Patients, Veterans and scientists react to Florida's proposed THC cap on medical marijuana

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A proposed bill to limit the strength of medical marijuana in Florida is garnering some much-deserved criticism from patients, veterans and experts, writes Calvin Hughes.

The new bill before the Florida legislature would make life much harder for many medical marijuana patients in the state. The legislation, which is sponsored by Republican Representative Ray Rodrigues, would cap the THC content of medical cannabis at 10 percent. Rodrigues claims his bill is based on research that suggests consuming cannabis with higher levels of THC could lead to psychosis while lower levels of THC can be medically beneficial.

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"There's absolutely science that shows the product of medical cannabis that's ten percent or less of THC is helpful for medical conditions," Rodrigues said during a recent House committee vote for his new bill. "I'm a believer. I was an agnostic on that when we passed the constitutional amendment. I've studied the science, and I've been led to believe that absolutely there's a benefit from that."

However, critics argue that Rep. Rodrigues sourced his evidence from poorly conducted studies. Ron Watson - the director of governmental affairs for the Florida medical marijuana dispensary chain AltMed Florida - says the scientists he works with have assured him that "no scientifically valid conclusion can be drawn" on THC's association with psychosis.

But the proposed THC cap could pose serious problems for Florida's medical marijuana patients. People who need higher-THC cannabis to treat particular conditions will be forced to spend more money to get the same relief, said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D).

"If there's less THC in the medical cannabis product, then folks are going to need to smoke more of it. The reality is that to overcome that, they're either going to buy more product that isn't flower…or they're going to forego all of this, and because it doesn't have the THC content that they need, they're going to go to the black market."

Veterans groups, who are often at the forefront of medical marijuana activism, have also voiced their concern about the new legislation. The bill is bundled with a plan to give veterans free medical marijuana cards, which saves them $75 a year. But Jimmy Johnston - President of the North Florida chapter of Weed for Warriors - said introducing the free marijuana cards with the THC cap is just a way for legislators to take advantage of an at-risk community.

"A bill that was supposed to be about helping a community that is plagued with drug addiction and drug overdose…a bill that was supposed to be about helping a veteran community that is plagued (with) suicide is now being used as leverage by lawmakers to try and impose their will on the people," Johnston said.

If passed, the bill would be a major step back for a state that has recently been making some real improvements to its medical marijuana program. Last month, Florida lawmakers finally lifted the state's ban on smokable medical marijuana, opening up many more treatment options for patients. Fortunately for marijuana reformers, the bill's chances of becoming law look slim. While the measure is now ready for a full House vote, its Senate counterpart has yet to be filed. Lawmakers only have a few more weeks to draft the Senate version of the bill before the current legislative session closes on May 3.

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