov. Rick Scott’s Department of Health, which has already signaled it will enact even more restrictive rules. The whole situation is likely to end up in court, meaning hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars will be wasted — and patients, in the meantime, still won’t have the easy access to marijuana that voters overwhelmingly backed in November.

It’s a mess, and it rests squarely in the laps of state legislators who couldn’t even agree on a highly flawed bill to do what voters asked them to do. Late Friday, Senate and House leaders threw in the towel on medical pot regulations.

The biggest hangup was on whether the rules should set a limit on how many storefront dispensaries each company with a medical pot license could open. The House and Senate also fought over whether to tax those dispensaries.

Although the two bodies will return today to try to hash out a final budget bill (which could still be vetoed by Scott), they’ve officially given up on setting rules for medical marijuana.

This past Saturday, Morgan, the wealthy attorney who bankrolled the pot amendment, laid the blame squarely on Pollara, his former right-hand man in leading the fight for medical weed. Morgan compared Pollara to Fredo from the Godfather movies and accused his former deputy of “selling out” by backing dispensary limits.

Pollara hit back that he was only ever paid by the same groups that pushed for the medical marijuana amendment in the first place. “I have been compensated over the last four and a half years for my work as campaign manager for United for Care and executive director of Florida for Care,” Pollara said. “I have always viewed any financial stake in the marijuana industry as a clear conduct with my roles as an advocate and leader of these two organizations.”

As the beef escalated on Twitter — with Morgan, a likely candidate for governor, calling Pollara “bought and paid for” and saying the failed bill was “all on him” — medical marijuana backers were left stunned and wondering what comes next.

The short answer: nothing good. Without a bill from Tallahassee in place, Florida’s DOH will be required to set up its own rules for the medical pot industry by July.

The DOH already set up a draft version of its own rules in January, and they were slammed by pro-pot advocates as overly restrictive. The DOH’s rules would barely expand access already available in Florida by allowing patients with a few more debilitating conditions such as AIDS and cancer to obtain the medicine; it would prevent doctors from making their own diagnoses about other conditions that need marijuana and would ban smoking the drug.

Morgan has already promised to sue the state over the rules. But that legal fight won’t end quickly, and patients who need the drugs will be left waiting even longer.

“The Florida legislature chose political gamesmanship over the will of 71 percent of voters,” Pollara told Politico this weekend. “The real losers are sick and suffering Floridians.”

Florida House Passes Medical Marijuana Implementing Bill

A bill to implement Florida’s medical marijuana amendment passed the House of Representatives and is heading to the Senate.

HB 1397 — approved in a 105-9 vote Tuesday — allows patients who suffer chronic pain related to one of 10 qualifying conditions to receive medical marijuana. It also allows patients to visit a doctor once every seven months to receive a prescription of three 70-day supplies. The previous limit was 90 days total.

The bill, which allows for 17 medical marijuana treatment centers by July 1, 2018, removes the ban on low-THC use in public, and allows for the selling of edibles and vaping products while reducing training requirements and costs for doctors and caregivers.

Rep. Ray Rodrigues says this is 95 percent in line with the Senate’s proposed legislation.

On the Eve of 4/20, The Florida Department of Health Urges Caution to Avoid Medical Marijuana Scams

The Florida Department of Health is urging Florida residents to use caution to avoid medical marijuana scams. Last week, it came to the department’s attention that there are businesses advertising free or reduced-cost access to medical marijuana and in some cases are asserting that they are the “Office of Compassionate Use” when soliciting credit card information. The department reports all incidents of potential fraud and scams to law enforcement, but wants to ensure residents are aware of what to avoid.

Below are tips to help protect you from scams involving medical marijuana:

  • The department’s Office of Compassionate Use is the only entity issuing identification cards for medical marijuana in Florida. No third party is authorized to process applications. Do not provide credit card information to any third party entity advertising the ability to obtain medical      marijuana cards.
  • The department does not currently accept credit cards as a form of payment for an Office of Compassionate Use identification card. There is no need to ever provide your credit card information to the department’s Office of Compassionate Use.
  • There are seven dispensing organizations authorized to cultivate, process and dispense medical marijuana. These seven are the only businesses in Florida authorized to dispense medical marijuana to qualified patients and legal representatives.
  • The Office of Compassionate Use maintains a list of physicians who have completed the required 8 hour education course. To find a qualified ordering physician click here.

The department updates the Office of Compassionate Use webpage regularly with accurate information. Patients and legal representatives are encouraged to visit this webpage often.

To report scams to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services call 1-800-HELP-FLA (1-800-435-7352).

