by Brian Bowden | Free Press Staff
Monroe County, FL — The passing of the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative, known as Amendment 2, was a big success for pot proponents across the state on Nov. 8. Needing 60 percent approval, the ballot item garnered 71 percent. So beginning Jan. 3, doctors approved by the state will be able to issue cannabis to patients suffering from a wider range of ailments than ever before.
“The state’s large elderly population represents a potentially large cannabis patient base, but there will need to be a significant education process to familiarize them with the potential benefits of cannabis and its uses,” – Giadha DeCarcer, New Frontier CEO
According to research firm New Frontier Data, the passing of Amendment 2 could result in the medical marijuana market in Florida growing to $1.6 billion by 2020. The researchers predict that Florida will command 16 percent of the U.S. medical marijuana market by 2020 due to the median age across the state.
“The state’s large elderly population represents a potentially large cannabis patient base, but there will need to be a significant education process to familiarize them with the potential benefits of cannabis and its uses,” said New Frontier CEO Giadha DeCarcer in a Nov. 8 press release.
Part of that predicted boom will likely be felt in Monroe County.
Three doctors here have already completed the training required to issue medical marijuana, according to the Florida Department of Health. They include Dr. Bobbi K. Leben, with Florida Keys Orthopedics in Key Largo; Dr. Ian Rae, with A1 Urgent Care in Key Largo; and Dr. Sandra Schwemmer, medical director for EMS services in Monroe County, Islamorada and Marathon.
“Opioid side effects get worse as your get older…So I’m always searching for something that cuts back on that.” – Dr. Bobbi K. Leben, with Florida Keys Orthopedics in Key Largo
The state training for medical marijuana doctors is an eight- to 12-hour webinar course.
Leben told the Free Press that she completed the training last month because she feels that medical marijuana will give certain patients an alternative to highly-addictive opioids, or pain killers.
“Opioid side effects get worse as your get older,” Leben said. “So I’m always searching for something that cuts back on that.”
Leben, who specializes in non-surgical orthopedics, said a handful of patients at her mile marker 100.2 practice have already begun asking to be put on the recipient list for medical marijuana when it becomes available next year. She also foresees that number to continue to increase as more become aware.
Leben said Modern Health Concepts, a Miami-based dispensary, has already reached out to partner with her going forward as well.
Schwemmer, who isn’t currently affiliated with a practice but didn’t rule that out in the future, said she completed the training in March to better understand the state regulations associated with medical marijuana.
“This is evolving quickly,” Schwemmer said. “But it has a real applicability to certain patients.”
Rae, at his mile marker 101.4 practice, didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on the story by press time.
Under the previous state law, qualified doctors could only prescribe low-level cannabis to patients suffering from cancer, chronic seizures or severe muscle spasms. Stronger medical marijuana could also be issued to those that were deemed terminally ill by two different physicians.
Now with Amendment 2, medical marijuana can be issued to those with debilitating diseases such as glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder or HIV as well, among others, as determined by a licensed state physician. Certain added stipulations are also in place such as a patient-doctor relationship must be at least three months old before the drug can be issued.
There are now three existing pieces of Florida legislation that address medical marijuana. State Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, said when the state session convenes in March she and her colleagues “will have to adopt policy to implement Amendment 2 … and determine how that fits with legislation relating to medical marijuana that’s already on the books.”
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