Op-Ed

Get ready for medical marijuana, the sequel

TNS

Get ready for another round of dire warnings about medical marijuana.

The “Vote No” campaign for the medical marijuana referendum on November’s ballot launched its website last week, and for the most part, it’s a re-run of arguments made two years ago.

That, if medical marijuana becomes law, Florida will be overrun by “dope dealers with storefronts,” dispensing an otherwise illegal drug to mostly young, and generally healthy young men, who will, with the help of doctors, exploit the fuzzy edges of the law.

The campaign against Amendment 2 imagines Florida as another California, where a loosely written law there has created a backlash for tighter regulations.

“In Los Angeles, there were more pot shops than Starbucks,” one of the group’s new ads say. “Officials estimate that Amendment 2 will cram nearly 2,000 pot shops into Florida’s neighborhoods. We'll have more pot shops than Starbucks, McDonald’s and 7-Elevens combined.”

Yes, it’s some high-octane hysteria dished out over a disaster-movie soundtrack.

But some important things have changed from two Novembers ago, when Florida voters generally approved of medical marijuana, but fell short of reaching the needed 60 percent threshold to make it happen.

There’s a bi-partisan effort in Congress this year to reclassify marijuana away from its current status as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which defines it as a drug with “no accepted medical use.”

That’s because the 25 states that have already adopted medical marijuana are seeing its monetary and therapeutic advantages over prescription drugs, and reclassifying the drug would allow more research to be conducted.

Health Affairs, a journal of health care research, looked at the changes in prescription drug use of Medicare Part D enrollees in 17 states where medical marijuana is legal.

The recently published three-year study found that doctors in those marijuana states wrote significantly fewer prescriptions for drugs that treat pain, depression, seizures, nausea, and anxiety.

The study attributed these drops in prescription drug use to medical marijuana, because there weren’t similar drops in prescriptions written for antibiotics, blood thinners, anti-viral drugs and others medications in which marijuana would not be considered a useful substitute.

The biggest effect, according to the study, has been with prescription painkillers. It found that the average doctor in those states was annually prescribing 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers to Medicare-eligible patients.

And that in those 17 states, the substitution of marijuana for treatment has trimmed $165 million a year in Medicare spending, and a projected half-billion dollars in annual Medicare prescription costs if implemented across the country.

The advocates of medical marijuana in Florida also were bolstered this year by the first county sheriff to publicly support the referendum.

“After 2014, so many sheriffs heard from their constituents about the benefits of medical marijuana that some have started to soften their stance on it,” Flagler County Sheriff Paul Manfre told Politico. “I think you’re going to hear, perhaps, more sheriffs and maybe police chiefs or active law enforcement who have learned of the benefits of medical marijuana who will be supportive this time.”

Manfre said his own mother used it to help her get through chemotherapy.

Elsewhere, counties and cities throughout Florida are starting to decriminalize marijuana possession, using fines rather than arrests.

A Public Policy Polling survey done in March found that 74 percent of Floridians support medical marijuana this time. And this year’s vote will be held in a presidential election year when far more Floridians show up.

When the ballot initiative first appeared in 2014, is was a mid-term election when only 51 percent of eligible voters participated. That was far fewer than the 72 percent of eligible Floridians who showed up to vote two years earlier in a presidential year.

It all adds up to trouble for the anti-marijuana campaign: Bigger voter turnout. A softening of law enforcement and public policy on marijuana. And research to suggest that medical marijuana is working where it is legal.

It’s no wonder why the “Vote No” campaign is off to a scary start.

© 2016 Cox

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