To report fraud to the Attorney General’s office call 1-866-966-7226.

Florida’s Medical Marijuana Monopolies Are Cashing in and Patients Will Suffer

There are 21 million people in Florida, millions of whom will eventually qualify for the medical-grade marijuana voters approved in November. Very soon, a hell of a lot of weed is going to be legally sold in the Sunshine State. And yet so far, lawmakers have given exactly seven companies the right to grow and sell all that pot.

While Tallahassee may yet hand out a few more licenses by the end of the session, the seven-member pot cartel is already cashing in big-time on its advantage. Yesterday, Canadian firm Aphria paid $25 million to buy out Chestnut Hill Tree Farm, an Alachua nursery with one of those licenses. And last week, Massachusetts-based Palliatech bought a 49 percent stake in Miami’s only pot grower, Costa Nursery Farms.

As millions flow into those lucky license holders, critics say the state is letting a de-facto monopoly rake in major cash at the expense of the patients who actually need that medical pot.

“The legislature may ultimately act to sanction what will be the creation of the largest marijuana growers in the world outside the Sinaloa cartel,” says Ben Pollara, head of United for Care, which spearheaded the successful medical marijuana campaign.  “Which begs the question, which licensee is El Chapo looking at buying?”

Florida’s approach to creating a regulated medical marijuana industry flies in the face of what’s worked nationally, industry insiders say. Massachusetts, with less than a fourth of Florida’s population, will soon have hundreds of license holders. More than 500 are allowed to grow and sell in Colorado. And even tiny Vermont, with all of 670,000 residents, has eight licensed growers.

But Florida has highly restricted its licensing since first allowing non-THC strains to be grown back in 2015. Even after voters approved full-blown medical weed in November, there’s been heavy pushback to efforts to bring more farms and potential retailers into the mix.

Sen. Jeff Brandes has proposed a rules overhaul that would open up more licenses, but he’s faced heavy pushback. (And don’t even ask what nonsense the House is up to.) Why?

“I’ve never seen anything like the absolute greed going on here,” says one medical marijuana industry insider who asked not to be named. “I’ve never seen anything as bald-faced.”

That’s why we’re seeing gigantic deals like Aphria’s purchase, which market analysts say puts a value of close to $200 million on a single pot license. And it explains why those seven license holders are fighting like hell to hang on to their share of the pie.

“Behind the scenes, these seven guys have hired an army of the best lobbyists in the state,” says the insider. “These guys are trying to justify outrageous valuations for their licenses as they raise capital. And their message has been, “Look, it’s game over, we’re going to be only seven license holders in the state.'”

If only a tiny group of companies control the market, patients are going to pay a hefty price and might lack ready access to the marijuana they voted overwhelmingly to approve.

“At the Senate Health Policy committee earlier this week, at least one Senator used the need to protect the investments these companies have made in Florida as a rationale against expanding patient access by issuing new licenses,” Pollara says. “Yet while these companies’ lobbyists press members with protectionist sob stories, they’re out raising money hand-over-fist from big foreign investors.”

Among those investors: PalliaTech, the company that now controls a minority stake of the only firm licensed in Miami, is chaired by Boris Jordan — a Russian-American investor with deep ties to Moscow’s regime. (Just check out the glowing op-eds Jordan has penned in support of the dictatorial Russian leader.)

If lawmakers cared about getting pot to the patients who need it, they wouldn’t be kowtowing to the millionaires trying to corner the market.

“What drives me crazy is the simple question,’What is your priority here?’ This is supposed to be about the patients,” says the industry insider. “We’ve seen this all around the country, the more license holders that a state allows, the better the products and the prices to the patient that come with that competition. So why do legislators want to keep restricting the number of license holders? It’s certainly not about the patients.”

Study Finds That Regular Consumption Of Marijuana Keeps You Thin, Fit And Active

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Here’s a new health-related adage to consider: Regular consumption of marijuana keeps you thin and active.

According to researchers at Oregon Health and Science University, people who use marijuana more than five times per month have a lower body mass index (BMI) than people who do not marijuana.

The researchers concluded:

“Heavy users of cannabis had a lower mean BMI compared to that of never users, with a mean BMI being 26.7 kg/m in heavy users and 28.4 kg/m in never users.”

The study also suggested that people who consume marijuana on a regular basis are more physically activity than those that use it sporadically or not at all.

