Amendment’s ‘caregiver’ clause sneaky approach to legalizing marijuana

07/21/2014 11:26 AM

07/21/2014 11:28 AM

One of Florida’s foremost cancer hospitals takes the job of caregiver so seriously, it holds a Caregiver Academy for those caring for patients following stem-cell transplants. Caring for someone who is very ill is a huge responsibility that often involves addressing basic needs such as bathing, eating, continence, dressing, toileting and transferring.

A major element of Amendment 2, the ballot question Floridians will vote on in November, concerns caregivers who could assist with a recipient’s use of marijuana. Under the proposed amendment to the state Constitution, anyone could qualify as a “personal caregiver” as long as they are 21 years old. Training or background checks are not required. Personal caregivers could obtain and administer marijuana to up to five patients.

This marijuana-caregiver language is daunting in light of a state fiscal analysis that estimates that nearly a quarter million people will register to become caregivers to obtain and administer marijuana for up to five people. According to those estimates by the Florida Department of Health (DOH), 1,250,000 Floridians could potentially receive marijuana through the caregiver provisions of Amendment 2 alone, and that doesn’t account for those who will just get a doctor’s recommendation and buy it themselves.

A published report out of Massachusetts — where caregivers are only supposed to provide marijuana to one recipient — highlights one caregiver who estimates he was supplying 350 recipients.

Where would they buy it? The DOH fiscal analysis estimates that there will be close to 1,800 pot shops licensed statewide. Amendment 2 describes these dispensaries as one “that acquires, cultivates, possesses, processes (including development of related products such as food, tinctures, aerosols, oils or ointments), transfers, transports, sells, distributes, dispenses or administers marijuana, products containing marijuana, related supplies or educational materials to qualifying patients or their personal caregivers and is registered by the Department.”

These numbers are astonishing in light of the Amendment 2 proponents insisting that this proposed massive marijuana infrastructure is only to help those with debilitating diseases.

However, figures from Colorado, which DOH used for its estimates, show that less than 6 percent of medical marijuana cards went to those suffering from debilitating conditions such as cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or AIDS. The average age of a card holder is 42, and the majority of patients report they need it for severe pain.

In California, which has the most significant history with marijuana for medical purposes, the average recipient of medical marijuana is a 32-year-old male. In fact, the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Politifact investigative team reported “available evidence does suggest fairly strongly that the people who use medical marijuana for cancer or AIDS is a small percentage of all users.”

In 2009, the California Supreme Court felt the need to clamp down on the caregiver system where abuses ran rampant. The court said the caregiver should be a person who provides care, housing, and sustenance. It’s someone that does something beyond just giving out marijuana.

And who will oversee these 250,000 “caregivers” and 1,800 marijuana shops? According to DOH’s fiscal analysis, regulators will hire 13 inspectors and provide them with 10 automobiles and 10 tablets. Really?

Let’s step back and think this through. Amendment 2 is less about compassion and more about a backdoor way to legalize marijuana in Florida.

David A. Gross is a board certified psychiatrist in private practice and chair of the Scientific and Medical Forum on Drug Abuse.

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