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With the laws changing regarding the legal use of marijuana across the country and in Florida, many are pushing for an increased focus on research on how the drug impacts treatment of different disorders, its long-term effects, and more.
State Senator Bill Galvano is one of those people. Though the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug – or a substance with no medicinal value and illegal for recreational use due to a high potential for abuse – Florida is among 29 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized marijuana for some level of use. With the steadily evolving nature of laws limiting and allowing the drug’s use across the state, State Senator Galvano says we need to find out everything we can about the drug and its impact.
Says State Sen. Galvano: “We are relying on anecdotal evidence. We have a dearth of research from the feds for a variety of reasons, and it’s important for us to understand both the benefits and potential hazards of this plant and drug as we go forward.”
In order to further the cause, Galvano proposes providing research funds to Moffitt Cancer Center at USF, Florida A&M, and other state universities.
Current Florida legislation provides for increased funding for research into use of marijuana for treating terminally ill patients, so the way is paved clear legally as long as proposed research addresses this specific need.
How do you feel about taxpayer money being spent on marijuana research?
There are a number of problems that we currently face when using marijuana to treat any medical disorder. For example, patients do not have dosing guidelines. With no other medication is it the case that a patient is told to take whatever dose of a substance they feel is necessary to manage symptoms. Patients who have a medical marijuana card in many states have regulations only on the amount that they can possess at any given time. This means that some may use it very little while others use it in large amounts.
Additionally, since we have no idea what a therapeutic dose is for different ailments, it is impossible to help patients navigate the many choices they have when buying marijuana. Different strands of marijuana have different levels of the active ingredient, THC, and different effects (e.g., some are sedating while others are stimulating), further complicating the abilities of prescribing physicians to help patients use the drug effectively.
Research could help to address this issue. Defining the levels of THC in different types of marijuana and the effects on users and their symptoms would help to more efficiently treat patients. It may be appropriate, too, to distill THC into pill form, making it easier to help patients accurately dose themselves and gain the most benefit from the drug’s use.
On the other hand, taxpayer dollars must cover the cost of everything associated with sustaining an entire state of residents with a range of needs, and the budget is tight. Do we have the room in our budget to study marijuana for any reason when we need more treatment programs and beds in those programs for people who are living in active addiction? And since we know that about 30 percent of people who use marijuana have a substance use disorder as a result of that use, then this may become an intensified need in the coming year. But it is not just marijuana; use of a range of different substances from heroin to fentanyl is plaguing Florida and people need help. Do we have the funds to study marijuana when people are hurting and in need?
If Florida continues returning to the ballot box to address the issue of marijuana legalization, restrictions may loosen in coming years. There is the potential, too, for the federal government to legalize the drug across the country – at least for medical use – under the next president. It is important that Florida has the structure in place to manage the issue, and certainly, research could help that – but so too would appropriate treatment facilities for those families that are struggling due to substance abuse of all kinds.
How do you think taxpayer money should be spent in 2017?