Of course, this is not the first time scientific studies have reached this conclusion:

  • A study published last year in the Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics suggests that regular consumers of cannabis have a lower BMI than those who do not use the drug.
  • A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Medicine found that cannabis consumers have 16 percent lower levels of fasting insulin and 17 percent lower insulin resistance levels than non-users. The research found “significant associations between marijuana use and smaller waist circumferences.”
  • And data published in British Medical Journal in 2012 reported that cannabis consumers had a lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes and a lower risk of contracting the disease than did those with no history of cannabis consumption.

In the 2016 study, lead author Isabelle C. Beulaygue from the University of Miami concluded:

“There is a popular belief that people who consume marijuana have the munchies, and so [they] are going to eat a lot and gain weight, and we found that it is not necessarily the case.”

Researchers have not identified the reason behind the findings. But some suggest that those who consume cannabis regularly may be able to more easily break down blood sugar, which may help prevent weight gain.

Medical Marijuana’s Massive Windfall

It turns out marijuana could have taxpayers seeing green in more ways than one. There is a massive windfall associated with making medical weed available nationally and a big data company broke it down for us.

New Frontier Data, a market research company for the cannabis industry, said on Wednesday that their data analysis shows that if medical marijuana was available nationally, the decreased Medicare expenses for three widely used opioid painkillers — OxyContin, hydrocodone, and fentanyl — would lead to taxpayers saving over $220 million.

In preparation for an upcoming report, The Cannabis Industry Annual Report: 2017 Legal Marijuana Outlook, New Frontier Data looked into the United States’ opioid epidemic and how marijuana could impact the use of such medications. In 2013, the country’s Medicare program spent almost $2 billion on three aforementioned opioid drugs. In 2015, more than 33,000 people died because of opioids — the highest rate ever recorded. Opioid drug prescriptions in the U.S. tripled to 207 million in the last 25 years, and more than 2 million Americans are abusing opioids, according to Giada Aguirre De Carcer, CEO and Founder of New Frontier Data.

“In 2015, for the first time, drug-related deaths exceeded the number of fatalities from car accidents,” said De Carcer, who was quoted in a Wednesday press release by the company.  “No one can argue that Americans are not gripped by an opioid epidemic, and the research shows that prescribing medical cannabis has helped to reduce the overall number of opioid drug prescriptions.”

In a report published in January, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) presented evidence that medical marijuana can treat chronic pain symptoms — the number one reason opioids are prescribed. A study conducted last year by the University of Georgia found an 11 percent dip in yearly drug prescriptions in states that have medical marijuana programs. “Likewise, based on Medicare disbursements from 2013, were that 11 percent reduction in daily prescriptions to hold and be applied nationwide against those three most-prescribed opioid drugs, it would represent a savings of $220 million to American taxpayers,” New Frontier Data’s press release said.

John Kagia, the executive vice president of industry analytics for New Frontier Data, told Vocativ in an email that out of the $2 billion spent on just those three opioid drugs, $950 million was generated by OxyContin alone. While there has not been a great deal of research on patient drug selection in states where medical cannabis is legal, some studies point to a bright future, he said.

“Research being done at St. Francis Hospital in Connecticut has found that when patients who have a medical marijuana card are given the option to choose between medical cannabis and opioids to manage their acute pain, the patients have overwhelmingly selected medical cannabis,” Kagia said.

Medical Marijuana in Florida Could Top $1B In Three Years

Florida is on track to log more than $1 billion in medical marijuana sales by 2019, according to an industry report released Tuesday.

The estimates are good news for Florida’s budding medical cannabis industry, fresh off a major ballot box win last month.

By 2020, the report predicts, Florida will be the second-largest medical marijuana market in the country, following only California. Marijuana industry analysts New Frontier Data and Arcview Market Research compiled the estimates based on data from governments, businesses and activists.

Floridians approved Amendment 2 with 71 percent of the vote in last month’s election. Once it goes into effect, doctors will be able to recommend marijuana as a treatment for cancer, HIV/AIDS and other debilitating conditions.

New Frontier and Arcview assume sales will begin next year. They predict $10 million in marijuana sales in 2017, though the earliest the drug could be available to an expanded group of patients is late in the year.

From there, revenues from the market would only grow, gaining steam from national upward trends in the marijuana industry and the state’s steady population growth.

Earlier estimates from the groups’ previous reports pegged the Florida market at just slightly below these new measures, though the report’s authors say they used new, better data and that old and new projections “cannot be compared.”

But a word of caution: It’s impossible to know just how the rules governing medical marijuana in Florida will look until the state Legislature and Department of Health have their say.

“The full regulatory structure and key program details remain to be determined,” the report says, “and the market could take a few different directions depending on the actions of the Florida Legislature and the Florida Department of Health.”